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ORVIS – Advanced Nymphing Tactics – Fishing A Dry-Dropper

When you’re fishing with a Dry-Dropper fly combo, you have the opportunity to target different parts of the food chain and offer a variety of food options to the fish. Typically, the strikes will come on the dropper nymph, but the dry fly serves as your indicator and determines the depth at which your nymph is drifting. In this episode, Dave Jensen will guide you through the correct technique for fishing a Dry-Dropper rig.

To learn more about fly fishing tactics, check out our fly fishing learning centers. ORVIS – Advanced Nymphing Tactics – Fishing A Dry-Dropper is a video by The Orvis Company that discusses the effective strategy of using a Dry-Dropper fly combo in fly fishing. This technique allows you to target feeding fish by presenting them with multiple options to eat. With this setup, the dry fly acts as an indicator while the dropper nymph is the main attractor. In this informative video, Dave Jensen provides valuable insights on how to properly fish a dry-dropper rig, offering expert advice on selecting the right fly size and profile, as well as considering the water conditions. For more in-depth knowledge on fly fishing tactics, it is recommended to visit the Orvis fly fishing learning centers.

When fishing a dry-dropper setup, the key is to understand the food sources available and observe the water conditions. By assessing what is hatching and the current food options, you can choose the appropriate dry fly pattern that matches the subsurface food. Factors such as water clarity and surface turbulence play a crucial role in determining the size and profile of the dry fly. Smaller flies with longer light leaders are preferable on calm, clear water, while slightly off-color or broken water surfaces provide more cover and allow for larger dry flies. Overall, the goal is to mimic the present food sources of both the dry and subsurface, considering the water conditions and avoiding any actions that may spook the trout before presenting your flies to them.

ORVIS - Advanced Nymphing Tactics - Fishing A Dry-Dropper

What is a Dry-Dropper rig?

Fishing with a Dry-Dropper rig is a popular technique among fly anglers. This setup involves attaching a dry fly to the leader with a dropper nymph below it. The dry fly rides on the water’s surface, while the dropper nymph is suspended beneath, mimicking an insect in the water column. The Dry-Dropper rig offers anglers the flexibility to target fish feeding both on the surface and in deeper water. It combines the advantages of fishing dry flies and nymphs, making it a versatile and effective technique.

Overview of the Dry-Dropper rig

The Dry-Dropper rig consists of a dry fly, typically an attractor pattern or a natural insect imitation, and a weighted nymph tied to it via a piece of tippet material. The dry fly acts as an indicator, indicating the presence of fish or potential strikes. Meanwhile, the nymph imitates the insects that fish feed on beneath the surface. The rig allows anglers to present two different offerings to the fish at once, increasing the chances of enticing a strike.

Importance of using a Dry-Dropper rig

Using a Dry-Dropper rig can significantly enhance your success as a fly angler. It enables you to effectively target fish that are feeding on the surface and those lying deeper in the water column. This versatility is crucial, as fish can display different feeding behaviors depending on various factors such as weather, water conditions, and the time of day. By having both a dry fly and a nymph on your line, you increase your chances of presenting the right fly at the right depth, increasing the likelihood of triggering a strike.

Benefits of fishing a Dry-Dropper rig

Fishing a Dry-Dropper rig offers various benefits. Firstly, it allows you to fish both the surface and deeper water with a single setup. This flexibility is especially valuable when fish are actively feeding on emergers or insects near the water’s surface, while others may be holding deeper and feeding on nymphs. Secondly, the dry fly acts as an indicator, providing crucial visual cues for strikes. Lastly, the Dry-Dropper rig is relatively easy to set up and fish, making it suitable for anglers of all skill levels.

Choosing the Right Flies

Matching the hatch

Matching the hatch is a fundamental principle in fly fishing, and it applies to selecting flies for a Dry-Dropper rig as well. Observing the insects present on the water can give you valuable insights into what the fish are actively feeding on. Take the time to study the behavior and characteristics of the insects in the area, such as their size, color, and movement patterns. Choose both your dry fly and dropper nymph to imitate the insects that are abundant and actively being fed upon by the fish.

Selecting the right dry fly

When selecting a dry fly for your Dry-Dropper rig, consider the current conditions and the target species. If you’re unsure of the exact insects present, attractor patterns can be effective choices. These flies don’t necessarily imitate a specific insect but instead grab the attention of fish due to their bright colors and unique designs. On the other hand, if you know the specific insects that are hatching or being actively fed upon, choose a dry fly that accurately replicates their size, shape, and color.

Selecting the right dropper nymph

Choosing the right dropper nymph is equally important as selecting the dry fly. The nymph should imitate the insects that fish are actively feeding on beneath the surface. Consider the size, shape, and color of the nymphs in the area and choose your imitation accordingly. It’s also essential to vary the weight of the dropper nymph depending on the water conditions. Use heavier nymphs in faster and deeper water to ensure they get down to the feeding zone, while lighter nymphs are suitable for slower-moving water.

Considerations for Water Conditions

Water clarity and visibility

The water clarity and visibility play a crucial role in determining the effectiveness of your Dry-Dropper rig. In clear water, fish can spot the flies more easily and are more likely to scrutinize them closely. Use smaller, more realistic imitations in such conditions. In stained or turbid water, on the other hand, a bigger and more visible dry fly may be necessary to attract the attention of fish. Adjust the colors and sizes of your flies accordingly to adapt to the current water conditions and optimize your chances of success.

Depth and speed of the water

The depth and speed of the water also influence the selection of your Dry-Dropper rig. In deeper water, it’s essential to have a heavier nymph to ensure it reaches the feeding zone. Consider using additional weight, such as split shot, to achieve the desired depth. In faster-moving water, the flies can be swept away quickly, making it crucial to mend your line and control its drift to achieve a natural presentation. Adjust the length of your leader and the weight of your nymphs accordingly to match the specific conditions of the water you’re fishing in.

Techniques for Fishing a Dry-Dropper Rig

Casting and presentation

When fishing a Dry-Dropper rig, your casting and presentation play a vital role in enticing strikes. Aim to present the flies in a natural and realistic manner, mimicking the behavior of the insects being imitated. Make an accurate and delicate cast to avoid spooking the fish and ensure a drag-free drift. Avoid sudden or jerky movements and let the flies drift naturally with the current. A gentle twitch or occasional slight movement can add an enticing touch to imitate a struggling insect.

Mending and line control

Mending refers to the technique of repositioning your fly line on the water’s surface to achieve a proper drift. Proper line control is essential when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. Mending allows you to eliminate drag and maintain a natural presentation. Focus on mending upstream or downstream, depending on the direction of the current and the desired drift of your flies. Effective mending techniques ensure that your dry fly and nymph are carried naturally without any unnatural movements caused by drag.

Detecting strikes

Detecting strikes while fishing a Dry-Dropper rig can be challenging due to the additional weight and resistance caused by the nymph. It’s essential to develop a keen sense of touch and watch for subtle movements or line twitches. Keep your line taut but not overly tight, allowing you to feel even the slightest resistance. Be patient and attentive, as strikes can sometimes be very subtle. React promptly by setting the hook when you sense a strike, but avoid overreacting to false signals such as snags or debris in the water.

Using the Dry Fly as an Indicator

Role of the dry fly

The dry fly in a Dry-Dropper rig serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it acts as an indicator, allowing you to detect strikes when the fish takes the nymph. Secondly, it serves as a temptation for fish feeding on the surface. When you see the dry fly getting taken by a fish, it’s an indication that fish are present and actively feeding. As such, pay close attention to the behavior of the dry fly and be prepared to set the hook and land the fish when a take occurs.

Adjusting the depth of the nymph

One advantage of fishing a Dry-Dropper rig is the ability to adjust the depth at which your nymph is presented. By adding or removing tippet material between the dry fly and the nymph, you can change the depth at which the nymph rides in the water column. Adjusting the depth allows you to target fish feeding at different levels, from those feeding close to the surface to those holding deeper. Experiment with various depths until you find where the fish are actively feeding.

Reading the dry fly for strikes

reading the dry fly for strikes is a crucial skill when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. Watch for any changes in the behavior of the fly, such as sudden movements, dips, or disappearance. These could indicate a fish striking the nymph or the dry fly being pulled under by a fish. When you see such movements, be prepared to set the hook immediately. Developing your ability to read the dry fly’s behavior accurately will significantly increase your success rate when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig.

Tips for Success

Observing the behavior of fish

Observing the behavior of fish is crucial for success when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. Pay attention to the surface activity and take note of any rises or signs of feeding fish. Observe the water for any indication of insect hatches or emergers and watch how the fish are feeding. By carefully observing the fish and their behavior, you can make informed decisions about the flies to use, the presentation techniques to employ, and the depths at which to fish.

Experimenting with different fly combinations

One of the advantages of fishing a Dry-Dropper rig is the ability to experiment with different fly combinations. Don’t be afraid to try different dry fly and nymph combinations until you find what works best in the current conditions. Vary the size, color, and profile of your flies to match the insects the fish are actively feeding on. Additionally, try different dropper nymphs and adjust the weight to find the right balance for the water conditions. By experimenting with various combinations, you can fine-tune your setup and increase your chances of success.

Adapting to changing conditions

The ability to adapt to changing conditions is crucial when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. The behavior of fish, water conditions, and insect activity can vary significantly throughout the day. Pay attention to these changes and be willing to adapt your flies, presentation techniques, and depths accordingly. Stay observant and open-minded, constantly reassessing your setup and making necessary adjustments. By adapting to the changing conditions, you can stay ahead of the fish and increase your chances of success.

Gear and Equipment

Choosing the right rod and reel

When fishing a Dry-Dropper rig, it’s important to choose the right rod and reel setup. Opt for a fly rod with a moderate action, as it offers the necessary flexibility and sensitivity for both dry fly presentations and nymphing. A weight-forward fly line is suitable for casting larger and heavier dry flies, while a double taper line is better for delicate presentations. The reel should have a smooth drag system to handle potential larger fish and allow for easy line retrieval.

Selecting the appropriate line and leader

The choice of line and leader is crucial for fishing a Dry-Dropper rig successfully. As mentioned earlier, a weight-forward or double taper line can be used depending on the specific needs of your presentation. Consider using a tapered leader designed for nymphing, as it allows for gradual turnover and better control of your flies. The length of the leader can vary depending on the water conditions, but a 9-foot leader is a good starting point. Adjust the tippet material length and diameter based on your specific needs and the size of the flies you’re using.

Essential accessories for nymphing

When fishing a Dry-Dropper rig, there are several essential accessories you should consider having in your fishing arsenal. A good pair of polarized sunglasses is crucial for enhancing your visibility in the water and spotting fish, rises, and submerged obstacles. A landing net with a long handle is useful for safely landing fish without causing excessive stress or damage. Additionally, carry a range of split shot weights and strike indicators to fine-tune your nymph’s depth and detect strikes more effectively.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Using an inappropriate dry fly size

Using the wrong dry fly size is a common mistake anglers make when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. It’s essential to select a dry fly that matches the insect size the fish are feeding on. Using a dry fly that is too big or too small can reduce your chances of success. Pay attention to the insect activity and observe what size they are, and then use a dry fly that closely matches that size. Avoid assuming that a larger or smaller fly will work better, as fish can be selective in their feeding.

Neglecting to adjust the nymph depth

Neglecting to adjust the depth of your nymph is a critical mistake when fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. Fish can actively feed at various depths, and if your nymph is not presented in the feeding zone, your chances of success are significantly reduced. Take the time to experiment with different depths and adjust the length of your tippet between the dry fly and the nymph. Vary the weight of your nymph to ensure it sinks to the desired level and matches the behavior of the feeding fish.

Overlooking the importance of line control

Line control is often overlooked by anglers fishing a Dry-Dropper rig. Drag caused by an unnatural drift can deter fish from striking. Proper mending and line control techniques are crucial for achieving a natural presentation and eliminating drag. Observe the behavior of your dry fly and the drift of your nymph, and make adjustments to your line and leader to achieve a drag-free presentation. Practice different mending techniques to effectively control the drift and increase your chances of enticing strikes.

Different Variations of the Dry-Dropper Rig

Using multiple dropper nymphs

A variation of the traditional Dry-Dropper rig is using multiple dropper nymphs. Instead of attaching only one nymph to the dry fly, you can attach two or more nymphs at different lengths below the dry fly. This setup allows you to present multiple imitations of insects at various depths simultaneously, increasing your chances of success. Choose nymphs that imitate different insects or stages of an insect’s life cycle to offer a diverse selection to the fish.

Swapping out dry flies

Another variation of the Dry-Dropper rig is swapping out dry flies to imitate different insects or to match changing conditions. If you notice a change in insect activity or if the fish become selective in their feeding, be willing to swap out your dry fly for a different pattern. Carry a selection of dry flies in various sizes, colors, and profiles to match the insects present. By switching to a more accurate imitation, you increase your chances of success and adapt to the changing conditions on the water.

Adding weight to the leader

Adding weight to the leader is another variation that can be effective in certain situations. By attaching split shot weights above the dropper nymph, you can increase the sinking rate and depth of the nymph. This technique is particularly useful when fishing deeper and faster-moving water where a natural drift is challenging to achieve. Experiment with the placement and number of split shot weights to find the right balance between achieving the desired depth and maintaining a realistic presentation.


Fishing a Dry-Dropper rig is an incredibly versatile and effective technique for fly anglers. It allows you to target fish feeding on the surface and those holding in deeper water simultaneously. By selecting the right flies, considering water conditions, and employing proper techniques, you can increase your chances of success. Remember to observe the behavior of fish, experiment with different fly combinations, and adapt to changing conditions to optimize your Dry-Dropper rig. With practice and patience, you’ll be able to master this technique and enjoy the rewards it brings on the water. Happy fishing!

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