The Rigging | Drop Shot Nymphing on a Tight Line Rig — Pt.4

Video dropshot for trout

** NOTE ** This is the fourth installment of the Troutbitten Short Series covering Drop Shot Nymphing.

Find the full series HERE.

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There’s nothing new about drop shotting. Placing the weight at the bottom of the rig is very common in all forms of fishing. Talk to anyone at the dock with a few rods on their boat, and they’re sure to have a favorite way to rig a drop shot.

For bass, trout, freshwater and saltwater species, the drop shot rig is popular because it’s effective. It just makes sense. Because as soon as we send a fly, lure or bait under the water, it disappears into the unknown. And by using the riverbed as a reference to inform us about where the hook is riding, much of that mystery is solved — the confusion is cleared.

Like so many others, I have my preferences. And as I mentioned in part one of this Troutbitten Short Series covering Drop Shot Nymphing on a Tight Line Rig, my usage of the drop shot style improved and became more frequent when I finally came to a few refinements of the system. I rig things differently than most. My goals are different. And my leader (the tool in my hands) is probably different than most too.

So here it is, the rigging section for this drop shot series. I change things up sometimes, but this is the rig I choose most often, by a wide margin. And I’ve come to this after trying everything possible. I mean it. Everything. Possible.


Let’s start with this, and then break things down a bit. Take a look at my favorite formula for drop shot nymphing on a tight line.

It starts with my Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig. None of that changes. And to the tippet ring at the end of the sighter I add fluorocarbon tippet in length and diameter to suit the conditions.

24 feet — 20 lb Maxima Chameleon 2 feet —12 lb Maxima HV 12” — 12lb Red Amnesia or 12 lb Sufix Neon Fire 12” — 10lb Gold Stren (Backing Barrel with tag, attached here) — Tippet Ring (1.5 or 2mm) — 14″ — 1x Rio Two Tone Tippet Material (Optional) 36″ — 4X Fluorocarbon Tippet — Tag for upper nymph — 16″ — 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet — Tag for lower nymph — 6″ — 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet — Split Shot or Drop Shot Ball —

Note, I run both nymphs from a tag. The nymphs can be weighted or unweighted, but they should never be heavier than the drop shot weight. Lengths for everything in the tippet section are variable. Distances between nymphs is variable. These are your choices.

Now let’s break things down.


In the formula above, all of my Standard Mono Rig connections are tied with blood knots. My favorite formula is purposely designed to keep knots out of the guides, but once in a while, we must strip in short enough that it happens. So I want the cleanest, most streamlined knot possible. And for this, you cannot beat a blood knot.

These knots don’t need resin treatment or another knot coating. Simply tie a clean blood knot with perfect barrels, pull it tight and then clip absolutely flush. No nubs and no tags.

Do not use Double Surgeon’s knots for leader junctions. That knot, in heavier diameters, is simply too clunky. Learn the blood knot, and love your life.

I tie standard Clinch Knots to tippet rings, no matter the material or diameter.

Everything from the sighter down is joined with Orvis Tippet Knots. And this is how I create the tags. Yes, you can use Double Surgeon’s knots here. But I strongly prefer the Orvis Tippet Knot, because it allows for the use of the added-in line as the tag, therefore saving material of the main line. This knot also allows for using the tag that points up, which keeps things separated a bit more.

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Overall, you cannot beat the Orvis Tippet Knot for connecting tippets and creating tags.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing Strategies — Tags and Trailers READ: Troutbitten | Six Knots to Know for Trout Anglers on the Fly

Lastly, I connect flies and the drop shot balls with a Davy Knot. Sure, you can use a Clinch or otherwise. But the Davy Knot allows for tying a knot with limited material waste — very limited. I can tie a Davy with only a sixteenth of an inch of material left to clip. This is extra valuable when you’re changing flies and weights often, because you can get many, many changes on one tag. Try doing that with any other knot, and you’ll understand the value of the Davy.

Loops and Add On Lines?

No, thank you.

Yes, I understand that it’s common to use loops and other methods of add-on lines for a drop shot. I’ve done this. I’ve gone through it. And here’s the thing — it simply adds work to a system that already requires a bit of extra rigging.

Remember the Troutbitten mantra — if it isn’t easy, you won’t do it. That applies to every angler I’ve ever met. And frankly, one of the reasons I didn’t use drop shot styles much in the past was because the rigging was too labor intensive. I always felt like I was wasting time.

Using loops or add-on lines adds multiple knots to the system. It makes fly changes harder. It requires more time and invites more headaches. It’s just not worth the effort.

After many years of rigging the ways that I saw recommended so often, I started rigging drop shot tags and flies the way I already did for a two-nymph tight line system anyway, as shown and described above.

Create two tags for the flies with Orvis Tippet Knots, and tie the drop shot ball to the bottom. Done. There ya go.

I will mention, if and when I do break off a full tag, and if the main knot is still strong, I sometimes use an add-on line solution with a uni-knot. Like this . . .

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing Strategies — The Add-On Line

The Break-Off or Slide-Off Method

I was initially attracted to drop shot rigging because I learned I could rig things so the drop shot would break off or slide off when I snagged up . . . theoretically.

That’s right. Allegedly, if you tie the drop shot with the weakest piece of tippet in the system, it will break, and you’ll save the rest of the rig — sometimes. Likewise, if you use a split shot at the bottom, with no stopper knot, the shot will slide off instead of the whole rig hanging up — kinda.

I’m joking about this, because in my experience, these methods aren’t reliable enough to justify the trouble. Rigging a lighter tippet at the bottom creates more up-front work that is doubled every time that your break-off plan doesn’t pan out. And rigging split shot to slide away seems to result in one of two things. Either the shot slides off way too often, under just a bit of tension on an easy snag, or the shot doesn’t slide right and it breaks off anyway.

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Lastly, it’s an unpredictable underwater world down there. And though we wish our drop shot was the only thing that ever touched, plenty of times one of our flies finds a tall rock or a tree part. And if you’ve spent the extra time rigging up a lighter tippet for the drop shot . . . well you’re not getting that time or your drop shot rig back.

Just like the add-on line, I’ll mention that I do sometimes rig this way. It’s always an option. And when I nymph the deepest water where I know I cannot wade to my snag, I start to think about rigging the shot so it will break off alone, rather than losing it all.

It’s a thing. It’s just not a great thing.

Tags, FTW

So, why go to the bother of creating tags for the flies?

Because it saves time in the long run, and because trout eat the flies more. Let’s take the last point first.

There is no doubt left in my mind on this one. Rigging flies in line, by tying two lines to one fly, limits the movement of that fly enough that trout just don’t eat it as much. This is especially true when weight is involved. Meaning, if you tie a line with a weighted fly or a drop shot off the bend or back out of the eye of a fly, that weight prohibits the nymph from moving naturally.

Is it a critical difference? No. Meaning that you’ll surely catch trout. You’ll just catch more trout by using tags instead of tying in-line. Of this I am certain. I’ve tested it enough.

And what of the first point? How does using tags save time?

For a bit of extra time paid up front, we now have the ability to change the fly with just one knot. Want to change the upper fly? Great. Clip it. And tie on the next superfly.

But the procedure is doubled when you tie in line. Want to change the upper or lower fly? Well, you’ll have to clip two knots, and tie two knots. Also, try not to fumble and drop that lower portion while tying the first of those two knots. Hope you get lucky.

And for these reasons, rigging a drop shot system with everything in line doesn’t make as much sense as using tag. It’s less efficient, and it fools fewer trout.

The remaining question here is a fair one. Don’t the tags tangle more?

No. But I’ll grant you this: It looks like the tags would tangle more. And in fact, that bottom fly on a tag, only six inches up from the drop shot, took quite a while for me to get used to. I had to fish it to trust it.

My drop shot rigs rarely tangle. In truth, it’s my error when they do. And they tangle no more often than my standard nymphing rig, with two weighted flies. It’s casting discipline. The responsibility is yours. Create a nice, small oval with the rod tip (as ALL good fly casts do) and you can fish all day without a tangle. Don’t blame the drop shot. Blame your casting stroke.

Lengths and Distances

The tippet lengths in the formula are variable, because your waters are different than mine. And because my waters change as often as do the trout’s preferences. These lengths might change daily.

Think of it this way. Use the drop shot to find the bottom and gain your reference. Now, where do you want the flies?

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Do you want the bottom fly right in the trout’s visions and down in the strike zone? Then make your bottom tag just six inches up from the drop shot.

Are trout swirling mid-column in a three-foot run, as they feed on emerging sulfur nymphs? Then ride your upper tag about two feet up, because if you factor in the angle of drift as you lead the flies, your upper fly will be about mid-column when the drop shot is at the bottom.

Simply consider where you want the fly to ride in the water column, factor in your average sighter angle, leading at about forty-five degrees, and there you have your answer.

Late last fall, I used drop shot for an unconventional solution. In a two-foot riffle, trout were eating olives just under the surface. A dry dropper with a trailing nymph or soft hackle would be my normal solution. But this time, I tied another dropper tag on the drop shot rig I was already using. I placed it just ten inches below the sighter. I tied on a small Pheasant Tail and started casting.

The action was lights out. Every time the ball touched, the Pheasant tail jiggled, riding about six inches below the surface. What does a mayfly do as it emerges? It kicks and wiggles and struggles to break free of its shuck. I believe that the bottom contact of my small drop shot caused just enough of a stutter in the Pheasant Tail that trout found it irresistible.

Last point here: I start with my tags at about five inches in length, and I’ll fish them down to about two inches, after multiple fly changes. Any shorter than that, and I re-rig.

Find Your Way

The longer I fish, the more sure of things I become. But each season on the water gives me new ideas. I change my mind about things I thought I knew, and I’m reassured of others.

Because I enjoy the constant searching and testing, I often discover rigs and tactics that surprise me. The minor variations I made to a drop shot rig are a perfect example. Rigging with tags rather than going in-line, using weighted flies sometimes, and that ah-ha moment of the drop shot balls made all the difference.


This drop shot rig is one of finesse. Rarely is much weight required, because the rest of the leader is literally built for getting the flies down — to allow light weights to fall quickly.

Good tight line skills keep everything in one seam, so the flies and the drop shot cooperate instead of fighting against each other in multiple seams. The entire rig, the whole system, is built for refined presentations. So don’t overweight the system by much — use just enough to get down there and tickle the bottom.

Look around for other ways of rigging a drop shot or experiment with your own ideas. But I suggest trying this rig. Give it a few trips to see the advantages, and you just might fall in love with another nymphing tactic that solves on-the-river problems and brings a smile to your face.

Next up is part five of this Troutbitten Shot Series, Drifting the Drop Shot . . .

Fish hard, friends.

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Enjoy the day Domenick Swentosky T R O U T B I T T E N

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>