I’m not sure why but it took me so long to start using dropper rigs. Maybe it was because I wasn’t sure about the rigging techniques? Maybe it was because my initial experiences with droppers created some bird’s nest tangles? Or maybe I was just catching enough fish on one lure or fly… Who knows, but a few decades ago a fishing trip on a local estuary changed all of that.
At that point in time my freshwater trout fishing was on heavily-fished public waters. While many of my Western cohorts were slinging hopper-dropper rigs and catching tons of fish, the fussy and finicky trout in my home waters thumbed their noses and two-fly rigs. A single, well-placed fly out fished a dropper rig 10 to 1. Like most anglers, I followed the “keep a winning game plan, change a losing game plan” approach. I never much thought about it for the salt, and stuck to one plug, bait or fly.
But in the early 1990’s I was fishing a saltwater estuary during a transitional time. The herring was in, but so were the silversides and the sandeels. I was near some grass beds so there were shrimp around too. The bait was all mixed together and the fish were very picky. They were so picky, that even after a few hours with fish busting all around me, I didn’t have a hook up.
My frustration peaks during times like that, and I retreated to the bank. I could see the various baitfish swimming by and the idea struck me like a defensive back hits a wide out. I’m going to tie a bunch of patterns on and see what happens.
I pulled out one of each pattern from my box and retied a leader. I left six inch tags of monofilament off my leader. At the point, I tied on a blue over a silver broken back Rebel, about 7 inches of a herring look-a-like. Above the plug I tied on a series of flies. The first was a Ray’s Fly which is one of the best silverside patterns known to the fishing world. Above that I tied on a Ray’s Fly Flatwing which is one of the best sandeel patterns going. And above that I strapped on a General Practioner shrimp fly.
The tide had dropped so I moved down to a bar that created a perfect current seam. I flipped my bail, gently lobbed out my Rebel rig, and let it drift for a bit. After 20 seconds or so I closed the bail and let the line come tight. I moved my rod tip to the inside of the seam and when the plug swam into the slower water I felt nothing. I waited for a bit, still nothing. What a colossal waste of time.
Then bam. I set the hook and waited. Bam, bam, bam. The fight wasn’t like anything I ever felt before, and it was like a bunch of cats in a bag. No long runs, just an erratic, fierce fight. When I got the fish close I saw four schoolies! They were all small fish, but I broke the curse. And after the first schoolie bass hit the others got competitive and grabbed the droppers. Since that day, I always fish droppers. Let the fish decide, I say.
Dropper-rigs are like a buffet. They make the catching a lot easier any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
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Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program. Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits. When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters. His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.