The Dry Fly / Dropper Approach
By: Mark Bachmann
Fishing tiny flies dead-drift at long range can be an intimidating challenge, especially as an angler gets older and eyesight begins to falter. An easy way to solve this problem is with a "Dry Fly / Dropper Approach".
This simple setup is stress-free to rig. Select a large, easy to see dry fly that has lots of floatation. This fly will act as a strike indicator, and it will suspend your nymph in the water column. Your dry fly should simulate a recent or current hatch so that it not only controls your nymph, but also acts as an attractor. Favorite dry flies mimic large caddis, stoneflies or grass hoppers. One of my favorite flies is a Chubby Chernobyl because the big white wing is highly visible and the foam body has lots of flotation. I attach this large dry fly to the end of a 7 1/2' 4X tapered leader. Then tie a length of 5X leader to the bend of the hook of this fly with an improved clinch knot. This leader will act as your dropper for your small nymph.
Brian Silvey, a popular local fishing guide (pictured above) has perfected the "Dry Fly/Dropper" technique for fishing Oregon's Deschutes River. During the summer months there are many different hatches of caddis, mayflies and midges. Each has a slightly different emergent sequence, but all have fairly long drift cycle along the bottom of the river before they start their ascent toward the surface of the water. Insects normally tend to collect near the bottom of the river and at the surface of the water. Trout know this and they target these two areas. A "Dry Fly/Dropper Rig" covers these two areas. Much of the pre-emergent insect drift happens within inches of the bottom, so it is to your advantage to fish your nymph as close to the bottom as possible.
Pictured above is a Redband trout with a caddis pupa stuck in its lip. This fish fell for a Bead head fly that was suspended under large dry fly. Experiment with different lengths of droppers. Often a longer dropper will catch more fish. Most often fishing your dry fly upstream and dead-drift back to you will produce the most strikes. However, it is also a good idea to to allow your fly to pass you on its downstream trajectory, then slowly raise your rod tip to bring the nymph to the surface of the water. Fish will often strike as they see your nymph rising, as they naturally do during a hatch.
Casting a "Dry Fly/Dropper Setup" does require skill and patience, as the flies can tangle. Use a smooth stroke with smooth stops. Avoid casts that send shock waves down the line and leader.