Three Ways to Build a Dry-Dropper Rig: Techniques and Tips

Fly fishing a dry dropper rig is a great method that catches more fish. I was first introduced to dry dropper rigs years ago when I went to guide school in Montana and wow are they effective.

When you use a dry dropper rig you can fish every part of the water column from the surface to subsurface and you can even have a nymph near the bottom.

This means you are matching the hatch as well as having nymphs deeper in the water column covering all the bases where rainbow and brown trout feed.

That you we’ve mentioned Montana, you can see our post here on the montana fly fishing destinations that you can visit.

What is a dry dropper rig?

dry dropper rig

Before we get into the different ways of building a dry dropper rig, let’s first make sure we are on the same page as to what they are. Basically, they allow you to fish a dry fly and a nymph at the same time.

A dry dropper setup involves using two flies or more. One is always a dry fly that sits on the surface and acts like a strike indicator that trout also want to eat. The other(s) can be nymphs or wet flies that sit subsurface. It’s easy to see why this fly fishing method is so effective

Building a dry dropper setup is easy and you have three ways to choose from which we’ll discuss now. To know more about the difference between dry flies vs wet flies, see our post here.

How to build a dry dropper rig

How to build a dry dropper rig

Before we get into the details of how to build a dry dropper rig let’s make sure you’re ready to do so. You should have your fly rod and reel setup with the fly line threaded through the guides.

Attach your leader using a loop-to-loop connection if you have a pre-made leader and a welded loop in your fly line. If you need to make a loop in your leader tie a perfection loop knot or a surgeons loop knot. If both the fly line and leader do not have a loop use a nail knot to attach them together.

Your leader should be 7-9ft long and made of mono or fluoro. You should then add a length of 18-24 inches of tippet to the end of your leader using a double surgeon’s knot or double uni knot.

The Tandem Rig

The first way to build a dry dropper rig is by having the flies connected in tandem which helps to reduce tangles.

Step 1

Take the section of tippet after tying it to your leader and tie on your dry fly with an improved clinch knot. You can use any kind of dry flies you like such as a hopper, stimulator, adams, or caddis.

Just make sure it’s buoyant enough to handle the weight of your second fly so it can act as a strike indicator and drift well too.

Step 2

Grab another section of tippet, in the same size and about 12-24 inches in length depending on what depth you want to fish your nymph.

Tie the end of the fishing tippet around the fly tying hook bend of the dry fly using an improved clinch knot. It helps to pull the tippet taught when tying these knots to the bend. Make sure to trim the tag small.

Step 3

On to the second length of tippet, add your dropper fly, usually a nymph, using another improved clinch knot. All nymphs are fine such as prince nymphs, copper john nymph, or pheasant tail – I prefer a pheasant tail.

The nymphs can have some weight, just make sure it matches the buoyancy of the dry fly so you can fish a dry properly.

At this point the rig is complete, you can choose to add a third fly at this point if you want to by repeating the step.

The Eye Rig

the eye rig


This dry dropper rig is similar to the tandem rig but you use the eye instead of the bend of the hook to tie it. As an angler, I like it because there is no line on the back of the dry fly which might put off a wise trout.

Step 1

Tie the tippet from the leader to the dry fly using an improved clinch knot. Now take another tippet section and tie it onto the eye of the dry fly with another improved clinch knot.

Step 2

Add your nymph to the second piece of tippet coming from the eye of the dry fly by tying another improved clinch knot.

The Dry Dropper Tippet Rig

dry dropper rig

This style of dry dropper rig is my favorite as it allows the dry fly to drift free without a nymph pulling it directly down. But it doesn’t work as well if you want your dry fly to be a strike indicator as the droppers aren’t directly connected to it.

Step 1

Take the tippet section already tied to your leader and add another section of tippet around 1-2 feet long, depending on what depth you want to fish your dropper fly.

Tie the two sections of tippet together using a double surgeon’s knot and make sure to leave the tag end long, about 6-8 inches.

Now tie your dry fly to the long bit o the tippet’s tag end you have left on the knot using an improved clinch knot. This allows the dry fly to be free on the surface of the river.

Step 2

Take the end of the tippet section you just added and tie on your nymph with an improved clinch.


Fly Selection

fly selection

When fishing a dry dropper rig you need to balance your flies. Your lead fly, the dry fly, should match the hatch but it should also be buoyant enough to handle the weight of the dropper fly so it stays on the surface of the river – this way a trout might eat it.

A hopper is a very floaty dry fly and it will stay on the surface even after adding a weighted nymph and plus some split shot too.

But fishing a dry dropper with a size 16 Adams lead dry fly is a little different. These smaller dry flies aren’t so buoyant and they should be tied with a smaller dropper fly like an underweight size 16 nymph to keep them on the surface of the river.

You can also check out our post here about double nymph dropper rig.

Which of the dry dropper rigs is best?

Which of the dry dropper rigs is best

This comes down to your personal preference as a fly fishing angler. I prefer fishing with the tandem dry dropper rig if I’m using big terrestrial dry flies like a hopper and/or if want the dry fly to act as a strike indicator.

If there is a hatch going off and the trout are going wild for small dry flies, I’ll fish the dry dropper tippet rig as the dry fly is more enticing to trout when tied like this as there is nothing tied to the bend or eye of the hook.

How long should a dropper rig be?

Your dropper rig should be long enough to get your dropper fly into the depth of water you want it to be in. This comes down to the depth of the river you’re fishing and what fly you’re using.

If you want to fish a nymph close the bottom then add enough tippet so reach that depth, around 2-4 feet is usually enough.

How do you fly fish with a dropper?

How do you fly fish with a dropper

Fly fishing with a dropper is just like fishing a dry fly without one or a nymph with an indicator. Pick your target, make sure the dry fly drifts naturally and keep an eye on it – if it goes down strike to hook a fish that’s eaten the dropper or set the hook when a fish takes it off the surface.

One thing to be aware of is your cast. When you cast with two flies make sure the knots are trimmed well and make sure to pause properly so they do not get tangled in mid-air.

Can you use a dry fly as an indicator?

Yes, you can use a dry fly as an indicator when fly fishing. In fact, that is one of the best things about a dry dropper rig. I have fished countless times with a normal indicator and have had trout come to eat it instead of my nymphs. When the indicator is fished as a dry fly you catch them all.

What is the difference between a wet fly and a dry fly?

What is the difference between a wet fly and a dry fly

The main difference between a dry and wet fly is that a dry fly sits on the surface and a wet fly below it.

When fly fishing with a dry fly you are imitating a live bug that is drifting on the surface of the water. If you’re fly fishing with a wet fly, you’re imitating dries that have drowned and are being washed down the river just under the surface.

Both are very effective flies to use and work well as a dry dropper rig, you can even add a nymph at the bottom and fish three flies.

Photo of author

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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