We have put up a few posts over the past month going over different ways to set up a nymph rig. Today I wanted to share with you my personal favorite way to fish a nymph and that is one where it is hung below a dry fly. The Hopper Dropper set up is not a style of fishing that can be used in every season or in every part of the world but when the circumstances allow, I’d argue there is not a more fun nor effective way to fish a nymph.
As the name implies you start with a large grass hopper imitation which is often how I rig mine but really any buoyant dry fly will work. You just want something that floats well enough to support the droppers (nymphs) suspended below. You also want to try and pick a dry fly that represents a bug that the fish are currently seeing as that will increase the chances you get a fish to eat on the surface. Besides hoppers, I will tie on stonefly imitations or large attractor dries such as a Stimulator or Amy’s Ant. The dry fly here is basically your strike indicator but it has the added benefit of having a hook in it.
When fishing a dry dropper, you can cover three different depths in the water column. You have the dry fly on the surface. Then off of the dry fly I tie on a heavier nymph, this is usually an attractor type pattern where its main purpose is to provide some weight while still having the chance of getting eaten. Then I hang a more realistic imitation off the back. My go to set up is a shorter leader to aid in turning the long rig over. I like a 7ft leader tapered down to 3x. I attach a Chubby with a loop knot, I then tie about 2 feet of 3x off of the bend of the hook to a #16 Two Bit or Copper John, followed by 12-18 inches of 4x to a smaller RS2, caddis emerger, midge, or imitation of whatever is hatching. (Check local regulations to see if there is a limit on the number of hooks you can fish on a single rig.). The distance from the dry fly to the first dropper varies based on the depth but I find 2 feet to be a good average distance. On deeper rivers I’ll go to distances as large as 4 feet.
With this set up, you can target fish throughout the water column without switching up your rig. From shallow riffles to deeper runs, you can fish it all. As you get comfortable with fishing this setup, you can incorporate things like using a mend to control the depth of your droppers if you want them to sink faster. I also am a big fan of how delicately the dry fly lands on the water. I find this approach is better for pressured fish or fish in calm water where the splash of a heavy indicator could cause them to spook. All of these benefits while also having the obvious one, a chance to watch a fish take your dry fly, is why the dry dropper is my favorite way to fish a nymph.
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Joe Pratt says
I like a hopper-dropper rig too for the same reasons. But the downside with it is that the indicator (i.e. the hopper) is set for a fixed depth, and can’t be adjusted like typical strike indicators. How do you address that issue?