They say two heads are better than one and I say two flies are better than one. To target bass, panfish or trout, one of the most productive fly fishing tactics is a dry-dropper rig.

Double Your Fun with a Dry Dropper Rig

The dropper is useful when tackling new water or when I am not sure what bait the fish are eating. Also, since it is a multi-species tactic, the dropper can be employed on just about any river, stream, pond or lake.

The dry-dropper rig is simply a dry fly with a nymph dropper. Using two flies doubles my chances of hooking into a fish. The rig also allows me to simultaneously fish the surface and subsurface. The fish may gulp down the dry or they can take the suspended nymph. When a fish takes the deep fly, the dry fly acts like an indicator for the subsurface eat.

a dry dropper rig for fly fishing
A buoyant dry fly with foam accents keeps the dropper afloat and acts as an indicator. | Photo: Marc Fryt

A simple approach to rigging a dry-dropper starts with a floating fly line with a seven-and-a-half to nine-foot leader tapered down to 2x, 3x, or 4x depending on the size of the fish.

I use a clinch knot to attach the dry fly to the main leader. Then, another clinch knot connects the second piece of leader to the bend of the dry fly hook. Finally, a clinch holds the nymph to the end of the second leader.

The length of the dropper tippet depends on the depth of water I am fishing. Deep water or swift current requires a longer dropper tippet in order to get the subsurface fly below the surface.

On the shallower end, I use 14 to 20 inches of tippet. When I need to get the subsurface fly deeper, I use 20 to 30 inches of tippet. The tippet leading to the subsurface fly should be at least one “x-size” smaller than the main leader. If the nymph gets snagged, only the subsurface fly will break off.

Finding the right fly

I choose a larger, more buoyant dry fly to float the heavier subsurface fly. I look for dry flies with a decent amount of foam, hackle, hair, and rubber legs allowing me to use a heavier fly beneath it. A great option for bass and panfish is a popper large enough to support the dropper.

person stands and casts a fly from an inflatable kayak while another person rows
Cast the dry dropper into slower flows. | Photo: Marc Fryt

When selecting a subsurface fly, don’t limit the choices to bead-head nymphs. Unweighted nymphs, wet flies and even streamers can be suspended off the dry fly.

Tackle Box
  • 7.5’ to 9’, 3–5wt rod and standard disc drag or click-pawl reel

  • Floating fly line

  • 7 ½’ to 9’ 2× to 4× leader

When the fish stop taking the dry fly, they will start to nab the nymph.


Dries: Elk hair caddis, boogle bug popper, stimulator or foamulator

Droppers: Bead head wooly bugger, Frenchie nymph, rainbow warrior nymph

One of my favorite tactics for river smallmouth is suspending a bead-head wooly bugger off a popper. The wooly bugger floats in a dead drift beneath the popper and acts like a leech or wounded baitfish.

When I’m targeting panfish, it is hard to beat an elk hair caddis with a small bead-head nymph as the dropper. Normally, panfish will pounce on the dry as soon as it hits the water.

Once the action slows down, I will quickly strip the flies, sinking the elk hair caddis in the process. The swimming action often produces a handful more strikes.

Trout fishing a dry dropper rig

To target trout, I use a dry-dropper on calm sections of a river or stream. I opt to rig the flies with a triple surgeon’s knot in order to allow both flies to move independently for a better drift.

To rig this dry-dropper setup, use a triple surgeon’s knot to attach 20 to 30 inches of tippet 10 inches up the main leader. Tie the dry fly to the end of the main leader and add a nymph to the dropper.

person holds a trout caught with a dry dropper rig
A dry dropper rig is the way to cover twice as much water with one cast. | Feature photo: Marc Fryt

This rig allows both flies to move naturally. It also allows me to quickly change the dry fly without having to clip off the nymph.

Regardless of which species I am pursuing, I experiment with flies to find working combinations. When I’m fishing new water or shopping flies, the dry dropper rig allows me to kill two birds with one stone.

This article was first published in the Early Summer 2022 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

A dry dropper rig is the way to cover twice as much water with one cast. | Feature photo: Marc Fryt




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