Fly Fishing Strategies Tips/Tactics

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

March 21, 2018

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 . . . usually not. Tippet rings for tags can work, but I don’t think it’s worth it.

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.

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). 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, uncorrupt 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. Not really. 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 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.

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.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



Tips / Tactics

Read all Troutbitten Tips and Tactics

What do you think?

3 Comment threads
9 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
  Follow the comments on this article.  
Notify of

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… Read more »

David scheef

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… Read more »

Josh Nordick

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″… Read more »

Domenick Swentosky

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.

TCO Fly Shop
last cast One Great Tip Bad Mother reading water etiquette fly box LBI drifting fall streamside Night Fishing Chapters public land Streamers friendship indicator nymphing solitude spawning wildlife Joe Humphreys History drop shot nymphing rules come on man rookies Dry-Dropper leaders comp fishing Fly Fishing wet fly fishing friends backcountry Industry Stuff Wild Mushrooms camera Buggers casting high water BES dorsey yarn indicator Tippet Rings dead drift the Mono Rig Christmas Lights Discovery Fish Hard Little Juniata River DJS posted land simplicity Doh nymphing tips nymphs home-stream PFBC Burke split shot tips rigs tight lining philosophy Weather skunked silence swinging wet wading wading ice Sawyer regulations summertime fishing DIY tiny flies strategy Quote Plans tenkara Night Fishing Boat hiking TU wading boots eggs fishing tips PSA Headbanger Sculpin flies surf fishing Backing Barrel Troutbitten Fly Box Camping fly fsihing big fish fighting fish Sighter time photography trout bum Float Fishing mousing Press mistakes Oakiewear fly patterns Film wild trout stinky bass nymphing giveaway Gierach front ended bar boots float Davy Wotten flood Namer patience summer Floating angler types mono rig catch and release dry fly fishing strip set spot burning Wild Brown Trout club fishing tippet suspender fishing gear Memories Euro-Nymphing winter brush fishing thunderstorm Fifty Tips Baseball Peace cookout Galloup Night safety bite windows musician travel Whiskey Drinker Mystery river stocked trout Dad Dylan brookies dry flies tightline George Harvey traction Rich dog shark Wild vs Stocked FishHard snags mayfly walking beadhead falling in carp waders DHALO Ask an Expert night-sighter PA Gold fishing with kids Harvey Pusher saltwater favorite Central PA big brown trout Fly rods Jeff Whiskey boys small streams explore family tight line nymphing Spring Creek montana brown trout conservation Big Trout indicator fishing Presentations fly tying net Orvis Resources tracks winter fishing science matters fly rod Joey Grandfather Aiden winter fly fishing Streamer fishing marginal water wet flies Fly Casting knots backcast fly line mud Pennsylvania How it Started efficiency Trust It's just fishing State College fluke Stockies Grobe George Daniel droppers Trout Unlimited