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Freshwater / Streams & Rivers

Dry Fly Rig Types

Basic Dry Fly Rigs

The rigs fly fishermen use are as unique as the individuals casting the rods, but there are a few common setups which have stood the test of time and are relevant to most trout fishing situations.

The old standby and the rig most of us began our fishing journey with is the tried and true Dry Fly rig. Greater joy can rarely be had then that of watching a trout come to the surface and attack or sip a dry fly off the surface of the water. The visual is so intense and the adrenalin so immense that many fisherman refuse to fish by any other means.

The Basic Dry Rig, or throwing a dry as many of us call it, is an extremely simple rig.

  1. A leader, which is a tapered piece of monofilament, is tied to your fly line, using either a nail knot or a loop to loop system.
  2. A dry fly is tied to the end of the leader by one of many knots (I prefer the improved clinch knot)
  3. Dry Fly Floatant is lightly applied to the fly

That’s it! As straight forward as gets. There is little room for deviation, but this also leaves little room for error. It is also suggested that a monofilament leader is used instead of fluorocarbon. Monofilament floats much better.

Leader Size

The size of leader used will be determined by the fly you are using and also by the conditions you are fishing. The rule of thumb for selecting leader size is to take the size of fly you are fishing and divide it by three, this gives you the approximant size of leader you should use. For example, a size 12 fly would warrant a 4X leader. This rule only works as a rough gauge and situations may dictate altering it. If, for say, you are on a pressured tailwater and the fish are big but require very small flies you will want to increase the breaking strength of your leader so you are able to actually land the fish. I deal with this situation on a daily bases. My home water often calls for me to use flies down to a size 24, but there is no way I’m going to land (without playing the fish to exhaustion) one of our pigs on 8x. No. Instead, I use 6x, which will still thread into the fly easily, is light enough to not spoke the fish, but will still allow me to land a possible fish of a lifetime.

The length of leader to use is determined by the fishing conditions and your skill level. The standard trout length leaders are either 7.5’ or 9’, you will see variations of these for different purposes, but these are the most common. A shorter leaders tend to be easier to throw and are easier for a beginner to control. The 9’ leader offers a gentler taper throughout its length and therefor is less noticeable to fish. So, if the fish are aggressive and not very educated a 7.5’ will do just fine. If the fish are picky use a longer leader.

Notes on using multiple fly rigs:

The following rigs suggest using more than one fly. It is important to know the regulations of the water you are fishing before tying on that second or third fly. Many different states as well as individual sections of water will have their own set of regulations. For example, the general law in Colorado, unless otherwise regulated, is only three flies can be used on a rig. In Montana however, the general regulation is only two. Always know the rules.

It is also important to use multiple fly rigs for the sole purpose of having a fish chose to take the fly. Raking lots of flies and jerking on the rig to catch fish anywhere but in the mouth is not fishing, it is snagging which is legal most of the time with trout. There is no easier way to get a ticket or be belted in the mouth than to knowingly snag fish illegally.

Double Dry

Sometimes you just can’t see that size 24 midge on the water among a sea of other midges which look just like it. Or, perhaps, fish are throwing themselves out of the water at everything and you simply would like more chances to hook up. There are also the days when you just can’t figure out exactly what they are eating, but know for certain they are taking bugs off the surface of the water. For anyone of these situations, a Double Dry may be the key and the rig should resemble this:

  1. An appropriately sized monofilament leader attached to fly line with a nail knot or loop to loop.
  2. The larger of the two dry flies tied on first using an improved clinch knot (In fly fishing rigs everything goes from heavier to lighter.)
  3. A piece of tippet (level monofilament) about 12” -16” knotted to the bend of the hook
  4. A smaller Dry
  5. Apply Dry fly floatant to each fly


Dry, dropper

Most aquatic insects are forced to swim to the surface in order to hatch into their winged adult stage and once there are often stuck in the surface film for a measureable about of time. This is a prime situation for trout to feed, therefore a great opportunity for fishermen. When using a Dry Dropper Rig the upper column of water is the target. This rig incorporates all the aspects of the double dry, with the exception of exchanging the second dry for a nymph.

The second nymph on the rig must be light enough as not to drag the dry fly down below the surface. This is very important. Using the tippet connecting the dry to the dropper you can control how far the dropper (nymph) sits down into the water. The average tippet length used for a dropper is typically between 12” and 14” but can be shorter or longer depending on how far you wish the dropper to go. The dry fly at the front will act as an indicator and when drop into the water if a fish hits the underwater nymph.


Dry fly fishing is wonderful for fly fisherman of all levels and I encourage everyone to give it a try.


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