A dry dropper nymph approach for low water | Hatch magazine

What makes trout fishing so special to me? It is the dynamic nature of weather, stream conditions and trout behavior. Almost nothing stays the same. As a result, the approach that worked today will not always work tomorrow. As anglers, we must adapt to these changes in order to succeed, even if, at times, it means using some of your least favorite tactics.

If given a choice between Euro nymphing and suspension nymphing, my preference is for the simplicity and effectiveness of the Euro. But low water conditions can make it difficult to catch fish using euro tactics. Currently, the lack of rainfall has resulted in my local waters spitting only a trickle of water, creating challenging conditions for even experienced anglers.

Distance and stealth are usually a fly fisherman’s best friend when dealing with low water and twitchy trout. If you’re not willing to crawl on your hands and knees to get into a tight throwing position, then your next best option is to add distance between you and your target. Euro-nymphing tactics can be the most effective fly fishing tactic – that’s why it makes up over 80% of my nymphing – but using this approach requires you to be within 2-3 rod lengths of your target. When I start spooking a lot of trout, despite a stealthy but close approach, it’s time to switch gears and adopt suspending nymph tactics in order to distance myself from my target.

The key to finding success when suspension nymphing during low flows is using the right tactics. I stay away from hard or cork-style plastics during low flows, even if they are white or clear. In general, you should stay away from any indicator that falls heavily into the water. Such pointers can create an impact that will spook any fish within casting range. I also avoid bright colors like chartreuse, yellow and orange as they seem to put some fish down during low flows. During these conditions I prefer to use high floating dry flies as indicators. I don’t have quantitative numbers to share, but in my experience switching to a natural looking dry fly after my indicator produces much higher success rates, even when compared to using New Zealand white wool or style indicators white with a tip.


The Chubby Chernobyl is a favorite dry point pattern for anglers across the country. I also like to use chubbies, but only when I’m fishing out West, casting heavier flies and in fishing waters where trout are more likely to eat the dry fly. Additionally, low water conditions require not only a stealthy approach, but often, a long leader to help make subtle presentations. My preference for shallow water nymphing is fishing a longer, lighter leader (15′ or longer at 6X) in combination with smaller/lighter nymphs (#16-20 with a tungsten bead 2.0 mm or lighter). Trying to cast a wind resistant chubby with a long leader is challenging, even for the most skilled fly casters. The long, light leader often needed for shallow water fishing lacks the power to turn such dry flies, causing constant tangles and twisted tips. Therefore, I use more natural looking dry flies for my low water dry point rigs where the dry fly not only acts as an indicator but has a good chance of catching a fish.

dry dropper nymphing low water

Photo: George Daniel

My two favorite dry spot indicator flies are the original stimulator and the X-caddis. The key to both patterns is to use a hair that is loose enough to enhance the movement of the patterns. Good fly is hard to come by and is why I buy all my stimulator and X-caddis hair wing material from Blue Ribbon Fly Shop, West Yellowstone, MT. I have used this shop as my primary hair wing material supplier for the past 10 years and find their hair easy to tie while providing great flow. Both Stimulator and X-caddis models (tied in a variety of sizes and colors) are buoyant enough to float any medium and light weight nymph rig, are easy to cast with a long leader, while provide an attractive surface pattern worthy of encouraging a trout. to feed on the surface.

For X-caddis or stimulators that I plan to use as an indicator fly, I will stack the deer hair wings to provide a smaller float. I also prefer to use light to medium colored deer hair, allowing me to easily find the pattern in the water. If needed, a high-dash wing post can be added to create an even easier-to-see pattern. I tie X-caddis in sizes #6 to 14 for indicator patterns. I use larger #6 patterns for medium weight nymph fishing while I use smaller #14 patterns for light nymph patterns. Pair the size of the indicator pattern with the weight of the nymph, creating a turning point. If the pattern is very large and lively and paired with an ultra-light nymph, the trout hook may not move the indicator fly enough to record a strike. Strikes are easier to see when the two are better paired together and that is why I tie these patterns in several sizes to better match the weight of the nymph I fish.

dry dropper nymphing low water

Photo: George Daniel

And don’t be surprised if the fish of the day eat the dry fly instead of the nymph. Some of my best trout this fall have eaten the X-caddis or dry stim fly. Additionally, this nymph approach has saved several of my Penn State Fly Fishing Program field trips during the semester, where novices were tasked with handling extreme low currents in treacherous brown trout waters. But don’t take my word for it – try it yourself.

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