Over the past decade or so, some fly fishers have hailed the dropper system as the latest and greatest thing to hit fly fishing since the graphite fly rod. The truth is the two fly dropper system has been around since the early days of fly fishing. Like all techniques it has gone in and out of style over the generations. As new technologies are developed, fly fishing trends change, some things are labeled obsolete only to experience a re-birth later on. For whatever reason the dropper fly has experienced just such a re-birth and its uses are becoming more varied as well.
The two fly dropper system is simply a way to fish two flies at one time, actually a fly fisher could fish more than two flies, but for this article we will stick to just two flies. Like all techniques the dropper system takes some getting used to, as you become more experienced in using two flies, feel free to try three. Some brave souls even try four, however most just stick to two. There are many pros to fishing more than on efly at a time. For times like those stated above, you can more quickly identify the 'hot fly', if fish hit one fly repeatedly you can eliminate the non-porductive fly. Another advantage is your ability to search through multiple levels in the water column. The theory goes that finding the depth where fish are holding will increase your chances of getting hits. Depending on the food sources immediately available, fish can be holding down at the bottom, or swirling near the surface, a dropper allows you to explore these possibilities. And one days where the fish just don't seem to be too excited about anything you offer them, two flies give you twice the chance of getting that odd fish, and on days when theya ren't hitting much, that odd fish here and there can be the difference between getting skunked and having a story.
There are two basic dropper combinations. One is the sinker/sinker combo, and the other is the dry fly/dropper, sometimes called the hopper/dropper as hopper patterns work very well for this. In the sinker/sinker combo, two sub-surface patterns, are used, usually combined with split shot weights.
There are two basic apporaches in the sinker/sinker combo. One is you attach the smaller fly first in the sequence and then attach the larger fly, such as a stonefly nymph and attach a split shot in between the flies. The idea here is that the smaller fly, perhaps an emerger pattern, will stay in the upper portion of the water column while the stonefly will sink down, towards the bottom, where the fish is most apt to strike them. I do not use this technique, for the reason that I find it hard to believe the smaller fly gets a very realistic drift, with the heavier fly keeping the line taut. Although it is popular, i prefer the technique mentioned below.
Others (including yours truly) take the opposite approach. Attach the bigger fly first, take that Stonefly nymph for example, put the weight above it, and then attach your emerger pattern. The idea is that the Stonefly nymph will sink to the bottom, and drift in its proper element. And dangling freely behind and above it will be your emerger or whatever smaller nymph you would like. Personally I have had great success with this rigging, although I must say I don't use the previously mentioned one very often.
The hopper/dropper combo, takes the same principles but applies them to a dry fly. Using a larger dry fly with lots of buoyancy, and gooped up with
Gink, you then attach the sub-surface dropper pattern that will have you fishing sub-surface as well. If you are using a buoyant enough dry fly, then you may even use a small split shot above your sub-surface pattern, to help it stay down. A further advantage is your large dry fly acts as a strike indicator for your free drifting smaller nymph. As many of you know, flies floating in the surface film, can be the harderst ones to detect a strike, or more often a slurp.
Rigging the Dropper
There are fancy ways to attach dropper flies to your tippet, some use the tag ends of the tippet, to attach the dropper fly, others use loops on the tippet itself. But for me there are two very simple ways to rig the dropper. After you have tied on your fly at the end of the tippet, you can easily attach about two feet of tippet through the eye of that fly, and then attach another fly and the other end of this tippet. This method does not work well if you are planning on attaching a split shot above the second fly. The lines more easily become tangled.
The other method involves rigging up normally, and then at the end of the bend of the fly already tied in, tie in a two foot or so section of tippet, and then tie in your fly at the end of this section. The drawback of this method is, it is easier to lose your dropper fly, especially when using barbless hooks.
Cast these riggings with care, as it is easier to tangle your flies. Once tangled it is often easier to cut the rigging off and redo it, rather than try to untangle two flies. Also cast very tightly, as it can become unwieldy with wild casting or under windy conditions. The last warning is in regards to releasing fish, always make sure both hooks are out of harms way, before releasing your fish. It is very easy during the release to snag the fish, your hands or your legs/waders, with the free hook.Thjis approach is not for beginners for sure, but those of you with some basic fly fishing skills, can greatly enhance your fly fishing catch, by using some care and common sense. And there is always that chance you will get two fish on and once.
Dropper riggings are great for searching for fish, they take a little practice to cast and to tie. But the rewards will quickly outweigh the time invested to learn the proper way to do it.