“How to Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers” first appeared in a 2010 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide.
Not every day is April on the lower Housatonic when the stripers are ready to pounce on your fly with reckless abandon. No, this was an August evening in Rhode Island, and while the bass were open for business, hookups were few and far between.
I was fishing a spot where a rocky bar merged with a shallow sand flat before dropping off into a deep channel. Pop! Tock! Every few minutes, I could hear the distinctive tells of feeding fish, all within casting range. The water was loaded with dense schools of silversides. Peanut bunker were in the mix, and I had even seen clamworms earlier in the week. But what were the stripers feeding on tonight? Within a few minutes, I would have my answer. I cast my dropper rig into a surface seam, and started mending for a greased line swing.
As the flies swam across the current, the water exploded. I set the hook, and soon a fine striped bass was in my hands. With the dropper rig, he had three fly choices: a clamworm, a small bucktail menhaden, and a Ray’s Fly. He chose the menhaden. A few casts later, bap! Another striper on the menhaden. Satisfied, I clipped the other flies off the leader. Once again, droppers had proven to be the fastest way to find out what the fish wanted.
Dropper rigs take a little more effort than store-bought tapered leaders, but they’re easy to tie and the rewards can be great. A dropper rig is a terrific searching tool, giving the bass multiple targets, and letting you present at different depths on a single drift. I’ve always been the curious sort, and I like the surprise a dropper rig provides when I discover which fly fooled the fish. And, as an angler who embraces traditional methods, the dropper rig has proven itself — you’ve heard of a brace of wet flies — over the course of hundreds of years.
The original article had an illustration of a three fly team by Ken Abrames; I’m replacing it with a detailed rigging diagram. It’s a simple leader — you’re basically making a triple surgeon’s loop and then tying two triple surgeon’s knots.
Here’s a pdf: Striper Dropper Rig
A basic dropper rig is about seven to eight feet long, with two dropper flies and one fly on point. The flies are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart, and the dropper flies are tied on tags that extend a few inches out from the leader. I use 20, 25, or 30 pound mono to build my dropper rigs. Start with a length of mono a little over four feet long. Tie a loop about the circumference of a baseball at one end; this will be the butt of the leader. I use a triple surgeon’s knot, but you can use the knot of your choice. Always wet the mono before you tighten your knots, and remember the wisdom that no knot is worthy of your trust. I test every knot I make before I fish any leader system.
Next, take a three-foot section of mono and attach it to the butt section with a triple surgeon’s or double uni-knot. The tag of the butt section will form the first dropper, so be sure to leave plenty of material (about 8”) for it. Snug that knot up good and tight, then repeat the process to form the second dropper. You should now have a length of mono with two tags, spaced about two feet apart, extending toward the point fly end of the leader. All you need to do now is tie on some flies. I like them between four and six inches away from the leader.
What flies? Think different: Different sizes. Different colors. Different species. Give the fish a choice. They will tell you when you’ve made the right one. In my experience, this rig fishes and casts best with the largest fly in the point position. Don’t be afraid of fouling or tangles. You can cut down on their incidence by slowing down your casting stroke, and making sure the line straightens out on your back cast before making the forward stroke.
Here are a few simple guidelines to help you decide if a dropper rig is a good idea. Use one when:
• You’re searching for fish.
• There are multiple baits in the water and you’re not sure what the stripers are feeding on.
• There is an abundance of small bait in the water, i.e. anchovies, grass shrimp, clam worms, sand eels.
A dropper rig might not be the best choice if:
• There are bigger fish about (landing multiple large fish on a single leader can be a dicey proposition).
• You’re having difficulty casting into a strong wind (use a shorter leader and a single fly).
• You start consistently hooking doubles or triples.
Droppers aren’t a magic bullet solution. But if you want to catch more fish, they are an excellent arrow to have in your quiver.