** NOTE ** This is part of a Troutbitten series on three styles of dry dropper. Here are links to all articles in the series:
Three Styles of Dry Dropper (Overview)
#1 Bobber Dry Dropper
#2 Light Dry Dropper
#3 Tight Line Dry Dropper
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Adding a nymph to a dry fly rig produces. You can throw a nymph under a dry and start casting, but in my world, there are three distinct styles of dry dropper fishing. And within each of these types, the elements of fly, nymph and leader are arranged, balanced and modified toward unique objectives.
Who doesn’t like fishing with dry flies?
No, really . . . who doesn’t enjoy the visual feedback of watching a dry fly slide down the edge of a current seam, gloriously in pace with the bubbles on the surface? And when the head of a brown-gold torpedo rushes to the fly, emerging from the darkest water, such anticipation and satisfaction is unmatched in this river game.
Dries are the heart and soul of fly fishing. And while I love fishing nymphs and streamers underneath, I still take every chance I get to tie on a floater.
But here’s the thing: for the year-round trout angler, most days do not offer great dry fly fishing. Many guys stick with it anyway, of course, trying to force trout into an agreement. But while lazy trout are often convinced with a well-placed nymph, most wild trout are not easily persuaded to the surface when they’re not already in the mood.
So why not offer a nymph to the trout at the same time as we fish a dry? Sounds perfect, right? Sure. But in most cases, adding a nymph affects the drift of the dry. Worse yet, the weight of the add-on nymph can take away the enjoyment of casting dries in the first place. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And so, I argue, there are three styles of dry dropper fishing. And when I break it down for my guided clients this way, they fall in love with the idea because it makes sense. The angler first decides what elements are most important — not just for fooling fish, but for her own fishing enjoyment. She then chooses the style of dry dropper that suits the moment.
Now and Later
In this article, I’ll roll through the descriptions and distinctions of these styles, highlighting when each of them shines brightest. And the thoughtful angler who’s willing to experiment on the water will have no trouble dialing all of this in.
The accompanying articles then break down each style in this dedicated series to the dry dropper style, because the intricacies of each deserve their own exploration.
One, Two, Three
I separate the dry dropper tactics into these three camps: Light Dry Dropper, Bobber Dry Dropper and Tight Line Dry Dropper.
While Light Dry Dropper is a style that fishes easily with standard dry fly casting and modest adjustments to a rig, it does not present nymphs at much depth. And while Tight Line Dry Dropper can efficiently send a nymph down to the trout, it requires some significant leader adjustments. What I call Bobber Dry Dropper falls somewhere in the middle of all that.
Here’s a breakdown of each . . .
Light Dry Dropper
Trout take dry flies when they are drifted drag free. The majority of our efforts in building a leader, choosing a piece of water and making the cast are directed toward that standard goal — get the dry fly drifting down the current without influence from the leader. Unfortunately, adding a nymph complicates that objective — sometimes way too much.
The Light Dry Dropper style is for adding a nymph while having minimal impact on either the casting or drifting of the dry fly. This is a style most tolerable for the dries only crew (for the guy who’s screen name is @dryflyguy). It’s also extremely effective when trout are already near the surface, or in low water.
A good dry fly leader is designed not to straighten out, but to land with some built-in slack in all the right places. And when a nymph is added to the Light Dry Dropper style, that objective should not change.
Therefore, choose small, unweighted or lightly weighted nymphs for this style. A nymph with very much built-in weight tends to pull out all the desirable slack in a good dry fly cast before it ever lands. And that’s no good. Keep the nymph small and light. The heaviest I use for this style is a #16 brass beadhead. And more often I choose unweighted nymphs or soft hackles. Again, they must be small or they will alter the cast and drift of the dry.
Distance from dry fly to the nymph should be fairly short. Let’s say, between 8-24 inches. With longer distances between the nymph and the dry, there’s more chance for the nymph to drift in a different current seam than the dry fly, thus destroying the drift.
Use whatever dry fly the trout are likely to eat. We are not asking the dry to support any weight here.
Again, the strength of the Light Dry Dropper is in how naturally the dry can be presented, without significant influence from the added nymph. And yet, time and again, you’ll see a flash and a swirl near the dry just before it goes under. Trout eat the nymph with confidence and frequency.
Remember, in the Light Dry Dropper style, the dry fly remains the focus fly. Meaning, getting a good drift on the dry fly is the goal, and the added nymph is mostly along for the ride.
Bobber Dry Dropper
Here is the most common style of dry dropper (although not necessarily the most effective). The dry fly does the work of suspending the nymphs underneath — it acts as a bobber. And with enough material buoyancy built into a fly, it can very well float enough split shot or tungsten beadheads to plummet the nymphs to the bottom and stay there.
You know the types of flies here: Chubby Chernobyls, Stimulators and other foam creations can literally suspend as much weight as a Thingamabobber. And if you need to lift a heavy payload, then by all means, use those flies.
Around here, though, I rarely need much weight to get the nymphs down. And my trout eat smaller, realistic dries with more frequency. So I often pair the likely nymphs with a Klinkhammer, a Parachute Adams or an X-Caddis.
Here’s the key point: with the Bobber Dry Dropper style, the dry is fished more like an indicator than a dry fly. And it helps to surrender to this concept. Unlike the Light Dry Dropper style, the nymph should be the focus fly for the Bobber Dry Dropper style. Work at getting a natural drift with the nymph and hope for the best with the dry. They will eat both.
The main difference is the influence that even modestly weighted nymphs have on the cast. The weight pulls out any useful slack before the dry hits the water. Likewise, the weight takes the nymphs into a different zone, a place with a current speed that is often quite unlike the surface, so the dry that’s connected with the nymph literally cannot drift drag free.
I believe it’s a mistake to focus on getting a truly drag free drift with the dry while using the fly (essentially) as a bobber. It’s a fruitless and frustrating endeavor, because it’s just not possible very often. Fish the nymph instead. Mend as necessary to keep the dry fly on track, with minimal influence from the leader. But accept that the drift will not look like a dry fly without any weight attached. Fish the nymph.
Tight Line Dry Dropper
This is my favorite style of dry dropper fishing, and in many cases, it may be the most effective. Here’s how to do it:
Using a Mono Rig, and begin by tightline with one or two nymphs at the terminal end of the tippet. Then add a dry fly anywhere below the sighter, mounted on the tippet section. You can tie the dry inline or on a tag. There are many variations here, so just do what makes you comfortable. (I prefer a tag mount of the dry.)
It’s critically important to balance the size and air resistance of the dry fly with the weight of the nymph. For example, try a #14 Parachute Adams with a #14 or #16 Beadhead Pheasant Tail. Getting the balance right is the key. A Mono Rig does not cast a bushy dry very well, so it needs the weight of a nymph to help the dry fly meet the target. But if the nymph is too heavy, it will pull the dry under. Experimentation is the only real teacher for getting this balance correct.
Once you’re rigged up with a balanced dry fly and nymph dropper, a standard tightline cast is made. Cast it like you did before adding the dry. Cast it like a nymph. But now let the dry fly rest on the surface — with a tight line to the nymph. It’s your job to stay in touch with the dry. That means keep ALL of the leader and tippet off the water. Yes — all of it.
Being in contact with the dry fly like this is pure joy. You can get incredibly long and natural drifts without any line on the surface. You can also manipulate the dry just a bit, bounce or twitch it like a dapping caddis or a mayfly struggling to emerge. The dry stays anchored to the drift with the aid of the balanced nymph below. And this technique is deadly.
My favorite aspect of the Tight Line Dry Dropper method is all the hits that happen on the dry. When a trout takes, you are immediately connected and tied to a quick battle with the fish. It’s exhilarating to see it all happen so close.
That brings me to the last point here: I reserve Tight Line Dry Dropper for fishing within a range of thirty feet, and I’d rather be even closer. When most of the anglers are lined up in the pools and flats for a hatch or a spinner fall, my favorite place to be is in the pocket water, with a Tight Line Dry Dropper rig, picking off trout on both the surface and the river below.
If you’ve never considered the differences in these styles, think on them for a while. Notice that “fishing dry dropper” can really mean a lot of things. It would be a shame to miss any of them, because they all have their moments to shine.
Hit the river with these ideas, and then come back here to Troutbitten, where you’ll find a detailed article for each of the three styles of dry dropper. Choose your favorite and hit the water again to give it a shot.
And the next time someone talks about dry dropper fishing, ask them what style — because there’s a lot of room for variety.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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