Fly Fishing Strategies: Tippet Rings For Tag Droppers? No Thanks

by | Mar 21, 2018 | 30 comments

Fishing dropper rigs should be easy. But judging from the amount of questions I field about knots, dropper types and tangles, fishing two or more flies causes a lot of angst out there.

Last week, I wrote about fishing tangle-free tandem rigs, and a popular question repeated itself in my inbox: “Tippet rings would be great for droppers, right?” My short is answer, no. My long answer is . . . also no. Tippet rings for tags can work, but it’s not worth the trouble.

Some anglers make a chore of rigging their lines. Knowing a few knots and tying them well is a standard skill for every fisher, everywhere. Whether you’re swinging for wild Oregon steelhead or chasing Appalachian backcountry brookies, we all have to tie a few knots in a day of fishing. And if you plan to change flies and tactics often, then you’ll tie dozens of knots per day. So what.

Knot tying is a simple, basic skill. You don’t have to be lightning quick to be efficient, you just need to have the wraps and twists patterned under your fingers enough that knot tying isn’t a big deal. Nobody likes breaking off a two-fly rig. But if you hang your head and wade to the nearest bank log after a break-off, knowing it takes you ten minutes to add a new length of tippet and two more flies, then you’re doing it wrong.

I’ve heard a lot of excuses about fat fingers, old bones, arthritis, poor eyesight and more. If that’s you, then forgive me if this stings a little, but it usually comes down to practice. A double surgeon’s knot tied with big loops doesn’t take the dexterity of, well . . . a surgeon. And a three-year-old can tie a Davy Knot (that’s a first-person fact because my son did it at three-years). I’m simply arguing that good knot tying is a required skill, and with enough practice, it’s available to every angler.

So what about those tippet rings?

Time keeps on slipping . . . into the future

Given adequate knot tying skills, tying a Double Surgeon’s knot or an Orvis Tippet Knot for a tag dropper is easier and takes less time than employing a tippet ring. Let’s do the math.

Standing in the cool morning water, with a gorgeous run ahead of you and the bright sun cresting the ridge, the clock is ticking for a shaded, unspoiled river.

You rig up a tag dropper using a tippet ring. And you do the following:

— Tie the upper line to the tippet ring
— Tie the lower line to the tippet ring
— Tie a tag line to the tippet ring
— Tie the fly to the tag

Okay, that’s four steps. Your buddy downstream of you rigs up his tag dropper with an Orvis Tippet Knot. And he does the following:

— Ties an Orvis Tippet Knot
— Ties the fly to the tag

So while you’re tying that third knot, you look back to see your friend — he’s already casting. And as you tie the fourth knot, you hear that son-of-a-bitch holler, “Fish On!” Yes, he caught a fish in his first spot, while you tied your fourth knot.

Alright, so there’s the math. It takes more time to rig tag droppers with tippet rings (and we haven’t even addressed the fiddling around with tippet storage or how to get rings off of the clasp or safety pin without dropping them all in the water).

But what about adding a new tag after a couple of fly changes? Isn’t it easier to just tie a fresh tag to the tippet ring?

No, not in my world. For that, I direct you to the Add-On Line article, where you can simply add a new tag just above any knot in a leader.

Fair enough. But what about breaking off? Won’t the tippet ring system save time then?

No. It won’t. I’ve done this. I fished tags on tippet rings for about three months before I gave up on the idea, deciding it was, ironically, a time waster.

If you break off below the tippet ring every time, then sure, you might save time. You can try to make that happen by using a thinner, weaker tippet below the tippet ring, but fishing is . . . imperfect. And somewhere in the mid-morning sun, you’ll hook a submerged log that you can’t wade to, and when you break off, you’ll lose it all, because the snag was above your tippet ring junction. You’ll then tie four knots again instead of two, and time keeps on slipping into the future.



Bad Angles

Maybe the time issue doesn’t matter to you. Fair enough.

But there’s a second reason that tippet rings for tag droppers are a sub-par choice — the angle of the dropper tag is no good.

You may start with your tag knot positioned on the tippet ring and angled in a way that the tag sticks out perpendicular (90 degrees) from the mainline. But that doesn’t last long. While fishing, the tag knot easily slides around the circle of the ring and seats itself right next to the bottom knot. Now you have two lines running almost parallel to each other, and that is an invitation for tandem tangles.

It’s far better to use the upper tag in an Orvis Tippet Knot, where the line is propped up and away from the mainline.

Here’s the difference (notice the angle of the tag, right where it attaches):

Tag tied from a tippet ring


Tag tied from an Orvis Tippet Knot

But tippet rings are awesome

Alright, so I’ve burned through 850 words, describing why I never use tippet rings for tag droppers. However, I love those tiny metal circles! And I use them all the time. In every leader, I incorporate at least one tippet ring.

For fly lines without welded loops, I attach new leaders via a three turn clinch knot, at a tippet ring, eight inches from my fly line.

And I include tippet rings on each end of my sighter. At these points, I like to swap out pre-rigged sections and make life easier. I might change to a two-nymph rig and tie on a pre-tied dry-dropper section with just one knot. Later, I may swap out everything from the sighter down, attaching a pre-rigged two-streamer setup, again, with one knot.

That’s why tippet rings are so valuable to me. That’s how I use them. But for tag droppers? Meh. Not so much. The irony becomes apparent after some time on the water, when river situations force you to recognize that your attempts to save time and prevent tangles have done the opposite.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. I agree with you that a tippet ring does not save time when re-rigging. I also agree that a tag coming off of an Orvis Tippet knot is easier to tie. However, I still use tippet rings on my tippets, and I do so for economy and for ease of management. Let’s say that you have a tippet ring at the end of a sighter (I do too) and then, say, five feet of tippet. Every time you add or remove flies or tags on the tippet section it gets smaller. But, you don’t know exactly how much it has shrunk and it’s not clear when you need to add another piece of 5x. A tippet ring takes care of that. If your tippet off of the sighter is 4ft. of 4x, then a tippet ring, then a foot or two of 5x tippet, you know exactly how long your leader is and it’s easy to add a small piece of 5x when the original tippet gets too short.

    • I see your point, Alex.

      And I love how everyone’s system is different.

      Since I almost always tie on extra tippet material with the Orvis Tippet Knot, I don’t waste more than an inch (usually less) of the upper line. So I’m rarely cutting back into that main tippet coming down, and by the time it would get short enough for me to care (after a half dozen or so tippet add-ons) that upper part of my tippet is getting boogered up anyway (from snags, tree limbs, or the occasional sliding indicator).

      Do you use the tippet rings for tags? I couldn’t tell from what you wrote.


      • I sort of use tippet rings for tags. I don’t tie the tag onto the tippet ring, but on the tippet above the ring (like you do with your add-on tag).

        BTW, the other advantage in using tippet rings for tippets is that, when I want to add split shot, I run a small tag off of the tippet ring and put the split shot on that tag. That way I don’t weaken the main tippet, I can remove tippet by snipping a bit of the tag off, and, if the shot gets snagged, it just pulls or breaks off (I use cheap tippet material for the shot tag).

        • Alex, you know I love the way you always have your system thought out.

          See, if it was me, I would just use an add on line for that split shot tag and ditch the tippet ring there. I just get tired of rigging tippet rings every time I break off. Takes too much time for me.

          Basically, I feel like everything that can be accomplished with a tippet ring can be done with simple knots, but quicker, and without the fiddling around with and eventually losing tippet rings. (Pretty much.)

          But like I said above, I love tippet rings. I use them from my sighter and above.

          I trust that you understand that I’m not trying to change your mind either — just swapping ideas about how we both like to do things. And that’s where I get new ideas, from learning how other anglers do it.


          • Actually, one of the things I love most about your blog, and you, is openness to ideas. I always take your posts and your comments as alternate possibilities rather than as prescriptions. Keep up the great work!

  2. I agree with all your comments and observations. I am also very keen to learn how you “package” and carry the pre-rigged two fly sections, e.g. dry / dropper.
    Thanks for the good article and information.
    David Scheef

    • David, I know that you’re asking Dom, and I too would like to know how he does it, but let me tell you what I do. I buy pieces of foam pipe insulation from Home Depot (around 2″ diameter) and cut off sections that are around 8″. I cut a slot at one end of the foam cylinder. Then I take a prearranged pre-rigged two fly setup, secure the point fly into the foam, wrap the tippet section around the foam, and insert the other end of the tippet material into the slot. I can have up to 3 of these pre-rigged setups on one piece of foam insulation.

      • Nice

      • Ever use the Orvis dropper rig box?

        • I never owned one, but I’ve seen it. I think it would be better for dry-droppers than the Loon foams because you wouldn’t have to worry about mashing the hackle and wings of a dry. I also like the Smith Creek Rig Keeper. I have one, and I can store a lot of rigs in one place.


  3. I pre-tie my leaders similar to the way that Alex does. At the end of my sighter I have a tippet ring with about 4ft. of 4x connected to another tippet ring. To this tippet ring I tie a very small perfection loop (less than 1 inch in total length) with 10-12lb mono or flouro. This is a bitch to get down, but I almost never have any problem with tangles. I pre-tie perfection loops in 4x,5x or 6x pieces of tippet about 6″ long that I can easily attach to the 10-12lb perfection loop. I then add another 16-20″ of 4x tippet to attach my point fly. Since I drop shot 90% of the time I rarely have to replace any tippet material above the tippet ring due to snags. Just another idea I thought I’d throw out there.

  4. I have never seen articles that I so 100% agree with!! Love tippet rings,mainly cause I’ve had blood knots fail,plus usually end up trying to join 5X with 3X,well,say no more. Love the concept of multiple flys off tags,and thought tying off tippet genius,till tried. Say no more. I still tie flys off of tippet,but do like using eye of top fly better then hook bend. Plus if use smaller tippet for bottom fly only lise 1 fly with break offs. Keep up great work,Dom!!

  5. The next time out with Dom we’ll have to have a “fish off”: Dom’s rig on one of my rods and my perfection loop through the tippet ring for the dropper on a second rod. (We’ll count the tangles and folks, I can tangle with the best of them!) We’ll see.

    I carry a couple of dozen pre-made rigs with tippet rings for a day’s fishing. Lose a rig & tippet ring, then one knot and I’m ready to go again.

    Always willing to listen to Dom as I grope my way to being a better trout fisherman.
    Thanks, Domenick!

    • BTW Davy Wooten would not let you use that rig with the dropper knot toward the tippet ring. Just sayin’.

      • But I don’t use the dropper knot for the tag. That’s just a picture up there for demonstration.

    • Honestly, I don’t think there’s any way you could get a perfection loop through the 1.5mm rings that I use. I hate big rings, so I use 1.5 mm. Don’t think you could push a 5X loop through one, though.

      Know what I mean?


      • How I rig:
        30 inches of 5X tippet from indicator to tippet ring. 30 inches of 5X from the tippet ring (2mm) to the point fly. Take a separate 10 inches of 5X and tie a perfection loop. Put the tag end through the tippet ring and then into the perfection loop. Pull tight so the perfection loop and its knot come through the tippet ring and seats. Tie on your dropper fly.

        (I’m experimenting with then putting the tag through the tippet ring and then through the loop again for additional stiffness)

        I tie these rigs at home with good light, arthritic fingers, and a chance of recovering a dropped fly or tippet ring. I carefully coil them and then place in 2X2 plastic envelopes. The night before fishing I pick out a dozen or two rigs I expect to use and put them in a clear map carrier/envelope that tucks into my waders. Another fifty rigs are in a plastic bag in my sling pack.

        I’ll look forward to learning the Orvis knot and how you use it during our next encounter. The upper tag of a double surgeons is too weak for me to inspire confidence.

        • How I rig is by me!

          • Ah, I see now how you get the perfection loop rigged there. Thanks.

  6. I like the idea of using the upper tag side of the Orvis knot (or surgeon’s knot) to add the dropper nymph to because of the way it keeps the fly away from the main line. However, a lot of people discourage that method claiming if the dropper fly is taken by a fish the fighting force can pull downward and cut through that knot. Any thoughts on that, Dom?….or anyone else?? And what about instead of using the upper or lower tag, use neither. Instead take another piece of tippet and add it above the Orvis/surgeon’s knot using a clinch knot. Does that have less chance of cutting downward through the Orvis/surgeon’s knot since it is not actually part of the knot? Sounds like an experiment, eh?

    • I agree that the upper tag on an orvis knot helps to keep the tag away from the main tippet. By doing hand pull test against the lower tag of a triple surgeons knot, the triple surgeons knot seems at least to me to be the clear winner.

      • That doesn’t concur with my own tests, but that’s alright. Do what works. I like the up-facing tag, and it’s real strong.


    • Hi JC,

      That is precisely the point of the Orvis Tippet knot. It’s a fouble figure eight knot, really. And the way it’s tied ends up backward from the surgeon’s. I do NOT recommned using the upper tag from a surgeon’s knot. But that’s one of the main benefefits of the Orvis Tippet Knot.


      • Thanks for the reply which answers the question very well. I appreciate the knowledge you impart….excellent resource…contribution to site pending….and cheers to you as well!

  7. In the second example, the fly is tied to the upper tag of the Orvis knot. There is a greater liklihood of this breaking off than if the fly was tied to the lower tag.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. I just addressed that in the previous comment. I don’t agree with what you said, but that’s okay. The upper tag on the Orvis Tippet Knot is one that you can trust. Just be sure to tie it tight.


      • BTW Put Orvis knot in this site’s search feature and it will take you to a video of how to tie the Orvis knot. Thanks, Dom. I now remember you tying it streamside. I will try it.

  8. Do you find that the strength of the dropper is reduced compared to the main line? Lost some fish on my triple surgeons knot which I used for my dropper, so I started to explore alternatives. Tying a few orvis tippet knots (for testing purposes) as you suggested in the article and by my hand the dropper tag seems much weaker than the main line. Do you see this trend as well or do I just stink as tying droppers?


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