3 Dry Dropper Rigs: An Illustrated Step by Step Guide

Updated: Oct 14


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What is a dry dropper rig?

A dry dropper rig is a technique fly fishermen use to present two flies at the same time. The method allows an angler to present a dry fly and a subsurface fly simultaneously.


Dry dropper rigs are unique. They allow fly fishermen to fish a subsurface fly without giving up the opportunity to land a trout on a dry fly.


Picture this: You’ve fished hard all day and covered a lot of ground watching for rising trout. You finally spot the pod of risers that gets your heart pumping. You see the fish feeding right below the surface, and decide to tie on your favorite emerger pattern. After several perfectly executed slack line casts, you’ve landed exactly zero fish. You saw a few trout show interest, but once they came within 2 inches of your fly, they turned their nose in refusal. If there was ever a time for a dry dropper rig, this is it.


Why Use Dry Dropper Rigs?


With this unique method, one fly rides on/in the surface film, while the second fly (the dropper), is fished subsurface. This allows you to cover multiple levels of the water column, increasing the odds of presenting the fly at the same depth the fish are feeding in. So what are some ways to set up a dry dropper rig?


Our favorite dropper flies

3 Dry Dropper Set Ups:


1. Dropper attached to the tag end of the dry fly knot


2. Dropper tied to the hook eye of the dry fly


3. Dropper tied to the dry fly's hook bend

Dry dropper rig setup # 1: Dropper attached to the tag end of the dry fly knot.


With this method, the dropper is attached to the untrimmed tag end of the leader that’s used to tie on the dry fly.

Step 1

Tie a dry fly onto the end of the leader as you typically would, EXCEPT, leave a long section (8-10 inches) of tippet (tag) hanging off of the knot. Typically you would trim this extra tippet off after completing your knot, but to set up this dropper rig leave it hanging. Preferably at a 90 degree angle pointing down from the dry fly.

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Dry Dropper Rig 1 Step 1

Step 2

Take the subsurface fly (dropper) you’ll be fishing, and tie it to the section of tippet (tag) hanging off the first knot. Attach this dropper with either an improved clinch or Davy knot.

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Dry dropper Rig 1 Step 2

Tips:

  • To minimize tangles, keep your hanging tippet tag length between 8-10 inches long.

  • If possible, tie the knot to your dry fly with the tag end pointing down, this will decrease the side to side spinning if your dropper during the cast.

  • The dropper fly should be lighter in weight and approximately the same air resistant as the dry fly to prevent wind knots.

  • Choose your dropper fly wisely, you’ll only be able to change it once or twice before the tag end gets cut too short to work with.

  • Before attaching the dry fly, make sure to start with a tippet that’s 10-12 inches longer than you would typically use if you were fishing the dry by itself. This is because the dry will actually be tied in 8-10 inches shorter than the end of the leader.

Pros:

  • Can be set up without needing to attach any additional tippet.

  • Feels similar to casting a dry fly by itself, so it won’t take long to adjust to.

Cons:

  • Because the dry and dropper are both connected to the same tippet, only one or two dropper pattern changes can be made before the tag end is too short. After a few dropper pattern changes: the dry fly must be removed, a new tippet section must be tied to the end of the leader, then the dry fly tied back on, then the new dropper tied back on (A lot of time and work!).

  • The dropper fly is connected to mono filament tippet. Mono floats well, which is great for dry fly fishing, but it distracts subsurface flies from getting down to the depths that they’re designed to be fished in.

Best flies for this dry dropper rig:

Dry:

Dropper

  • Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear (unweighted)

  • Soft Hackle Caddis pupa (unweighted)

Summary:

Attaching the dropper to the tippet tag is simple because there’s no additional tippet added to the rig. This is great for efficiency, so if you plan on fishing a dropper for a short stint on the water, it can save you time. However, Due to the limited number of dropper fly changes that can be made, this method makes it tough to fish a dropper for extended periods without needing to retie the entire setup.


Useful gear: