Setting Up a Dry-Dropper Rig

6 mins read
By Spencer Durrant

A dry-dropper rig is one of the most effective ways to present flies to trout. I use it year-round here in the Rockies, and I know plenty of other guides who do, too. It’s a great way to cover two parts of the water column at once, and once you know how to fish it, a dry-dropper rig is deadly on just about any river.

Today, we’ll focus on how to set up a dry-dropper rig correctly. It’s easier than you’d think.

The Dry-Dropper Rig Explained

Most anglers are familiar with the concept of fishing two flies at once. Tandem nymph rigs are popular, especially for those just learning the sport. But the efficacy of a two-fly rig isn’t exclusive to nymphing.

While it’s true that trout mostly eat a diet of nymphs, they’ll still look up for dry flies when the time is right. A dry-dropper rig capitalizes on a trout’s willingness to eat a dry fly, and pairs it with a nymph, which is a year-round food source for all trout.

Like I mentioned earlier, I fish this rig year-round. I love the visual part of watching fish eat dry flies, but I know how effective nymphs are. A dry-dropper is the best of both worlds.

Setting Up


This is an easy rig to put together. The trick is more in deciding which flies to use than it is the actual nuts-and-bolts of assembling them.

To start, I pick a fairly bushy dry fly – a caddis, Adams, or some sort of foam hopper. You want a fly that floats high and is easy to see, because your dry is also functioning as a strike indicator in this rig. Any slight movement of the dry fly will signal a fish eating the nymph, so it’s important to pick one that you can easily see at all fishing distances.

Tippet Distance

A dry-dropper rig isn’t complete without a section of tippet connecting your dry fly and your dropper. Determining how long to make the dropper is simple, as it depends on two factors: the speed and depth of the river you’re fishing.

For slower, shallower rivers, a shorter dropper will work. As a general rule, I don’t tie droppers that are less than 15 inches long, but something in that range is good in shallow riffles.

For faster, deeper water, you’ll obviously want more tippet so your nymph has a better chance of reaching the fish that aren’t looking up. On a lot of the tailwaters here in the Rockies, I fish a 24 to 30 inch dropper.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve found 18 inches to be a good all-around dropper length. Then, you can add or take away more tippet if you need to adjust your depth.

The Knot

Once you’ve picked your flies and identified the right tippet length, it’s time to tie the rig together. There are a few ways to set this up. The process I’m showing here is what I use both when guiding, or fishing alone. And it’s the most common way to tie on droppers according to other guides, too.

Take your tippet and tie it onto the bend of the dry fly hook using a clinch knot. This knot is quick and easy to tie, it’s strong, and it’s durable.

Some folks suggest tying the tippet for a dropper off the eye of the dry fly hook, but I don’t like that approach for a few reasons. It’s more prone to tangles, and I don’t think it presents a dry fly with a natural drift, since you have all the weight of the nymph pulling the hook eye beneath the water. Tying your dropper off the bend of the hook creates a far more natural drift for both the dry and the nymph.

Barbed and Barbless Hooks

In all my years of fly fishing, I’ve never had a dropper slide off the end of a barbless hook. I know it’s happened to some other anglers, but it’s never happened to me. So, even on my hooks that are manufactured barbless, I don’t worry about tying on a dropper. Maybe someday that’ll change, but my personal experience says it’s not something to worry about.

Don’t be afraid to mash down the barbs on your own hooks, either. Even when mashed, there’s still enough of a barb to provide a stopping point for your dropper.

Wrapping Up

The dry-dropper rig is my personal favorite way to fly fish. It’s effective, simple to use, and works in a variety of water types. Rigging up is easy, and hopefully this piece made clear exactly what your rig should look like.


    • If using a tippet ring, this should be used to connect to the end of your leader. The initial tippet is then tied to the ring at the end of the leader. This tippet is attached to the top dry fly, and then a second 18 inch tippet is attached to bend of the hook and attached to your nymph. When snagging or breaking off, you may only lose the flies instead of the entire rig.

  1. In a dry dropper rig is the dry fly tied to the end of the tippet on your leader and then a second tippet attached to the bend of your dry fly and then the nymph attached to the end of that tipped. And if so does the second tippet have to match the first tippet in size. Thank you for your response.

    • You have that right as far as how the tippet connects. And nope, there’s no rule about matching tippet sizes like that. Typically, when I’m fishing a dry dropper rig, I’ll have 4x to my dry fly, then 4x to my nymph.

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