When did using a dropper become taboo?

The ranks of the fly fishing ethics police seem to be ever-growing
fly fishing for trout
Photo: Chad Shmukler

The ethics of fly fishing can get pretty sticky, or at least I’m gleaning that from social media, where some folks aren’t afraid to scold fellow anglers for teetering on the edge of angling impropriety, whether that impropriety is real or perceived.

For instance, when did using a “dropper” become taboo?

Recently, I did a short blog post for Trout Unlimited on the merits of the Prince Nymph—it’s a great all-around searching pattern for trout, and, in my estimation, an excellent pattern to use in heavy water where trout don’t get a lot of pressure. In other words, it’s an attractor fly that seems to work for fish that don’t see a lot of flies.

I mentioned fishing the Prince in the Fall River, a high-gradient stream that features, as the name implies, many waterfalls and more fast water than not. The good, old “hopper-dropper” presentation can be tough when you’re fishing below a 20-foot waterfall—the turbid water can drown even the foamiest of foam flies. So I switched over to a Thingamabobber, and dropped the Prince about three feet under it.

Not surprisingly, in this somewhat remote river in the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Prince proved to be an excellent choice. I brought to hand a dozen or so wild rainbows, including my personal best on the Fall River, a 17-inch tailwalker that elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from the tourists watching me fish from the overlook.

It was pretty cool, honestly.

Sure, I was using a “bobber,” a method chosen out of necessity, given the circumstances and the limitations of the tackle I had on hand. Normally, I would have been perfectly happy drifting a high-floating Chernobyl through the rough water, and I would likely have caught a few trout. But this day, with some funky, unsettled weather moving through, the trout were deep and didn’t seem willing to come off the bottom, even for a big bite of protein.

So I rigged up with the “indicator” and went down to the fish.

And, on social media, I was scolded for my method.

Barbless hooks. One fly, not two. No hopper-droppers. Wake up. — the critics-turned-ethics-cops chimed in.

Could I have ditched the indicator and used the Euro-nymphing method to reach the fish? I suppose, but conflicting currents made that choice less than ideal, at least for me. I’m sure other, more seasoned nymphers could have made it work, and I might give it a try next time I’m there.

That I had enjoyed success with the rig I chose didn’t seem to phase the readers who opted to become online ethics enforcers. I adapted to the conditions, chose a fly pattern I thought might work, and managed to catch fish.

I’m still trying to get my head around the perceived violation of some secret fly-fishing rules that I think a lot of folks are crafting as they go. Fly fishing is hard enough—especially if you’re just learning the craft. Why on earth would we make it more difficult than it already is by complicating it with strange new rules and trying to shame folks who engage in the craft in a perfectly legal—and, I would argue, perfectly ethical—fashion?

The “dropper” method is hardly a new development in fly fishing—even the most lauded fly anglers subscribe to the idea that using two flies improves their chances on the water, and the method helps with deduction, allowing an angler to pick the best of the two patterns once it’s clear the fish prefer one over the other.

But … unethical? Somehow inappropriate?

Perhaps to the purists in our ranks, but to the average angler who’s just trying to catch (and, in my case, release) a few trout?

Maybe I’m more of a troglodyte than I’d care to admit, but the overt criticism toward anglers who adapt to the conditions and figure out how to catch fish seems a bit much.

Dropping a fly under a hopper or an indicator is a perfectly acceptable method in my book. While it may not be competition-approved, how many of us are really competing when we fish?

Perhaps this is just a sign of the times. That, even among our own ranks, the desire to spur conflict and deliver criticism to others is so intense that we just can’t help ourselves. Hence, the critique on social media, where we have plenty of examples of how not to behave. Yet, there seems to be an ever-growing presence of ethics police for whom delivering unsolicited criticism for all to see is now the norm, not the exception.

And … over a dropped Prince Nymph, no less.


Thank you for the subtle sarcasm and the great post, both were helpful. I do believe that it is the sign of times to criticize any and all available. If I fish different than you fish, I guess it comes down to who nets the most slicks, if my numbers are more than yours guess who doesn’t care what you think...this guy. Keep up the entertaining and informative posts, those who fish the dry, hopper, - dropper appreciate your points. -Josh (@ Mountain Home, Snake, South Fork Boise, Big, Little Wood)

Chris, A little delayed, but your article just popped into my news feed. I am stationed in the UK, birth place of modern fly fishing and land of numerous rules depending on where you fish. However, during my fist trip to first river in UK, I was advised by my guide to...you guessed it, put on a dropper. Loved the article and hope to look you up when we resettle to Idaho.

Maybe those critics are just jealous they are not catching fish and you are.

Hello, interesting article. Here in British Columbia, Canada, the described technique you used isn't refered to as a"dropper". That is reserved for using two flies, usually a dry or foam floater, with the second fly dangling below. Which is not a legal method to use here. The use of a bobber/float IS legal as long as only one fly is on the line. Other areas in Canada and neighboring US states do allow the dropper (two flies on the one fly line). I say that you fish whatever you are allowed by the local regulations.