A Drop-Shot Tandem Nymph Rig

I can be as stuck in my ways as the next angler. But from time to time, the curious, adventurous, what if? side comes out to play, and I’ll try something new. I first saw a two-fly drop-shot rigging system on Kelly Galloup’s site. Hmm. Intriguing. After storing it in the back of my brain for several months (and not being entirely satisfied with my regular two-nymph rig with the weight above the top fly) I thought I’d give the drop-shot a try.

There’s much I like about the drop-shot design theory. The weight is at the bottom end of the rig, and, consequently, along the bottom of the river. Because the weight tag is made of weakest link leader material, it should break off on a weight snag before anything else. Six inches above the weight is a nymph-style fly, strategically placed to be at the eye level of bottom-hugging trout. Twelve to sixteen inches above the nymph is a soft-hackle, emerger, or pupa-style fly on a dropper tag. You know from my writing and reports that I am a huge fan of droppers — give the fish a choice — and droppers that can swim freely on a dedicated tag. I especially like the idea of using a soft-hackled wet in this position. I wasn’t crazy about the bottom fly having the weight leader tag attached to its eye — I worried that it might make the fly difficult to eat — but it certainly was a better solution than attaching the weight tag to the bend of the hook. Only one way to find out, and that was to fish it.

There are probably dozens if not hundreds of variations of drop-shot riggings; so here’s one more. I altered the specifics to suit my preferences in leader materials (and also to use what I had on hand). Suffice to say, this thing works.

A simple two-fly drop shot nymph rig.

Drop-Shot Nymph Rig

Here’s a pdf of the diagram:

Drop-Shot Nymph Rig

Construction notes: Construction should be fairly intuitive. I’m an indicator-kind of guy, so I’ve dispensed with the sighter butt section. I’ve been using a six-foot length of Maxima Chameleon 12-pound. You could surely go with ten-pound, or any other butt material you like. If you were going to build in a sighter, you’d still keep the top section six-feet long. I added an SPRO size 10 power swivel because of the disparity in the diameter between the twelve and four-pound material. Maxima is still hands-down the best material I’ve used for dropper tags for trout. I tie an overhand knot four times at the end of the weight tag — I haven’t had any issues with shot coming undone — and I’ve been using one or two BB shot, depending on depth and current speed.  

Yup. Drop-shot nymph systems fished under an indicator work.

Big Rainbow 9-14

 Of course, check your local/state regulations to make sure you can fish two flies, and/or place weight below the flies. I am not responsible for any rules violations.  

23 comments on “A Drop-Shot Tandem Nymph Rig

  1. Jim Smith says:

    Steve, Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it. I hope all is well with you and your family.

  2. metiefly says:

    I’m super grateful too – thanks Steve!

  3. Steve Culton says:

    No worries, guys. Glad to help. 🙂

  4. trutta99 says:

    A great idea, thanks for putting this up. I am currently using tippet rings at the junctions. What are your thoughts on those?

    • Steve Culton says:

      I don’t use them, so I can’t speak from experience. I’ve been using the power swivels for years on my steelhead trips, and so far so good in this particular application. If you’re using something you like, and it works, by all means continue to do so.

  5. Leigh Shuman says:

    I was shown this idea more than 40 years ago by an old timer on the Beaverkill. More recently, a good friend and great guide in central PA, Bob Bizak, has used this technique all over the place with great effect. I think it makes sense, since the weight at the bottom and the indicator at the top mean a tight connection and more reliable detection of the take. When the shot is between the flies, the bottom fly is typically drifting downstream of the weight, and the system has to move a foot or two (depending on the distance between the bottom fly and the weight) before a strike is registered. I’m with trutta99 on the tippet rings. I think they are great. Keep up the great blog.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Thanks, Leigh. I appreciate your comments and contribution to the thread. It certainly is an old method of rigging for deep presentation. I’m going to continue to play around with it and report my findings.

  6. Wil Hinojosa says:

    I switched from a tippet ring to a swivel because I found that in heavy current I got a lot less line twist due to the flies rolling and turning in the current. Another tip is to use bullet weights like bass fisherman use in the lightest wights you can find and squeeze them onto the dropper with pliers; it saves a lot of time and is more efficient. Thanks Steve, great post!!!!!

  7. Alex Argyros says:

    Wil, could you share a source for small bullet weights.
    And, Steve, a few questions:
    1. Do you tie in the bottom fly inline, or do you use a dropper for that too?
    2. Do you use this system for small stream nymphing?
    3. Could you go over why you prefer indicators to Euro nymphing?
    Finally, thanks for the excellent website.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Alex, the bottom fly is tied in as you see in the diagram. But you could tie it on a dropper tag. My concern would be tangles with the drop shot tag.

      I don’t use it for small streams, but you certainly could. Most of my small steam nymphing is done with droppers off a dry, or a single weighted at the head jig-type nymph or wet that quickly sinks into deeper plunge pools.

      I don’t prefer indicators over Euro — I prefer drop-shot over Euro. Sometimes that’s with an indicator, sometimes not. A few reasons why:
      1) the point fly is 6″ off the bottom rather than on the bottom. I think 6″ off and above is where more fish are looking.

      2) I lose less flies this way.

      3) I like fjshing differently than most other anglers.

      4) It’s a method I have confidence in, and confidence catches fish.

      Hope that helps.

  8. Alex Argyros says:

    Thanks, Steve. One more question: when you drop shot nymph, do you use weighted (or beaded) nymphs? Again, thanks for all the great stuff.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Yes to beaded, but I’m not relying on the bead to sink or slow the rig. That’s the job of the shot. Last week I fished a tiny glass bead head midge on the dropper and a regular brass bead head size 14 Hare and Copper on point. Neither of those beads could be expected to get the flies down quickly. The beads are there because they’re part of the fly’s design.

  9. Alex Argyros says:

    I used a drop shot rig today and it worked very well. Thanks for the tip.

    But, I found that to fine tune it, I needed to change shot periodically, which posed a problem, namely that my shot was hard to remove. What kind of shot do you use? Do you use removable shot? If not, how do you remove your shot?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Alex, I’ve been using the round shot lately because I think it hangs up less. If you’re going to be taking shot on and off a lot, you might want to try the winged shot which is super easy to remove. Glad the system worked for you!

  10. Roger A. Sannwald says:

    Would there be a benefit to using 6X tippet vs. 5X tippet for you split-shot tag end? I would think that would lessen the chance of losing you 5X tippet holding your point fly. What are your thoughts

    • Steve Culton says:

      There sure would be, Roger. As time goes by, and I fish with these setups, I tend to noodle and play and adapt, and for a few years now I’ve been using 6x as the shot tag material. I’ve also been using 5x in lower/clearer water conditions instead of Maxima Ultragreen for the top dropper material. Great question, and thanks for posting it. At some point I’ll need to update the diagram, which is almost five (!) years old.

      • Roger A. Sannwald says:

        Steve, Thank you getting back to me. As a kid growing up I used to drop-shot while drowning worms below a bobber in the local ponds. So this form of a fishing hasn’t been new to me. It’s application with respect to fly fishing is relatively new thou. Back when I received my first fly rod as a teenager most fly fish was mostly pure dry fly casting. Again, Thank you for getting back to me.

      • Steve Culton says:

        That’s what I’m here for. Sign up for email alerts and you could win some flies when I get to 800 followers.

  11. Thomas Parry says:

    Really like the drop shot rig — do you have a creative way to secure it while walking so the point fly stays in place on a rod guide and the weight doesn’t flip and tangle? Thanks.

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