Three Styles of Dry Dropper

by | Feb 3, 2019 | 25 comments

** 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

— — —

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.

Photo by Matt Grobe

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Dry Fly Fishing — The George Harvey Leader Design
READ: Troutbitten | Three Styles of Dry Dropper: #2 — Light Dry Dropper

Photo by Bill Dell

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Three Styles of Dry Dropper: #1 — Bobber Dry Dropper

Photo by Bill Dell

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.

READ: Troutbitten | The Tight Line Advantage Across Fly Fishing Styles

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Three Styles of Dry Dropper: #3 — Tight Line Dry Dropper

Experiment

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.

Photo by Bill Dell

Fish hard, friends.

** This is part of a Troutbitten series on three styles of dry dropper. Here are links to all articles in the series: **
#1 Bobber Dry Dropper
#2 Light Dry Dropper
#3 Tight Line Dry Dropper

** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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25 Comments

  1. As a “tight liner” I must say once I got onto the dry dropper method with a dry on the tag, and a size smaller bead head nymph, it was a game changer. Some of my best days fishing this past year were in the summer using this very method. What is great about those days is the balance of on which fly I caught fish on. In my opinion, this is a lethal combo on any small stream or class a profile PA stream. I have had fifty plus fish days standing within feet of solid trout and getting take after take. Almost reminds me of tenkara, to a degree even though I haven’t officially fished that style yet. So effortless to use and allows you to prevent having to change from a dry fly rig to a nymph right etc. the mono rig is as advertised here, a one stop shop to quickly get to fish. For a cheape fly fisherman it is stellar bc you don’t need multiple outfits, leaders, etc. I can’t speak more highly about the system. Thanks for the tip of hitting the riffles during spinner fall. Mental note made for my next late spring early summer trip.

    Reply
    • Right on, buddy. I like what you said about the Mono Rig being a one stop shop. That’s exactly how I feel about it too — one tool that does SO many good things by just adapting.

      Cheers.

      Reply
    • I thought trout fishing was sopposed to be challenging.50 fish In a day,give me a break.0h I’m sorry my son caught 51 bluegill one day.

      Reply
      • It is SUPPOSED to be challenging, and in fact is very challenging. I just went out this past weekend and caught none, missing three. My comment intended to highlight the fact it is a very deadly combo in the right conditions and gives a presentation style that makes it easier and versatile. Congrats to your son though.

        Reply
  2. Sometimes I use a small panfish popper for this. Nothing fancy, just the things you get in packs of six at big box stores. They float beautifully, as you’d expect. I’ve even had crazy brookies attack the popper.

    Reply
    • Interesting

      Reply
  3. I’ve never fished the tigh line dry dropper. Are the nymphs hitting the bottom occasionally, or at least near the bottom? To get them near the bottom while having the dry on the surface sounds optimal, but aren’t you limiting yourself to water depths that match the distance between the dry and the nymphs? In varying water depths, if you prioritize the nymphs in deeper water, you’re gonna dunk the dry. Or if the dry is the priority, the nymphys are not going to be near the bottom in deeper water. Who do you manage between the two?

    Reply
    • There’s an earlier post on how to make an adjustable dry dropper set up for a tightline mono rig so you can vary the distance between your suspender and point nymph.

      Reply
    • Cool questions, Tomas.

      Regarding the Tight Line Dry Dropper system:

      You can run the nymphs as deep or shallow as you want. If you need the nymphs ticking bottom a lot, then yes, setup the distance and weight for that to happen.

      Yes, you will limit yourself if you tie the dry fly in-line or on a fixed tag. It will not be adjustable, and that is the weakness of any dry dropper method. I do have a workaround, that is close, but not perfect. I use it a lot:

      https://troutbitten.com/2017/06/21/slidable-dry-dropper-system/

      Also, you wrote: “In varying water depths, if you prioritize the nymphs in deeper water, you’re gonna dunk the dry.”

      But that’s not true. If you balance the rig, as described in the article above, then the dry will float the nymph. It will not dunk.

      Does that make sense, or did I misunderstand your question?

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • No, you got it. I didn’t ask the question that way but yes, it’s the fixed nature of the dry that keeps you from fishing your nymph at its best depth. Great idea – the adjustable dry! I’ll give that a whirl.

        Reply
  4. Dry dropper on the mono rig is especially good for when you want to fish a dry where there’s fast current between you and your target. You don’t get the current sweeping your line away because your high sticking over it. But, it is tricky getting distance when the fish are taking small dries and the nymph below doesn’t have much weight.
    A good reason to buy an 11’ rod though.

    Reply
      • If you were never going to use a dry dropper rig, or fish streamers, what would your preferred Mono Rig configuration be?

        Reply
        • Hey Alex,

          I’d still use the same Mono Rig formula, because I fish with a Dorsey Yarn Indicator a lot too.

          But I think you’re probably asking me if I was only going to tight line, would my butt section change. Right?

          That’s hard for me to imagine, because I change styles so often. I really enjoy the versatility available by making all of these simple adjustment. So I love fishing streamers and dry dropper, and going tight line to the indicator.

          I think another question to consider too, is how far away are we tight lining. I find thinner butt sections to lose accuracy with extra long rods at distance. And going down to something like ten pound for the butt section really becomes more lobbing than casting, and I just don’t like it.

          So with all of that considered. I’ll say that I’d use the same formula. In fact, that’s what I did for many years before adding in the other Mono Rig elements. I like the control and feel that I get with the butt section that I use. Any thinner, and too much changes for me.

          Dom

          Reply
          • Wonderful answer. Thanks, Dom. And yes, you read my mind on what I was really asking.

  5. I’m lost.I spend a lot of time on the water and catch very few fish.Were did I put those golf clubs?

    Reply
  6. I learn a lot by reading your posts thanks. Can the same principles be use for using a wool indicator?

    Reply
  7. I’m very stoked to try the tight lining dropper dry rig this hatch season!

    Reply
  8. Great article as always Dom. Your advice always pays off.

    Reply
  9. I’m not sure if it was one of your past articles that talked of a sliding barrel placed below the tag to readjust for depth but I have used it with great success,I’m pretty certain it was you as you never seem to miss any variation. Great article you should write a book! Pete

    Reply
    • Thanks, Pete. Yes, that’s my article.
      I’m working on books. Things just take time. Cheers again. Dom

      Reply
  10. I was just pondering my dry-dropper practices when I saw your post. Many practitioners attach the dropped nymph to the hook bend of the dry, but I’ve been trying to keep my tippet back-bone intact through all methods to allow quick changes from suspension rigs through to drop shots. I wondered if the dry would float the same way on a tag as the weight of the nymph would bear down on the eye of the dry potentially lifting its tails. Also wondered whether the junction of dry-fly tag and tippet would be pulled under water by the nymph.

    Reply
    • Well, some flies have the bouyancy built in up front like a parachute style, and others have it built more to the back, like a CDC and Elk.

      Reply

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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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