Using a nymph as a dropper with a dry fly makes all the sense in the world, and I’ve seen it recommended many times — and yet I’ve only tried it occasionally and half-heartedly.
But after catching a really good trout this way last Saturday, I may never cast a dry fly without a nymph trailing it again. It was only one fish and I didn’t even land it, but the brief fight was thrilling, and the nymph dropper method worked in textbook fashion.
Fishing multiple-fly rigs is as old as fly-fishing itself. Years ago, it was the norm, not the exception, but these days, most anglers fish just one fly, wet or dry, most of the time.
It’s true that building a two- or three-fly rig takes time, and it’s also true that this rig runs the risk of tangling if you cast carelessly. But beyond that, I can’t think of a good reason not to fish one fly dry and one wet. It can’t do any harm, and it may well get you into more fish.
I was near the edge of a long, flat pool on the West Branch of the Delaware River. After a slow afternoon, trout had begun rising.
I was 60 feet off the east bank casting toward shore. Every minute or so, at various points around an area the size of a living room, spreading concentric rings would quietly appear on the mirror-like surface. I cast to each rise as quickly as I could, but my dry fly, a comparadun, drew no response.
Blue-winged olives with size 18 bodies and tall smoky wings were on the water, but I didn’t see any of them taken by trout. I became convinced that the rises were being caused by trout feeding on emerging mayflies approaching, but not yet in, the surface film.
A subsurface fly was called for, but rather than snipping off the dry, I tied a foot and a half of 6X tippet to the bend of the Comparadun and tied a nymph to the other end — an un-weighted, size 18 chocolate brown hare’s ear, ribbed with fine gold wire.
Does it seem odd to be shivering on Aug. 9? It’s not if you’ve been standing in the 50-something-degrees West Branch all afternoon. My hands wanted to shake, but I made them tie the knots very carefully anyway, knowing the West Branch has a lot of big trout.
My first cast was short, but I saw that the rig worked just right: the nymph slipped directly into the water and the dry fly floated along as an indicator. Whether a trout took the dry fly itself or took the nymph and dragged the dry fly under, I would see it happen.
The West Branch demands your best fishing, and fortunately, my mind was clear and my casts, for a change, were smooth, straight and true. I pulled more line off the reel, fed it into my false casts and aimed for the spot where most of the rises seemed to occur. My line unrolled in a tight loop and dropped onto the river, the dry fly and the submerged nymph landed a little upstream of the site of the rises, and I could feel my eyes bugging out as I followed the dry fly’s drift.
And then, suddenl,y I didn’t see it. In a fraction of a second, my mind asked itself if the dry fly was really gone from view and then answered: Yes, dummy, set the hook. I barely had to move my hand — a trout had the nymph in its mouth and was going the other way. Instantly we were connected, and then the fish exploded out of the water, furiously beating the air with its tail. How big? I don’t know — easily 15-16 inches, maybe bigger, but most remarkable for its girth. Again, the brown hurled itself out of the water, and again, and again, showing me its big, butter-yellow belly a total of four times.
Then it was gone. My tippet came back cleanly broken. I’m not used to handling good-sized trout on fine stuff, and I probably played the fish clumsily. Then again, this fish fought so fiercely, it may have escaped the most expert and cool-headed light-tackle man.
That was the only trout I hooked all day, but I didn’t feel a trace of disappointment at not landing it. An hour later, climbing out of my waders at the car in the dark, I was completely content. I’d hooked one of the notoriously fussy West Branch browns, and I had gotten a vivid lesson in the value of the nymph-dropper rig in the process.