Dry-dropper technique well suited for area rivers

Chris Fleck
Thursday, June 21, 2018

Prior to the spike in flows due to heavy rains, flows on the Stillwater were on a generally downward trend. In fact, there were a few days of crystal clear flows that although high, were doable for fishing. The Yellowstone was dropping too. The usual sequence is for the Stillwater to round into shape by late June or the first of July as far as safe and clear flows. It will be swift and cold, so be safe and prepared. The Yellowstone is always slower to come around down towards Columbus. It will be ready to go when the water color transitions from brown in color to a blueish-green tint. That can be a prime time to fish it, so get on it during that transition. Be prepared to nymph down deep. If fishing a dry-dropper set up try a fairly long dropper. Streamers could also be dead drifted or stripped off the bank.

So, let’s talk some fishing tactics and techniques to get ready for post-runoff fishing on our area freestones. The most common rig set up is what we call a “dry-dropper” or “hopper-dropper” rig. I remember the first time I walked into a fly shop somewhere in the Rocky Mountain West and heard this term and went, “Huh?” Basically it consists of fishing a large dry fly or hopper as a searching pattern on the surface with a trailing nymph tied off of it to fish sub-surface. Golden stones and yellow sallies are typically first to make their appearance on the rivers. The past few years I’ve even noticed an increase in the number of salmon flies I see on the river. While nowhere near the numbers on the rivers to our west that are known for this hatch, I definitely carry a few in the boat box and I’m going to try tossing them along some of the willow covered banks to see if I can stir a big brown trout looking for a meal instead of a snack! Anyway, the large dry fly patterns make an excellent top fly as they’re usually large, bushy, buoyant, and highly visible for most anglers. Probably the number one pattern is the “Chubby Chernobyl” that comes in a variety of body colors and sizes. It’s extremely buoyant, and with the big white wing, it’s impossible not to see it on the water. So, it makes a great rough water top fly.

If fishing large dry fly or hopper patterns, typically a 7 ½’ 2-3X leader/tippet to the top fly with 3-4X tippet to the trailing nymph will do. The most common set up is running a piece of tippet (generally a size smaller than that to the top fly) 18-24” off of the bend of the hook of the top fly to the trailing nymph. Sometimes that length should be shorter if wanting to fish a trailing emerger pattern slightly below the surface. Fluorocarbon tippet sometimes works well for the dropper as it is less visible, has a higher tinsel strength and is more abrasion resistant then nylon tippet. For boat fishing on the Stillwater when flows are a bit high, I set my clients up with a 7 ½ 2X leader with a piece of 2X tippet to the top fly, then use 3X fluorocarbon tippet for my dropper fly. This is just one way, but seems to work well for me.

The dry fly on top, in addition to its own attraction to the fish, also serves as a sort of a strike indicator for the trailing nymph. It keeps it suspended in the water column at the desired depth as well as indicates when to set the hook. So, instead of nymphing with just an indicator, why not put a hook on it?

A key to this setup is to make sure that the trailing nymph isn’t too big or heavy, causing the top dry fly to submerge. This rig usually works best with larger dries and hoppers in the size 8-12 range and the nymphs in size 12-16. A big “Chubby” can even suspend a large rubber leg pattern like a “Bitch Creek” or “Girdle Bug” that is sometimes a good set up too. Another feature of this setup is that it is perfect for shallow water nymphing along the river’s edge. Without split shot, the trailing nymph will just drift along, meandering in the water without getting hung up on the bottom. As an aside, regardless of the fishing technique, don’t ignore fishing shallower water on the edges and on the banks. You’d be amazed at the big fish that can be found lurking in this type of water.

This setup is a great way to fish the best of both worlds. The dry fly on top usually gets a fair number of hits on its own and the nymph picks up those fish feeding sub-surface. Remember, too, to get a good pause in the back cast to let things load properly or it will tangle up in the casting motion. It can also be a difficult setup to fish in the wind for those obvious reasons.

So if you haven’t been fishing this way, give it a go and double your chances for success!

Tight lines!

Chris Fleck owns and operates Still-water Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus. He can be contacted at 322-4977 or via www.stillwateranglers.com.