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.

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

  1. Colby

    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. Adam U

      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. joshua

      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. Cliff Weisse

        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.

  2. Andy

    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.

  3. Stefan Rausch

    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. Gene

      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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  6. Tim

    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.

  7. John

    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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  9. The Fluffy Sloth

    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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