Pro Tip: A Better Way to Rig Droppers

Written by: Cliff Weisse, Three Rivers Ranch

The common method of attaching the dropper tippet to the bend of the hook in front, poses some problems.
Illustrations by Cliff Weisse

Here’s a simple solution for one of the most common problems I’ve encountered when fishing droppers. Dropper tippets are typically tied off the bend of the hook. This is true whether you’re fishing multiple nymphs or dry flies, or a combination of a dry fly with a nymph dropper. So the first fly in line, the one tied to the end of the leader, has a tippet tied onto its bend that leads to the second fly. I’ve even seen three or more flies rigged this way in sequence, with each fly attached to a tippet which is tied onto the bend of the hook on the preceding fly.

Here’s the problem. When a fish is hooked on the first fly, or any fly except the last one, it’s not unusual for the dropper fly to become snagged on something, especially with larger fish that you can’t steer away from obstacles. This results in the hook being pulled out of the mouth of the fish. You hook the fish, fight it for a while, then end up snagged on the bottom with no fish on the line. If you fish droppers much, you’ve had this happen. It’s because the dropper tippet is attached to the bend of the hook so, when the dropper fly gets hung on something like a rock, it pulls the hook out as efficiently as grabbing the bend of the hook with your forceps. This is especially true with barbless hooks. (And you should be fishing barbless because there’s no good reason for fishing with barbed hooks.) Fortunately solving this problem is easy: Simply attach the dropper tippet to the eye of the hook.

By tying the dropper tippet through the eye of the hook in front, you avoid snagging and de-hooking problems.

With all flies attached to their respective tippet(s) through the eye of the hook, as intended, the tippet of a snagged dropper will pull on the eye of the preceding fly rather than the bend. If the dropper is on a lighter tippet, which is often the case, you might break off the dropper fly but the fish will stay hooked and can still be landed. I’ve rigged droppers this way for many years and have never run into any problems, as a result. You do everything the same as with a traditional rig off the bend; you just don’t lose so many fish.

This may be difficult to visualize, so just think about how you unhook a fish. Grab the bend of the hook and pull. Would you ever try unhooking a fish by grabbing the eye of the hook and pulling? Here’s a good way to demonstrate this:

1. Tie a tippet to the bend of a hook
2. Hold the hook in one hand
3. With your other hand, yank on the tippet, and the fly will pull out of your hand backwards without hooking you

However I wouldn’t recommend trying this with a dropper rigged off the eye because you will bury the hook in your hand all the way to the bend.

So next time you’re out give this a try and see for yourself. If you like landing fish you’ll, never rig your droppers off the bend again.

Cliff Weisse is a guide at Three Rivers Ranch in Ashton, Idaho.

65 thoughts on “Pro Tip: A Better Way to Rig Droppers”

    1. Rig your tippet with extra line. Leave your tag end on the first fly 18 inches long and tie off the second fly to the tag end. This is also very helpful if the second fly breaks off or you run into deeper water, because there is typically enough tag end to tie a surgeons knot to add length or another fly.

      1. I’ve been tying my flies on this way for years. The only problem I find with it is this… when fishing dry/dropper, quite often, my dry will not ride right on the water. Whether it is upside down or on its side, 75% of the time it’s not right.

        Now, when nymphing, it don’t matter. The flies are gonna run through the current however they are gonna run.

        Fishing a dry/dropper or 2 nymph rig can, sometimes, be a pain in the butt. Hooking the fish on your top fly can lead to knots and tangles. Your bottom fly can snag the fish or the stream bottom.

        Bottom line is this, fishing a tandem rig is very effective and if rigged in this fashion, should lead to many fish being caught. And it’s so simple. Simply tie on your top fly leaving 12 to 24 inches of tippet tag and tie your bottom fly to the tag end. And when nymphing, if using split shot, place your shot between the flies. Works for me anyways. Tight lines folks

        1. Funny how the article is dated April of 2017 yet most of the comments are from 2014.

          I’ve been tying the dropper off the hook shank for years and never thought I was doing it wrong. But as everything “Flyfishing” you never stop learning. I’ll give this method a try.

        2. I like the convenience of leaving a long tag end for the dropper, but usually like to use a lighter tippet to tie on the dropper in case of having to break off a snag- then you tend to lose only the dropper.

      2. That is the only way to get the proper action of both flies! Just Do It and your problems will be solved

    1. If the eye of first fly is too small, just pass the tippet through the eye and tie on your next piece of tippet with a double surgeon knot. That knot will prevent the first fly from sliding down to the next and has the added benefit of allowing more movement of the top fly. It may drift up the tippet some, but usually water loading at the end of the drift will force the fly back down to the knot. If not, use a weighted top fly. I always rig this way unless the eye of the top fly is too big. Hope that helps.

    2. Tie a clinch not on the line in front of the eye instead of threading the line thru the eye of the hook. The tightened clinch knot won’t slide past the fly.

  1. Interesting idea… might give it a try. To anyone that has – have you run into any problems with the dropper fly’s tippet getting tangled on the body or bend of the hook of the top fly?

    1. I’ve tried both methods and problems with this are the reason I still tie off of the bend. By all means give both methods a try though, some people just prefer the bend and others like the eye.

    2. I’m with you there. They do get tangled. There are enough tangles in fishing without creating more for yourself.

      The thing is, I’ve had shot create the same problem (snagging, allowing the fish to wriggle free of the hook) as the dropper set up described in the article. I wouldn’t stop using shot just because it snags sometimes. Same here, tying through the eye of the first fly creates a whole new set of problems, including compromising knot/leader strength (especially if the eye isn’t quite big enough to fit a pair of knots).

      I’d wager that it’s more common by a long shot to foul hook a fish on the dropper and bring it to net than it is lose a fish because the dropper became snagged.

      Some others here have mentioned it: it seems tying the dropper off the tippet itself might be a better solution?

      1. Hi Joshua,

        You touched on a couple issues I’d like to address, whether to fish droppers at all and compromising knot/leader strength.

        I’ll start with the easy one, knot/leader strength. Unless I misunderstood what you said, I can’t see any reason the presence of a second knot would compromise knot strength or (especially) leader strength. All the knots in this rig are independent of one another so have no effect on each other. All are being stressed as they are intended, by pulling directly on the front of the knot. With more knots there are more chances for one of them to fail but it won’t fail because of the presence of another know, it will fail because you exceed the breaking strength of the tippet, the knot became damaged, or it wasn’t tied correctly in the first place. If I’m missing something here or I misunderstood what you meant please clarify.

        The other issue is a bit more complicated. Whether or not you fish a dropper is a personal choice we all make. If you are getting quite a few tangles fishing a single fly you probably shouldn’t fish multiple flies until your casting improves to the point where you don’t get tangled so much. Fishing is supposed to be fun and I don’t know anyone who considers sitting on the bank untangling knots all day fun. If you do choose to fish droppers you will have a bigger mess when you tangle it up no matter how you rig it. There’s no way around that. And yes, you will foul hook fish but that will happen regardless of how you rig your dropper and it makes a pretty good argument against fishing droppers at all.

        As for tying the dropper tippet to the actual tippet portion of the leader it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. The knot will inevitably slip down to the clinch knot at the fly and then you’ll be pulling against the knot in a way that could stress it and cause it to untie. I guess you’d have to experiment with that to be sure but I’ll leave that to you.

        1. One downside,if you are landing a fish and grab the line between the flies and the fish pulls the line through your hands,A)the line is tied to the bend the upper fly slides safely through your hands B)if it’s tied to the eye your arm suddenly becomes a human fly rod.

  2. The problem I had with this method is that the first fly spins and tangles itself in the leader and left it worthless.

    1. Wouldn’t that happen whether you’re fishing droppers or not? Heavier tippet should solve the problem either way.

  3. I fished with a guide on the Green earlier this year who did this. However he recommended doing it only with nymph rigs, not with a dry and dropper. He also recommended tying on the heavier/weighted nymph first and then tying the dropper through the heavier nymph’s eye. He said that helps prevent tangles given that the heavier nymph is also floating along deeper in the current. I’ve tried it hand had good results thus far.

  4. Very Interesting! i have been debating changing to this method for a while now, i just have had good success off the bend its hard to change. What if we compromise and tie the first dropper off the bend then the small nymph on the bottom from the eye?

    1. Seems like 20 years ago, Gary LaFontaine started touting this method of attaching droppers. I’ve used it for a long time and I think it is superior. When fishing with a guide, they often tie the dropper to the bend and I think I end up with more tangles than I do when I tie though the hook eye. Only down side is when I’m dropping a small nymph off of a 18 or smaller dry. It is really hard to get the tippet through the hook eye. But, if I use 5X to the top fly and 6 or 7X to dropper it usually works.

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  7. I haven’t tried this new method, but I’ve tied my dropper to the hook. I have a real apprehension to doing that.
    But I’ve done the method of attaching tippet to my line about 3 ft from the end, and then tied my dry onto that tippet. That seems to work REALLY well, as the dry floats along naturally.

  8. Don’t do this with a streamer and nymph(s) or, as said above, a dry/dropper combo. Additionally, this method is better utilized for shorter line nymphing or when a lob might be used but not a cast. The flies can tangle more easily when cast traditionally. If you’re trying to prevent a pull on the bend in the hook of the lead fly, in my opinion you’re better off tying a bounce rig.

    There are benefits here in certain circumstances, but if you fish with a lot of people who make their living getting clients on (and landing) fish, you’ll see most of them tying off the bend in the hook, not the eye.

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  10. Tangle city, and a great way to kill the energy of the cast and keeping the end of the rig from turning over correctly.

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  12. Couldn’t you just run one long tippet through the eye of your top flies to the dropper, and just tie knots along the way? Seems like you could run an 18″ tippet, tie a clinch knot, on the first one with a 18″ tag, then go 6-8 inches down, and tie a fly on a clinch knot or surgeons knot with another 6-8″ tag and then tie your last fly. Do that all on the same tippet. Would there be a problem with doing it that way?

    1. I have done this before with good success. I do it more for ease of tying on cold winter days when my fingers are freezing than for technical reasons. The only reason I can think of that might be a problem is if the breaking strength is compromised. I have been wanting to do a test with my scale and compare

  13. After reading all the comments, which all had good points and were mostly relevant, the salient point I pull out of this is John’s comment about guides who make their living making clients happy by landing fish are tying to the hook bend. I think they know there is a chance to lose a fish or two, it might not be the best solution, and might even not be the one they use themselves, since they are aces at this, but you don’t catch fish if the line is tangled and never in the water. Just sayin’.

    1. I guide and tie eye to eye always, with never evers and never have any issues with (more) tangles. Works just fine and is a superior way to fish em, in my opinion. I fish double dries this way too and it has seemed to improve the hook up percentage. Cheers

  14. I’ve always tied my dropper from the hook eye by leaving an extra long tag end (2 feet) when I tie on the first fly. I’ve always wondered why people tied them to the hook bend, I figured maybe there was a reason and since I am a self taught fly fisherman I just wasn’t “in the know”. Glad to know I’ve been one step ahead all along! Lol

    1. Lol yes I’m also self taught n have tied as you have.. Been doing it like 20odd years with few issues..i also use only the the uni knot n leave a small loop for my first fly..perhaps that helps in my not getting tangles???

      1. Likewise Bill. I like the loop, which functions like a tag for my top fly. It’s also quick and easy. When I fish with a guide they are intrigued by the idea but old habits die hard.

    2. dry-to-dry makes sense eye-to-eye, because the flies are floating anyhow. if tight-line nymphing, tying off the hook keeps the flies drifting flat instead of at an odd, more vertical angle which is sub-optimal if you didn’t tie your fly intending such a presentation

  15. Try leaving a long tag end on the first fly. Then tie your dropper onto the tag end.
    Thday avoids the problem of trying to get more tipped in the hook eye.

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  17. Cliff! Sending you and Lisa greetings from Midtown Manhattan. I was hoping to get out west this fall for the first time in years, and looking you guys up. I’ve enjoyed seeing you all in the back of PDJ, and I think I get it now, after all these decades, your love of the dogs. Yours ever, Ray

  18. Try doing that when you are fishing 22, 24, and 26 size fly’s. You will go cross eyed and batty. Good luck on that…………….

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  20. What about using a Palomar knot for the dry fly and leave enough tippet for the nymph? Kind of like a drop shot in bass fishing. The only drawback is you still need to run the tippet through the eye twice on the dry fly.

  21. Been fishing some high desert lakes on the Nevada Idaho border for years. The bottoms of these lakes are covered with sage brush left from when the lakes were flooded. When a big fish is (not when ) hooked sooner or later it will dive for the bottom and snag the dropper. Even with 3 x they can seldom be stopped. On my next trip I’ll try droppers again using using the eye to eye method. Thanks for the tip.

  22. Try adding a length of tippet material, the same size or lighter, to your existing tippet using a bloodknot, leaving a long enough tag end to tie a fly to. This eliminates the tying to the hook problem, and the passing the tippet through a small hook eye more than once. I’ve been using this setup for over 60 years with no problems for everything up to Lake Erie tributary steelhead and smallmouth bass to 4+ pounds.

  23. A Solution to having to use the eye of the first fly in line is the one I have used for many years.. I use droppers on only certain fly patterns and sizes of flies…I simply tie in the body of the fly a looped piece of 8x tippet material, my choice is Froghair tippet. As a fly tier, I find that modifying the fly in this manner gives the hook on the first fly the chance to do business and that the in-line tippet attaching to the tail fly or flies, leaves the fly behind it running directly in line with it….what is more, I use it with tiny flies size 20 and below regularly, wet fly forward and nymph behind mostly. Here’s hoping this tip helps you out! Robert Dimesky Orvis Pro Fly Guide, Pawleys Island, SC

  24. A couple comments. First of all, the last fly at the very end of any tippet is the “point fly”. Those between the “point fly” and the end of the leader are the “droppers”.

    For many years, I’ve tied a piece of tippet to hook bend of the first fly (“New Zealand” style) and have often hooked two fish at a time and have no trouble releasing either fish even though the tippet was tied to the hook bend. It works especially well if the “first fly” is a dry fly being used as an “indicator / dropper fly”.

    The idea of tying multiple tippets into the eye of each preceding hook is a very good idea but, as previously mentioned, could cause a dry fly to lie sideways on the water’s surface.

    Whether I use a purchased furled leader or a leader I make myself, I tie in a long tippet for the “point fly” and a shorter 6″ – 8″tippet to which I tie the “dropper fly” into a small tippet ring at the end of the leader. Again, works best if nymphs or soft hackles are used as both the “dropper” and “point” flies.

    If using a dry fly as an indicator “dropper”, I always tie the subsequent flies to the hook bend.

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