Three Styles of Dry Dropper: #1 — Bobber Dry Dropper

by | May 8, 2019 | 10 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

— — —

I fish a fly rod because it allows me to meet the trout on their own terms. Whatever they’re eating, baitfish, nymphs or dries, I can match it with a fly in my box. From a fluttering October caddis dancing on the surface, to a cress bug crawling through green vegetation that clings to the limestone below, in one of my fly boxes, I have the answer.

On the best days, these wild river trout willingly feed on a variety of foods, gulping sculpins and midges in the same lane — big stuff and small, bottom to top. Now that’s a good bite window.

Commonly, we find trout feeding on multiple stages of a hatching insect. And we easily adapt to this behavior with multi-fly rigs. A pair of nymphs or a brace of wets covers two or three zones under the water, reaching interested trout through the water column. And when both flies are under the surface, the rigging, casting and drifting is straightforward.

But mixing fly styles — fishing both a dry fly and nymph on the same line — requires a different mindset.

Photo by Josh Darling

Troubles and Fixes

These are the inherent problems with a dry dropper setup: Casting a dry vs casting a nymph requires a different stoke, and the objectives are not a perfect match. Slack behind a dry fly is a good thing, while too much slack given to an underwater nymph is trouble. Likewise, the dry on top and the nymph underneath are in different currents — the surface may have its own speed and a dissimilar path from its partner below. These troubles are significant, but the thoughtful angler considers all these elements and balances them against her own objectives.

A couple months ago I introduced the idea of separating dry dropper techniques into three distinct styles: light dry dropper, tight line dry dropper and bobber dry dropper. It’s not as simple as tying any old nymph off the bend of a dry. That’ll get you somewhere, but you need a good dose of luck to hit it just right. Instead, try to understand the way the line, leader, dry fly and nymph interact with one another.

Each of these elements of leader, dry fly and nymph are quite different between the three dry dropper styles, because the objectives are unique. And at a baseline, this is really about how the dry fly, the nymph and the leader work together within each style.

What I call bobber dry dropper is the most common way to fish a dry and nymph together. It’s the way most anglers rig and fish these two flies — the industry standard. And yet, I’d argue that many anglers don’t consider the strengths and limitations of this system before dropping the nymph under a dry fly.

Let’s break down bobber dry dropper below . . .

Fish the Nymph

You can’t fish two flies at once. Sure, you can tie two of them to your leader, but only one of those flies can be fished perfectly. This is a guiding principle for me as soon as I tie on any second fly. One of the flies is the primary, and the other is secondary, mostly just along for the ride.

 

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 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. For bobber dry dropper, fish the nymph.

— Troubitten | Three Styles of Dry Dropper

 

It’s a style that uses the dry as an indicator. Work to get a natural drift with the nymph, and hope for the best on the dry. The nymph is the primary fly to consider. And while attempting good drifts on the fly underneath, plenty of trout will hit the dry — if you’re rigged up well . . .

The Leader

Most standard fly shop leaders will do just fine here. Extruded leaders with a thick butt section and a short taper can turn over a larger dry and a heavier nymph, if needed.

READ: Troutbitten | Three Parts of an Ideal Indicator Leader

But while store-bought leaders may be the easiest route, I like to tie my own indy leader that’s specifically designed for the job of floating nymphs under a suspension device. (Remember, in the bobber dry dropper style, the dry fly performs the same functions as an indicator.)

 

Here’s the Leader

24-48″ —  .017” Maxima Chameleon
18″  —  .015” Maxima Chameleon
12″ —  .013” Maxima Chamleleon
8″  —  .010” Maxima Chameleon
18″ —  10# Gold Stren, or similar
Tippet Ring (2mm)
24” —  3X or 4x Fluorocarbon
— Dry Fly
24-48” —  4x or 5x Fluorocarbon

 

The formula above is only a starting point for your own exploration. But these are the keys:

— The leader mends easily. Once the flies are in the water, you can throw reach mends and stack mends to feed slack to the dry and extend the drift. The taper design allows for smooth energy transfer without being too powerful. (Grease the leader if you find yourself mending a lot.)

— There’s only one diameter of tippet under the water. Notice, beyond the dry there is no taper, just level tippet. So the currents push evenly on the 5X. (This is also one of the key principles in the success of a euro nymphing leader or the Mono Rig.)

Photo by Josh Darling

The Dry

For the bobber dry dropper rig, choose a dry fly that doesn’t sink (very often). It should support not only the weight of the chosen nymph or split shot, but should be buoyant enough to support a little more. With the goal of reaching down to the trout, weight adjustments may be frequent. And life is a lot easier if the dry needn’t be constantly swapped out for more flotation.

Hopper/Dropper rigs have become synonymous with dry dropper techniques. And if you live in an area where trout will take a large foam hopper, God bless you. Around here, the last time our wild trout regularly took any dry fly much longer than an inch was ten years ago, during the Cicada hatch. (That was the best fishing of my life.) So I regularly use smaller flies with extra flotation built in. Although my focus is on the nymph, with the bobber dry dropper style, I still choose a fly that trout might eat. Otherwise, I’d rather fish a Dorsey Yarn Indicator.

I like Parachutes, often with wide posts and extra hackle for more flotation. Klinkhammers, Parachute Adams, Stimulators and PMX are my favorites. Chubby Chernobyles and other foam variations are great if your trout will eat them.

Again, the dry should support enough weight to get the nymph down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it must be large. It should also ride high without getting swamped too often in heavier currents.

Remember, the dry fly is along for the ride. Rarely will it drift drag free. The weight of the nymph pulls the slack out of the leader during the cast. The weight and position of the nymphs also slows the drift of the dry during the ride. Accept this and work with it. Fish the nymph and be ready for something to eat the dry.

The Nymph

In the bobber dry dropper style, I fish the same nymphs and weights that I’d fish on a tight line or an indicator rig. All my go-to patterns are fair game. With the dry fly acting as a suspender, I use tungsten beaded nymphs (large or small), with split shot if necessary, and quite often, two nymphs.

Fish the nymph with this style. That’s the objective — good drifts underneath. Put the fly at whatever depth is likely to catch trout. Most often, that’s right near the bottom.

Photo by Josh Darling

The Space Between

There’s a lot of crossover between these styles. You can, of course fish an unweighted nymph under a large hopper. And you may fish two heavier nymphs under a dry fly in a tight line dry dropper rig. Unlimited choice is the beauty of fly fishing. And each of these rigs can merge into the others.

But it’s extremely helpful to understand how each of these dry dropper styles perform best and how each of them can be adapted toward new goals.

The bobber dry dropper rig is an excellent way to cover a lot of water and present multiple flies in different parts of the water column. Think of it as a nymphing technique first, and in the process of fishing the nymph, trout will eat the dry.

Next time, we’ll break down the light dry dropper system, where it shines and where it fails.

Fish hard, friends.

 

** Up next, this Three Styles of Dry Dropper series continues with #2 — Light Dry Dropper. **

 

** Subscribe to Troutbitten and follow along **

 

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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What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

10 Comments

  1. “Around here, the last time our wild trout regularly took any dry fly much longer than an inch was ten years ago, during the Cicada hatch.”

    No grasshoppers in PA? No grassy banks in PA? No late summer/early fall in PA?

    I would be shocked if a hopper didn’t make a great searching fly in your PA streams at the right time of the year. Hoppers are rarely fished on the rivers of the highly pressured Upper Delaware system; that’s why I love ’em!

    Craven’s “Charlie Boy” hopper pattern is my recommendation.

    Reply
    • Brother, I invite you to give it a try. I certainly have. Sure we have grasshoppers and grassy banks. But a Charlie Boy hopper is not a reliable searching pattern for this area (central PA). In my experience, I do much, much better with ants and beetles in the summer. I may get a lot of bumps and slashes on a hopper pattern here but not many real commitments, especially if the water is low and clear. Now, surely there are days and moments for everything, but I said, our wild trout don’t regularly take a dry fly that size. Would be fun if they did, though.

      Cheers, Rick.

      Dom

      Reply
      • My bad. My guess is that your PA streams get too skinny by that time of year; (under 100 cfs?) The tailwaters of the UD system usually have plenty of water by late summer and early fall for bigger patterns. And yes, I knew you have grassy banks too.

        Reply
        • Yeah, I think that’s the major difference. But I’ll say that even in high water years, or even at high water times of throughout the year, these trout just never really get into a habit of eating dry flies that size. Even during our stonefly emergence — a big insect — the larger dries to match are not usually as productive as a sulphur pattern. These are tough trout, in a good way.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
  2. Do you tie dropper to bend of hook or off a tag end of a knot, like a nymph set up? I’ve experimented with mixed results either way but I always wonder on tying off tag end if I’m missing hits on dropper cause of slack to dry fly? However I get more on dry tying off dry at a tag if that makes sense?

    Reply
    • Emmett,
      I won’t speak on behalf of Troutbitten nor will I say that the following idea is perfect BUT I have had some good moments whereby I tie the leader to the dry plus the dropper tippet simultaneously. In other words, both share the eye of the dry. This works best, of course, with high flotation flies and top flies with enough room in the eye of the hook to fit both lines. You thread the tippet and the leader through the eye simultaneously then tie the knot with both strands as one. I often do this when I am in haste (example: fishing a cool pocket water stream after months away from angling!) because it allows me to tie one knot instead of two when building the rig. Oh and, I also do it to build a little more confidence in that there is no line on the bend of the dry’s. hook to subtly interfere with a trout taking the dry. Just an idea.

      Reply
      • Bernard,
        I hear you on the long time away from the water, with kids and work, anything that can save a few minutes and keep me fishing. Thanks for the tip, I’ll try it next time I’m on the water.

        Reply
        • Hey guys,

          So I use all three styles that you guys mentioned. My first consideration is where the most flotation is built into the fly. Parachutes, for example have flotation up front, so I often tie back out of the eye, or on a tag. Many Caddis dries ride better with the fly tied off the bend, but not all.

          Dom

          Reply
  3. DO YOU EVER FISH SOFT HACKLE FLIES?
    I’M ANCIENT AND RARELY GET OUT FISHING ANYMORE SO I APPRECIATE YOUR ARTICLES MORE THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. I AM ORIGINALLY FROM PENNSYLVANIA AND STILL REMEMBER MY FIRST TROUT CAUGHT IN QUAKAKE CREEK. ON A WORM BUT I WAS 15 YEARS OLD.
    THANK YOU IMMENSELY FOR THE COLUMNS.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words, Mayson.

      I do fish soft hackles, yes. But I usually fish them as a nymph — dead drifting them more than swinging. Make sense?

      Dom

      Reply

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