53 - New Zealand Style Dry and Dropper Fly Fishing Tips
NEW ZEALAND STYLE “DRY AND DROPPER” FLY FISHING TIPS
Simple, deadly and versatile, the so-called “New Zealand Method” is the easiest way you’ll ever find to fish two flies. Here are a host of great tips and top fly patterns to get the very best from this way of fishing.
A cracking small stream brownie, which took a Copper John suspended beneath an Elk Hair Caddis.
Ever wanted to know how to fish with two flies, minus the tangles? Whether you’re a complete beginner or have fished for years, the “New Zealand dropper” is one of the best ways to fly fish, full stop. But what exactly is it and how can we refine this method to tackle different waters?
See for yourself: Dom Garnett uses the dry fly plus dropper to great effect on Exmoor’s River Lyn:
What is New Zealand style fly fishing?
In basic terms, this way of fishing simply means using a dry and wet fly together by the simple means connecting your sinking fly directly to a floating pattern via a length of line. Yes, correct, you set up as if you were fishing a single dry fly, then just tie another length of line directly to the hook and fasten a nymph on the end. Simples!
This immediately brings several benefits. First of all, you don’t need any special dropper knots or other refinements. The reward for taking this route is a straightforward, fairly tangle proof set up that shows takes beautifully. If a fish rises for your dry fly, you’ll obviously see it. If a fish takes your wet fly, however, the dry fly instantly pops under the water and you’ll also see it right away.
This is a fantastic way to catch trout, primarily. However, once the traditional season ends, it’s also a good way to tempt autumn grayling on small streams.
Setting up couldn’t be simpler, either. We would recommend a basic tapered leader of perhaps 3-4lbs for river fishing, or 5-6lbs for stillwater fishing. Now tie a dry fly to the end. Once this is done, take a short length of slightly finer line (usually 45cm or a foot and a half is ideal for small streams, possibly a little longer for larger rivers) and attach your chosen wet fly.
Check out our range of leaders and tippet materials for everything you need to set up “New Zealand style”
Copolymer or fluorocarbon are ideal for this final link between wet and dry- just make sure it is slightly weaker than your main leader ( you might use 4lb to the nymph if your main leader is 5lb, for instance) so you only lose the very end and one fly if you get snagged. Job done!
Advantages and limitations
The benefits to this easy system are huge, but first and foremost this system lets you hedge your bets a little. If the fish want to rise, great. But if they don’t want to rise or nothing at all is hatching, you still have a chance with your sub-surface pattern. Tails you win! This makes it ideal for any fly fishing trip on a new water, where you are unsure whether the fish want a floating or sinking fly.
Ideal NZ territory: a wild river with a mixture of shallow runs and deeper pools
Of course, the other advantage is sheer versatility. You can choose any combination of flies you want- although for obvious reasons you will want a dry fly that floats well to support your wet fly. Meanwhile, it’s important to pick a wet fly or nymph that is not so brutally heavy that it sinks your floating pattern.
We tend to think of the New Zealand method as mainly as a river technique (and the name derives from its origins on the rivers of that country). However, it’s worth saying right from the off that it’s far more versatile than that. Savvy fly anglers also get great results on stillwaters, for instance.
As for limitations, no method is perfect! In very deep water, for example, you can try a longer gap between dry and dropper, but once you get to three foot plus, this starts to become impractical. You might be better served with Euro Nymphing at this point. Nor do you get ultimate finesse for fish taking off the top. Sure, you will catch a few fish on that dry fly, but if you get fish rising well, the presence of the dropper direct to the hook will reduce your success rate slightly as the odd fish will bump off your dropper connection.
The other slight drawback is that this setup will make your casting slightly clumsier, with the heavier nymph tending to swing forward faster than the dry. You might need to adjust your cast a little here and avoid trying to shoot line quickly with a tight loop. No bad thing, because slowing down your action and cutting out needless false casts are both good disciplines, especially on a river.
Here are some top tips, favourite flies and useful ideas to take this brilliant method further in your fishing!
Best flies for New Zealand style fly fishing
Where do we start?? There are infinite combinations, but for simplicity, let’s offer a few basic starting points and separate between dry flies and wet flies.
Starting with the dries, bushy emerger style patterns are ideal. Some anglers hardly deviate from the Klinkhamer, in fact, which is why you’ll sometimes hear the method called “Klink and dink”! For those who struggle to pick out their flies, patterns with a pink or orange sight post on top are even better.
We stock a huge range of Klinkhamers- including this special version with a rig ring to connect your dropper!
Another great choice for supporting a sinking fly is a sedge fly imitation, as these tend to be bushy and buoyant. The Elk Hair Caddis is superb for the job, in fact, as is the Balloon Caddis and other segdes.
For those who like hassle free fishing, flies that incorporate foam, such as the Popper Hopper (above) can be just the job. With modern materials, many of these patterns will float come what may, even after getting a bit mangled. Black is a good colour when looking across a light coloured backdrop, such as the surface of a lake on a bright day.
Last but not least try a unibobber buzzer for a guaranteed no sink, high riding, hi-viz dry. This fly will float all day and ride out the rough choppy waters. A great indicator fly from the Turrall team using the Thingamabober products to bring us flies that really work.
As for our sinking patterns, there are endless choices! The only thing we’d steer clear of is very big and heavy flies that might mess up your casting or sink the dry fly. Small bead heads are ideal for rivers (and in general terms a 16 is spot on), while spiders or even buzzers are excellent for stillwaters.
Our range of Micro Bugs (above) are a fantastic choice for the dropper. Or you could go classic, with the likes of the Beaded Hare’s Ear or Pheasant Tail Nymph.
As for stillwater fishing, slim nymphs are spot on for rainbow trout- such as an epoxy buzzer (above) suspended just under the surface. Deadly when the fish are coming high up for a hatch! For wild browns, you could also try beaded or plain versions of classic loch style flies.
FURTHER TIPS AND IDEAS
- Tie your knots with care! Fishing New Zealand style means two extra knots for the dropper. This can be a simple half blood or fisherman’s knot, but the improved clinch knot is little harder to tie and more secure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXWRZe784QU
- Don’t just try the New Zealand method on flowing water! It’s great on stillwaters with a buzzer or spider as your wet fly. It can also work well for coarse fish if you scale down a little- and soft, small wet flies are ideal for roach (above) and rudd.
- To reduce tangles, cut down on false casts! If you can discipline yourself to make a maximum of two or three back casts per delivery, you’ll spend more time fishing and less time tangling.
- With barbless dry flies, there is a risk that your NZ dropper could slip off the hook! Instead of a “pure” barbless hook, therefore, try gently crushing down a barbed pattern, to leave a slight bump that will be kind to fish but prevent your dropper slipping free.
- Use a quality floatant to make sure your dry fly supports the dropper. Applying two coats (one at home, one on the bank) will do the job even better!
- For very slow currents, or the stillest of stillwater days, another great shout is to use a spider pattern as your wet fly (shown is the Pearl Spot Spider, a great choice for stillwater trout). The soft, subtle motion of these flies gives them “life” even without any strong current or wind action.