The fly’s the thing

The experts at a few Western North Carolina fly shops have recommended the following dropper combinations. Also, check out Rich Witt‘s “What’s Hatching” guides for each month (see

Josh Garris, Curtis Wright Outfitters (Note: Top-water flies are listed first.)

• Size 12 to 14 yellow or orange stimulator with a size 16 tan boss hog nymph (a rubber leg stonefly pattern)
• Size 12 to 14 olive or tan elk-hair caddis with a size 16 purple bead-head prince
• Size 12 to 14 yellow madam-x with a size 16 rubber leg bead-head pheasant tail
• Size 12 to 14 tan parachute hopper with a size 14 olive or orange grand poopah caddis nymph

• Size 2 white or fire tiger Todd’s wiggle minnow with a size 10 olive damsel fly nymph
• Size 6 frog or fire tiger deerhair bass bug with a size 12 white bead-head wooly bugger

Forrest Marshall, Hunter Banks

Think about what’s hatching, and then rig droppers accordingly, Marshall suggests. For top flies through April, he would rig one of these flies: Size 12 Adams, March brown, irresistible (a great floating pattern because of it’s deer-hair body), or quill Gordon (all in parachute-hackle configurations). Then, Marshall would rig the bottom with any of the standard Size 14 to 16 bead-head nymph patterns, such as pheasant tail or prince. But as the season progresses into mid-May through mid-June, the emerging insects will become decidedly lighter in color and even yellow. The little yellow stonefly (which is emerging during this time) is the most consistent hatch we have in Western North Carolina, and top flies during that time should be patterns which suggest the lighter color, such as Size 12 yellow Sally, Cahill light, ausable wulff, thunderhead (a traditional mountain pattern which puts hair wings on an Adams body), yellow stimulator, or yellow elk-hair caddis, Marshall maintains. To drag behind the top fly during this period, he swears by his standard nymph pattern—the size 16 Mercer’s micro stone. Come July and August, droppers should be terrestrials, such as beetle and hopper patterns that are dragging inchworms or ants.

Walker Parrott, Davidson River Outfitters

When choosing droppers, Parrott says he first watches where the fish are feeding. If he sees fish feeding just below the surface of the water, he’ll tie a soft hackle blue wing, pheasant tail, or hairs ear (sizes 14 to 18) to suggest an emerging insect, because that’s what the trout are feeding upon. He then ties a top pattern such as an elk hair caddis, or a parachute Adams that might suggest something that is hatching currently.

In August, fish are usually hanging out in deeper water because water temperatures are cooler there. Trout will also often move into riffles where there is more oxygen. Both areas are great spots to fish droppers. Walker ties his sections between top and trailer with a 24-inch piece of fluorocarbon because he believes the longer length will allow for a more natural drift. Walker reminded me that fluorocarbon is more abrasion-resistant than tippet material, and it’s almost invisible in the water.

Rich Witt, Curtis Wright Outfitters

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, folks who fly fish can rig two-fly droppers—as long as they’re single-hook patterns. Throughout the rest of the state, says Witt, an angler can rig droppers with more than two flies. With that in mind, he departs from traditional dropper strategies and chooses two dry flies, or two nymphs, or three-fly combinations of top only or top and subsurface flies, always using fluorocarbon rather than tippet materials (and for the same reason Parrott and others do). Witt also echoed what other local guides told me, saying, “Put the flies where the fish are.” He continues, “Pay attention to where fish are feeding and try to match insects that you see nearby, based on the priority list of factors most important to trout when they see imitations—first size, then color, then shape.” I was curious about the possibility of using a streamer that appears to be chasing an active larval imitation—perhaps a way to inspire covetous behavior in bigger trout. Rich does use this as a strategy: He takes a weighted stonefly imitation, for example, and trails a streamer fly (such as a hornbug or a spruce fly) six to eight inches behind the larval artificial. With the weight of the dropper combination at the front in the stonefly, the lighter trailing streamer will produce an enticing zigzag action. Rich has found that he catches fish on both flies.

To find out what insects will be hatching on local waters this month, go to

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