The summer months bring sunshine, warmth, and relaxation to many of us. School is out and summer vacations take us to beaches, lakes, and faraway places. The summer months also bring lower, warmer water conditions in many freshwater bodies of water. The seasonal changes allow grasses to grow on the edges of the streams where water flows in the winter and spring. Many aquatic insects’ life cycles bring them to hatch into adults in the spring so fertilized eggs can develop over the summer to prepare for the winter and their emergence the following spring. But the encroaching warm weather grasses and shallow water conditions present opportunities for the upland, terrestrial insects to get closer to the water when their life cycles are peaking. Ants, beetles, cicadas, inchworms, crickets, and grasshoppers are drawn closer to the streams and many fall into the water, offering up a great meal to trout hiding in the cool waters below. With summer comes the terrestrial fly fishing period of the year. 

Two aspects of terrestrial fishing I look forward to are the opportunity to use a dry-dropper rig and the excuse to use the fun terrestrial flies. Who doesn’t want to fish with a big grasshopper floating along the stream? And don’t even get me started with the green weenie. My inner 13-year-old laughs at the name, but catching lots of fish with a bright green, easy to tie chenille wrapped on a hook is super fun. 

Terrestrial Flies: Ants, Beetles, Crickets, Grasshoppers, Chubby Chernobyls, and Green Weenies

Using a dry-dropper rig provides the chance to fish multiple flies at multiple elevations within the water column. The composition of the rig includes a dry fly floating on the surface that is connected to a “dropper” fly that is suspended below the dry fly in the water column. The dry fly needs to be buoyant enough to resist sinking below the surface with the combined weight/drag of the dropper fly (or flies) and the drag on the tippet that connects the rig below the water surface. Larger dry flies that simulate stoneflies, grasshoppers, and crickets are optimal dry flies for this type of setup. They are often tied with craft foam, which floats like a cork, or they are overly hackled like a stimulator to remain afloat for long periods of time. 

The dropper flies are usually meant to sink, tempting fish who are feeding below the surface on nymphs or sunken terrestrial flies like caddis flies or inchworms. I generally attach the dropper flies either by tying a clinch knot off the bend of the dry fly or by using a tag-dropper using the double or triple surgeon’s knot.

There are some fun and challenging aspects of this type of rig, like casting it without tangling the flies or how long to make the dropper (how deep should it hang into the water column?), but the coolest part of using a dry-dropper rig is that it gives an angler multiple depths and the best chances to be successful. Fishing in low water conditions limits the space the fish can occupy, it increases their risk of predation and increases the visibility of the angler to the fish. These factors make the fish super spooky and sensitive to noise and movement. Dry flies generally land softer and can be casted easier than an indicator, and they can be casted from a greater distance than many tightline nymph rigs. 

A Blue Heron Stalking Along the Bank During Summer Low Flow Conditions

Summer conditions often match the advantages and qualities of the dry-dropper rig, increasing the likelihood of success. The ability to match an approach to the challenging conditions of our life doesn’t always match that well. I have a tendency to pontificate when explaining my perspective to my family or coworkers. That’s not always effective, as evidenced by glassy eyes and silent gazes responding to my ramblings. Sometimes my desire to be 100% authentic and self-expressive limits what I’m willing to be open to from others or doesn’t consider their needs. There are moments where I try to lead someone to do something without being clear with them about my needs. I stay with my one fly or one level of the water column without being flexible. I don’t bust out the dry-dropper rig; I stick with the approach that is comfortable.

Earlier this week, I waded quietly into a reach I was exploring. Tying on a dry-dropper rig with a Chubby Chernobyl dry fly and a frenchie nymph, I scanned the water. A shallow riffle traversed the channel bottom, concentrating the current to a narrow boulder-strewn run where the water was deeper with the green tint that screams “fish this!”. My cast landed softly in one lane with the nymph plunging into the water and the dry fly settling into a smooth, drag-free drift. With a quick gold flash on the left of my fly, my heart started to race. I anticipated the fish would strike my dry fly. It seemed like an entirety. No strike came, and the flash was gone. I exhaled with disappointment as my eyes shifted to look back where I saw the flash when unexpectedly the foam fly was violently tugged below the water surface. The trout circled and took my nymph and went for a run. It was a strong fish that fought me for several minutes, but it was worth it–it was my largest trout on this stream ever. 

The flexibility of the rig gave me multiple chances to catch this fish. The conditions of summer fishing encouraged me to add flexibility into my approach. I’m left grateful for the experience and wondering about where my stubbornness and lack of flexibility may be costing me in other areas of life. 

Keep mending.

6 Replies to “The Flexibility of the Dry-Dropper”

  1. I can feel your excitement as you remember your experiences and find the words to match!
    You have described in detail how the seasons and conditions change how you approach your fishing techniques! Always fascinating! I enjoy reading your posts!

    1. There are lots of exciting moments and beautiful things to see. I think writing has helped me to value each experience even more, as I think about how I can describe it afterward. It imprints the memory a little stronger. Thanks for commenting and reading!

  2. Great analogy to life. You know there is nothing better than a sports analogy and this could not have captured it better

    1. Thanks Ben – I’m always trying to learn more. About fishing, myself, everything I can. Thanks for reading!

  3. The terms for your equipment is fascinating! Very colorful and descriptive!
    In films you see fly fishers flicking the rod/line back and forth! I don’t get that from your blogs. Do you do that? Maybe sometimes?
    I like that the fish came back! The fish are beautiful! I can see why you are thrilled when you catch one and when you release it! You have a connection with it!

    1. That is called false casting. The method is used to pull more line out of your reel to cast longer distances. Anglers also false cast to determine if their lines are the appropriate length for the target they are casting towards. Generally the more you false cast, the more likely you are to scare fish that see the line moving over their heads. Also, you are more likely to get tangled with the line itself or things around you. The other common thought is if your fly isn’t in the water, you can’t catch a fish. So I try to minimize my false casting. It can be cool to watch and get in the rhythm though!

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