** 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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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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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. **
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N