Sunday, August 1, 2021

Tightlining the Dry Dropper
By Cam Chioffi

I was 16 years old, and it was my second time visiting central Pennsylvania to attend a USA Youth Fly Fishing Team practice. A great mentor, teacher, author, guide, and representative of our sport, George Daniels, was performing a demo on how to fish a dry fly and a nymph on a European style mono leader. It was early June during the caddis hatch that occurs on central PA’s limestone creeks. After a few words of introduction about the tactic, the “watch this” began as George pitched a cast quartering upstream across a fast riffle towards a slow seam on the far side of the river. The rod accelerated quickly and stopped high, tucking the nymph underneath the leader, landing the dry in the same lane just below it. As the flies entered the feeding lane, George elevated his rod and leader, gaining contact with a tight line to the puffy CDC caddis dry fly. Just as the dry fly was about to start dragging, he popped the rod tip ever so slightly and began dancing the caddis on the surface while the drifting nymph anchored it to the drift. A few seconds later the drift began to enter the main current, and one last hop was all it took. A buttery brown trout exploded out of the seam engulfing the dry fly out of mid-air, and my teammates all shook their heads in disbelief.

Anyone who has fished with a guide in Colorado or Montana’s famous western trout rivers has probably been a witness to the productivity of fishing a dry fly and nymph together during a sunny summer day. Most beginners who have fished a dry dropper rig on a standard weight forward fly line end up mending all day and missing more takes because of difficulty managing line. In the realm of tactics I use for river fishing, few compare to the control, precision, and efficiency of the tight line mono rig. My use of fly line these days is confined to any presentation that requires the weight of a fly line to push an offering towards a target. While fishing rivers for trout, any weighted presentation (beadhead, split shot, heavy streamer) is only obtruded by having to cast, mend, and manage a bulky weight forward fly line. For this reason the mono rig will outperform a fly line in most of these instances. This is not to say you can’t fish a dry dropper effectively with a traditional fly line, in the right situations, for example, big flat western tailwaters like the Missouri River, it will outperform a mono rig.

So, what is it? A tightline dry dropper rig is for fishing a dry fly and a nymph on a long leader at the same time. The leader used in this application is specifically designed and tapered so that the angler may perform with maximum casting ability and minimal line sag from rod tip to flies, effectively allowing a drag-free drift over any various number of conflicting current seams. When paired on the right rod, a skilled or novice angler with the right casting stroke is allowed quick and accurate presentations with minimal disturbance on the surface of the water and maximum connection with their flies.

This method is for fishing within a 25-foot range, which is usually where the most effective presentations take place on medium-sized trout streams anyway. The combination of casting accuracy, line control, and minimal line on the water makes for deadly drag-free drifts that you’ve always dreamed about. The most exciting part of fishing this rig is the ability it gives you to manipulate the dry fly during the drift in order to imitate dancing adult caddis, mayflies, craneflies, damselflies, or whatever food may be present. It also gives you the ability to entice bites from actively feeding fish by animating the nymph as it drifts. When you watch the first brown trout go airborne to crush your hopper as you bounce it down a slow bubbly seam, you’ll understand why I love this technique.

An important part of having this rig work both for casting and strike detection is achieving a balance between the buoyancy and air resistance of the dry fly, and the weight and size of the nymph. For example, a size 16 Hares Ear fished under a size 10 Chubby Chernobyl will not work because the dry is too air resistant to be cast. It also will not detect strikes because the nymph is not heavy enough to create tension with the dry. Rather, a size 10 beadhead Stonefly below a size 10 Stimulator is a much better match because the weight of the stonefly will propel the dry fly through the air during the cast, and the dry fly will likely get pulled under when the nymph touches a rock or is sucked in by a trout. Going smaller down the scale, a size 14 Parachute Adam’s will generally pair well with size 14-16 beadhead nymphs.

I generally never use split shot while fishing this rig to avoid tangles and loss of contact with the nymph. My favorite style nymphs to fish on this rig are size 10-16 tungsten beaded nymphs on barbless jig hooks. My dry flies generally always have a parachute, deer hair, foam, or antron post wing. The bigger and faster the water, the more buoyant the dryfly.

The cast on a tight line rig starts with no slack between rod tip and flies, generally quartering upstream at the target. First, the rod accelerates quickly as you haul the line with your stripping hand, shooting the weight of the nymph behind you. Then as the fly settles and the leader straightens out behind you with an accentuated pause, the rod accelerates forward quickly to an abrupt stop, effectively shooting the nymph over top, or slightly to the side of the rod tip and towards its target. The leader should be controlled and held up off the water with a high rod angle and outreached arm, and as the dry enters the drift the angler must track it downstream, leading the fly by a few feet with the rising rod tip as the fly comes towards the angler and it’s targeted lie.

Experiment with different leaders for your home waters and enjoy the magic of the dry dropper rig in a whole new way. Tight Lines.

Tight Line Dry Dropper Leader Formula:


15 feet – 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet – 15lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet – 12lb Maxima Chameleon


Tippet Ring 2mm-
12” – 12lb Red Amnesia
12” – 10lb Green Amnesia
10” – 2x Monofilament Tippet


Tippet Ring 2mm-
30” – 4x Fluorocarbon Tippet


Tag for dry fly –
15-40” – 5x Fluorocarbon Tippet (Adjust to depth of water)


Nymph –