New Twist on an Old Idea
Droppers are far from a new idea. Anglers have been using them for years. But what is new are some ideas on attaching the dropper to your lead fly and the combination of flies that many anglers are now using.
You'll see in the illustrations below (I know, I'm not trying to win any art awards), there are four places to attach the dropper fly. As far as I know, the original idea was to leave a long tag end off the surgeon's knot when attaching the tippet (the last section of the leader to which the fly is attached), and tying the dropper fly to the tag end. This works and a lot of anglers still use this method, but you will want to check the combo often to make sure the flies are not tangled.
The second way, and perhaps this is as original as the idea above, is to attach the dropper tippet through the eye of the lead fly, thus having two clinch knots on the same hook eye – one attaching the lead fly and the other for the dropper. This method fell out of favor a number of years ago, but now it seems to be back in vogue again.
Yet another way, and the most popular as far as I can tell, is to attach the dropper tippet with a clinch knot around the bend of the lead hook. This system seems to be the easiest and the cleanest, but there are anglers who will argue that the dropper fly (when using a nymph, pupa, or similar) does not drift as a natural insect would. That may be so, but we've used it successfully all over the world in trout fishing situations.
The last and newest method requires that you be a fly tier. When tying the fly a RIO tippet ring is tied into the back end of the fly body and the dropper tippet is attached to the tippet ring. We first saw this in Ireland (see photo) this summer. The tier attaches a piece of pretty stiff tippet to the ring and trims it to about an 1/8th of a inch tag. He then ties the tag into the fly, presumably as a last step, leaving the ring exposed to which is attached the dropper. The guides in Ireland swear that this method allows the dropper fly the most natural drift through the water behind the lead fly.
I suppose, like anything else, that certain of these methods work better in certain situations than the others, but they will all catch fish. The length of the tippet will vary with the type of fly that you're using, the depth of the water, and where the fish are holding. If it's a late summer afternoon and you find a feeding fish delicately sipping in tiny insects that you can't see on the water, you might tie a small hi-viz beetle or parachute Adams with a midge or tiny ant dropper about 14" from the lead fly. If the fish eats the midge you might not see it, but if you watch the larger fly you may detect the take by either seeing the fish or seeing the lead dry fly move or go under. The 2-dry dropper method is very helpful in situations like this when it is difficult to see your fly.
Most of the time the rig will consist of a dry fly as the lead fly and a nymph dropper. One of the most effective nymphs we've found is the bead head pheasant tail. We keep a selection of these nymphs in sizes 14-22 in our box all the time and they work wherever trout are found. There are many other patterns that work well and are popular, copper johns, hares ear, black epoxy, and regional favorites. The length of the dropper tippet will vary depending on whether you want to go deep or stay near the surface but on the average and in most situations, if your dropper is 14-20" long, you're in the game.
It is still important to check your system often as the dropper fly can easily get tangled in the lead fly. You must also slow down your casting stroke and wait on the back cast until the leader straightens out or it will tangle. If you find that the dry fly is sinking, go to a smaller or lighter nymph or a bigger dry fly. If your parachute Adams is sinking, try a foam beetle or humpy. I find that if I apply a silicone fly floatant when I attach the dry and then occasionally use drying crystals or powder as needed, the dry fly will stay floating and easy to see. Of course after you catch a fish, you may need to dry it and reapply the floatant.
Experiment with fishing droppers. These methods are a little more work and require our attention, but you'll find that by offering the fish a second choice, you'll almost always increase your catch.