Currentseams Q&A: Of droppers, drop-shot, and indicators

Currentseams reader Steve M. asked this question on the Farmy Report post below. I thought the answer deserved its own thread. Thanks for asking, Steve.

Q: How about a refresher on your dropper nymphing method? Specifically how you use/position the indicator? 

First, some semantics. Dropper nymphing setups and indicator nymphing are two different things. You can nymph with droppers and not use an indicator. Or do you mean drop-shot? Same deal: you can fish a drop shot rig without an indicator. “Droppers” refers to flies that are attached to the rig by tags of leader material. “Drop shot” is a method that uses split shot suspended by a tag below the bottom fly. A drop-shot rig can have droppers or just one fly. Hope that clarifies rather than confuses!

How I use and how I position the indicator are also different things. Generally, I use an indicator when:
I want to cover water/get longer drifts;
It’s cold and the takes might be subtle;
I want to fish the bottom in deeper holes;
I don’t want to feel like my arm is going to fall off after keeping it raised above my shoulder for hours.

I use my own yarn indicators, dense, bushy creations, and I’m fairly dialed in to their nuances. The indicator need not go under for me to want to set the hook. (Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift and you’ll catch more fish.)

The general rule of thumb is to set the indicator at 1.5 times the estimated water depth away from the bottom fly or shot. I’m not sure I follow that so much as I estimate the greatest depth I’ll be fishing and place the indicator on the leader where I reckon the drop shot will be ticking the bottom. It’s more feeling than formula. Specifically, I want to find this equilibrium: the shortest distance between the shot and the indicator, and enough distance to make a natural drift along the bottom. I want to see that indicator bouncing along. If you’re not catching fish and you’re not seeing those bottom return tells, you’re not fishing deep enough. Adjust your indicator (which you can now refer to as a depth regulator) accordingly.

I often check my indicator. “Checking” means that if I feel the indicator is leading or dragging the nymphs downstream at an unnatural pace, I’ll mend the indicator upstream, literally lifting it off the water and placing it where I want it. Remember that current at the surface moves faster than current at the bottom.

Finally, a word about weight. I like to use as little shot as possible. But sometimes you’ve got to go heavier. In winter, the water’s cold, and things slow down, trout included. I’ve been using two BB shot on my drop shot rig this winter — not because the water’s deep or fast, but because that extra weight slows the drift to a pace where a trout has to move less for the fly.

Hope that helps.

Steve’s secret weapon: home brew indicators made from acrylic macrame yarn and a #36 o-ring. I build them dense, and treat them with Gink or Loon Fly Spritz 2 before each use. This is a color I can see easily, and this indicator is about as big as I’d ever use on the Farmington. I know, you want a video tutorial on construction. The answer is yes — I just need to figure out the when.


22 comments on “Currentseams Q&A: Of droppers, drop-shot, and indicators

  1. Manny says:

    Steve – good point about treating them with Gink or whatever you like to use as they do sink after being the water a while.

  2. Alex Argyros says:

    Excellent post. Thanks.

    I also use yarn indicators, but I use the Dorsey type because I want to be able to move the indicator up and down the leader easily. I assume that you attach your indicator like you would a thingamabobber. Doesn’t that make them somewhat cumbersome to adjust?

  3. Alex Argyros says:

    Could you go over how you attach them to your line so that you can adjust them?

    • Steve Culton says:


      I don’t know how to describe it other than it’s a loop-to-loop connection between the leader and the o-ring. Do a search for Global Flyfisher Strike Indicator Scientology for an animated visual.

  4. Alex Argyros says:

    I meant your “leader.” Thanks.

  5. edward says:

    Tim Flagler of Tightlines Video has an excellent demonstration on YouTube on how to make this type of indicator.

  6. Alex Argyros says:

    Got it. Thanks.

  7. Steve M. says:

    thanks for the details. I had thought you had used colored mono for the indicator/sighter and more or less “high-sticked”!

    • Steve Culton says:

      I do use the yellow mono sighter when the water’s low or if I’m picking through close-in pocket water. I’ll also do a short-line deep presentation when I’m fishing a team of wets and I come to a deeper hole. But I’ve always indicator nymphed, and I love that method.

  8. Jason Peyser says:

    I would think using that much weight would cause your flies to constantly hang up on things. At least that’s what it does for me. I end up setting the hook as soon as the weight hits the bottom because it “ticks” and I try and set as much as possible.

  9. Alex Argyros says:

    I’ve been playing around with something that resembles your indicator, but I’m a bit confused about adjusting its position on the leader. With most leader material, if I just pull it up or down, it leaves the material slightly kinked. Do you adjust by pulling the indicator, or do you undo the knot and reposition by knotting it in a different place on your leader? At any rate, thanks for a terrific idea.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Alex, try using a thicker diameter leader material. The part of my nymph rig that the indicator is attached to is usually 10 or 12 pound. Also, if the indicator or leader twists, that can make adjustments harder. The vast majority of the time, I simply slide the indicator up and down the leader — no kinks, no curlycues, no worries. Hope that helps.

  10. Alex Argyros says:


    I tried it with 12 lb. Maxima and it worked fine.

    Now, I was wondering what your current thoughts on droppers are. Are you still using 4 lb. Maxima? And how do you feel about the pretty universal feeling in the fly fishing world that fluorocarbon catches more fish than mono?


    • Steve Culton says:

      Hi Alex,

      Right now I have 5x Orvis Superstrong Plus nylon on my nymph setup. I might easily go back to 4# Maxima if it suited me. I’ve used nothing but Maxima (Ultragreen and Chameleon, 4# & 6#) in my wet fly rigs for years.

      To answer your last question: Fluorocarbon doesn’t catch more fish. Confidence catches more fish. So you should use the material you have the most confidence in. Beyond that, I tend to pay far more attention to discovering what works for me rather than what the rest of the fly fishing world is doing, whether it involves rods, lines, tippet material, flies, methods….

  11. Alex Argyros says:

    Steve, I used your yarn indicator a few days ago and it worked like a charm. Thanks for the tip. But, I do have a question. As you know, Pat Dorsey rigs his yarn indicators differently, using a orthodontic rubber band. Could you go over why you prefer the o-ring approach?

    Again, thanks for the great tip and, more importantly, the great blog.

    • Steve Culton says:


      At the risking of bursting some bubbles, I don’t know who Pat Dorsey is or how he fishes. (He probably has no idea who I am, either, so I guess that makes us even.)

      I can’t speak for Pat, but I’m guessing he uses his indicator rig for the same reasons I use mine: convenience, familiarity, and confidence.

  12. Jim k says:

    Great info..I use Cortland indicator line around .011 as indictor about 18 inchs long nothing on water I use 2 tone color I can see it .When it moves above water fish on.

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