Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Techniques

Fixed Line Fly Fishing Tactics : Dry Dropper Part 1

Of course dry-dropper rigging is not a traditional tenkara technique (to my knowledge – though if anybody knows otherwise let me know in the comments). It’s a technique borrowed from fly fishing that can be effective and fun on tenkara rods.

After I got rolling on this article I realized that it was getting too long, so I’m going to split it up into a few parts. This first part will primarily focus on the method of rigging as I do it.

What is Dry-Dropper Rigging?

If you came to tenkara from the fly fishing world, dry-dropper fishing is probably familiar to you. But if tenkara is your entry into fly fishing then it may be a new idea for you.

Dry-dropper rigging is one of many suspension nymphing tactics that you find in the modern nymphing angler’s tool box. In dry-dropper rigging you use a dry fly and a nymph in tandem. In the simplest terms the dry fly is acting as a bobber to suspend the subsurface fly and also serve as a strike-indicator. When a fish takes the nymph the dry fly goes under. And of course sometimes the fish takes the dry fly.

In the figure below you can see the way that I like to rig my dry-dropper setup:

Fixed Line Fly Fishing Tactics: Dry Dropper Part 1 - Anthony Naples
Figure 1: Dry Dropper Rigging

This method is slightly different to the way I’ve seen others do it.

Instead of tying the dropper tippet to the bend or though the eye of the dry fly hook, I tie it around the dry fly tippet above the fly. I do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I mostly use barbless hooks so tying to the bend of the hook seems a bit sketchy and secondly as my eyesight gets worse with age I find it easier to go around the tippet than go through the eye of the hook again.

Added Benefit to this Method of Rigging a Dry-Dropper

But there is an added benefit that I found as well. If I want to switch dry flies all I need to do is slide the dropper tippet up a bit then swap out the fly. That way I’m only redoing one knot. If I’d attached the dropper to the dry fly I’d need to deal with redoing two flies. Likewise if I want to switch to a 2 nymph rig I can do the same. It may not seem like a huge deal – but hey the less time I’m messing about with knots the more time I’m fishing.

Fixed Line Fly Fishing Tactics: Dry Dropper Part 1 - Slide
Figure 2: Switching Flies

A Few Words About the Dropper Tippet Length

If you notice in Figure 1, I’ve shown the dropper tippet length to be 16-18 “. Of course this length is can be variable. My thought process on tippet length is this: Ideally I want the nymph to be in the water column above where the fish are holding. So if I’m fishing a pool or run that is say 2.5′ to 3′ deep I still use a dropper depth of 18” or so (I’m not too precise about this … it’s just fishing after all). The reason I run a fairly shallow dropper depth is that I want the fish to come up to take the fly. Because when I fish comes up to snag a drifting bug it instantly turns back down. When it does that you get really good strike detection and hook setting.

If the dropper nymph is drifting right at the fish’s holding depth it is easier for the fish to take in the nymph and spit it out again without moving your indicator dry fly. At least that’s my philosophy and I’m sticking with it. It sounds logical right?

Fishing is dynamic and conditions are constantly changing by the day, season … even minute. Anglers that recognize that and adjust are likely to be more consistently successful. That is all easier said than done, I will be the first to admit. So if you are fishing a shallow dropper length and having no success. By all means lengthen it and see if that helps. Fish are sometimes very willing to move to a fly, and sometimes they are not.

Generally for me, if fish aren’t willing to move to a shallow-ish dropper then I am probably going to switch to a nymph-only setup such as discussed in my Simple Tenkara Rod Nymphing article.

Fly Choice?

In the places that I fish I have settled on a size 12 deer hair caddis as my usual dry fly in this rig. I like to to tie it with bleached deer hair as it seems that this color stands out for me (see the featured image at the top of the article). Caddis are quite prevalent on streams, plus it’s probably also not a bad imitation of small grasshoppers.

As for the dropper, I’m generally using a small bead-head nymph in the 16-18 size range. Lately I’ve been quite fond of very simple muskrat fur nymphs, but if you have a nymph or other wet fly that you have confidence in on your waters then use that. Obviously you need to choose the flies such that the dry fly is able to suspend the nymph without sinking too easily. But I’d prefer that the dry fly sink pretty easily rather than being super buoyant. That makes strike detection a little better.

Coming Next in Part 2: Why Dry-Dropper Rigging?

In the next installment I will go into some details about the different conditions where you may want to employ dry-dropper rigging and why.

Fixed Line Fly Fishing Tactics: Dry Dropper Part 1 - Hero

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  1. I usually don’t fish two flies on a Tenkara rod, if I do, I two like to keep the dropper short for the same reason you cite – long droppers introduce too much slack into the system.

    1. Jeff,
      Yes that’s extra slack with long droppers plus, for me anyway, they get tougher to keep untangled.

  2. Good article! Fishing a dry/dropped is kind of my go-to right now. I quite like the idea of tying the dropper onto the main piece of tippet. How much less effective would it be to just use a clinch knot I wonder? I already use a clinch to tie my tippet to level line so I assume it’s the same idea?

    1. Thanks! I can’t see why a clinch wouldn’t work. I’ve gone to an Orvis for all of my tippet to fly knots so I haven’t tried it with a clinch knot.

  3. Some Italians I met while fishing in Europe this fall told me that an old Italian style of flu fishing is to use a fixed lined on a pole with 3 (!) flies….

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