A low-water drop shot nymph rig with sighter

I recently mentioned that in these low, clear water conditions I had temporarily ditched my beloved indicator nymphing for a straight line drop-shot approach. I had many questions about the method, but also about the rig, which is presented below. The template is the same as the one I use in higher water; I’ve simply swapped out some materials to create a leader system that makes strike detection easier and uses thinner diameter nylon.

So, what’s changed?

— The top of the butt section is now Hi-Vis Gold Stren. You can of course use whatever color you like, or even a different material (like Dacron). The yellow jumps out to my eyes, though, and we can all agree that it’s important to be able to see your sighter.

— The bottom of the butt section is P-Line Floroclear (it’s fluorocarbon coated material). I’ve been using P-Line for years in my steelhead leaders. It’s strong as hell and has a thin diameter. Good stuff. I use it on my indicator drop-shot rigs, too.

— I sometimes use 5x instead of 4 lb.  Maxima Ultragreen for the top dropper. It’s strictly a diameter choice I leave up to the angler.

— The drop shot tag goes down a size to 6x. This is to a) insure the weakest link breaks on a shot snag, and b) I typically use smaller patterns for the point fly in the winter, and the 6x is easier to squeeze through the eye of a 16 or 18 hook.

— I’m using round BB shot, no wings. Hopefully that means less bottom hangups.

For your leader constructing pleasure.


Here’s a pdf: lowwaterdropshotnymphrig

26 comments on “A low-water drop shot nymph rig with sighter

  1. Alex Argyros says:

    Thanks, Steve. I’ve been using a version of this setup for a few months now, and it has been working really well.

    I’ve made one modification that I like. Instead of split shot, I’m using tungsten beads. The advantage are more concentrated weight and, much more importantly, easier adjustment of weight.

    Here’ what I do. I three as many beads as I think I’ll need minus one. The final one I attach to the end of the tippet material using a clinch knot. Now, if I need to add or subtract beads, I just clip off the end bead, slip on or off some beads, and then retie with a clinch knot.

    This is a lot easier for me than removing split shot. Plus, the actual weight is smaller, hence less obtrusive (especially if you use brown or green beads).

  2. Alton Blodgett says:

    Thanks Steve. Very useful information.

  3. Dwight says:

    What knot do you use on the point fly?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Hi Dwight,

      The same one I use on most of my flies: simple clinch knot.

      • Dwight says:

        So you’ve attached the shot to the long tag of the clinch knot?

      • Steve Culton says:

        Great question. The answer is no. The fly is tied to the 5x and the knot trimmed. A second piece of nylon is tied to the eye of the hook to form the 6″ shot tag. One of the major influences of this design is that if the rig hangs up, it will most likely be due to the shot — and if the angler cannot free the snag, then all that will be lost will be a shot and a 6″ piece of 5x or 6x rather than a precious fly.

      • Dwight says:

        Thanks! I’m doing some winter fishing this week for the first time in 20 years.

      • Steve Culton says:

        My pleasure — always here to help. Good luck, have fun, and let us know how you do. 🙂

  4. Looks like a great rig Steve. Curious if you have used tippet rings in the system before, and if so why you do not currently use them?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Hi Timmy,

      I first started using SPRO power swivels for my steelhead fishing. Since I do a lot of indicator nymphing (I make my own indicators — they are quite dense, and consequently catch a lot of air — read: twisted leader) the power swivel seemed like a logical element. I’ve never used tippet rings, mostly out of indifference rather than prejudice. But if you or anyone else likes them, by all means, have at it.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Doug Defanti says:

    Hi Steve,
    I like the low water drop shot rig a lot. If you don’t mind i have a few questions. Is the sighter looped directly to your fly line? How do you modify this rig for heavier flows such as in the spring?
    Do you have any info on how you construct your indicators?
    Also, will you be coming to the Fly fishing show in somerset,NJ Jan 27-29?


    • Steve Culton says:

      I love questions, Doug. Thanks for asking!

      1) I had to change my original answer because I’m thick. Yes, the sighter is loop-to-loop with the fly line.
      2) As I wrote in the piece, I’ve been using this rig almost exclusively in low water. I love my indicators in higher water. Of course this sighter rig will work in heavier flows — you’ll just be restricted to close-in presentations. I would probably make the top dropper 4# Maxima and the rest 5x. In the case of a snag, the drop shot tag still tends to break off before the bottom fly.

      3) It’s probably time for a making an indicator video! I use small #36 O-rings from the plumbing section and acrylic macrame yarn from the hobby store. My indicators are far more dense than those commercially available.

      4) No Somerset for me — this year I’m a Marlborough man. C’mon up! Here’s a link to my appearance schedule: https://currentseams.com/2017/01/01/winter-2017-appearances-and-presentations/

      Hope that helps, and thanks for reading.


  6. Alex Argyros says:

    One more question: why do you not use indicators in low water? Is it because they scare trout when the land on the water? Yarn indicators can be made small and don’t splat much. Do you find that even then they scare trout?

    • Steve Culton says:

      I use indicators because I feel it’s the best way for me to detect strikes, or it’s the best way to cover water, or it’s the best way to get a good drift.

      Those are the same reasons I sometimes don’t use indicators. In low water, the fish are often stacked up in spots that are easy to reach; that water may be shallower and slower than normal conditions, and I find that the indicator impedes a good drift.

      The real answer here is that I use the method that I have the most confidence in.

      I don’t know if yarn indicators spook fish. I’m sure they could. If course, I’ve also had fish try to eat my yarn….

      Hope that helps.

  7. Alex Argyros says:

    Also, could you talk a little but about nymphing small streams. Would you use the above drop shot rig, or would you use a more traditional approach to fishing small streams, creeks, brooks, etc., especially for wild trout?

    • Steve Culton says:

      So many questions! I love it. Thanks for taking the time to ask. I already addressed this somewhat, but there’s really no one pat answer. A small mountain stream may be very different from a small meadow stream. On that mountain stream I may drop a nymph off a bushy dry. Or I may use a heavy fly like the ICU Sculpin to get deep fast in an overhead plunge and then jig the fly. Look for my article “Upstream Downstream Small Stream” and see if that helps.

  8. Jim k says:

    I like your idea of very small swivel as I use 2 droppers top and bottom..Going to see if I can find some real small ones..Thank.

  9. Jim k says:

    Your dropshot I use in strsams with water below 4 ft…but I only use I fly and its no bead fly ..
    I use dropper to adjust depth of fly like if itsvft deep move sinkerbtowards the non bead fly if its 2ft deep bbacl down on and on..
    Using 2 flies in water less than 3ft to me is very difficult…

  10. Jim k says:

    Your dropshot I use in strsams with water below 4 ft…but I only use I fly and its no bead fly ..
    I use dropper to adjust depth of fly like if its 1ft deep move sinker towards the non bead fly if its 2ft deep back down on and on..
    Using 2 flies in water less than 3ft to me is very difficult with dropper rig and 2 flies?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Hi Jim. The actual space between the two flies is not that great. Depending on the distance between knots and the length of the tag, it could be as little as a foot or less. I’m not right — I’m just sharing what I do, and it’s up to my readers to experiment and find out what works best for them.

  11. […] to match the conditions and marks I was fishing: tight/long line micro jig streamer, tight line drop shot nymphing, and then indicator […]

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