Drop Shot Rig

Fly Fishing
Added Date:
Monday, 14 Nov, 2016
It was about 1978 when I started my career as a fishing guide on the Madison. Back then, no one ever seriously fished wet flies, streamers or nymphs.
It was about 1978 when I started my career as a fishing guide on the Madison. Back then, no one ever seriously fished wet flies, streamers or nymphs. Back then, fly fishing meant dries. Royal Wulf and a Royal Trude right down the middle. Floated like a cork, could see it for a mile, and killed 'em. 

Now things have changed a bunch. By far the most effective way to catch fish using a fly rod is with nymphs. There are lots of different ways to rig them, all for different situations, but my favorite for getting it down and into their face is the drop shot rig. It's a pain in the ass to cast but deadly and relatively easy to fish once it hits the water. 

The first drop shot rig I ever saw was on the Upper Beaverhead. These guys were setting it all up on 5 and 6X tippet. I noticed the set up on someone else’s rod at the put in. Since the Beaverhead is not my home court, and it's so much different from the Madison, I was looking more to see if I was in the ball park on fly selection. What I found was the drop shot rig.

The drop shot rig consists of two flies with the split shot on the bottom. What it is really made for is getting to the bottom fast, then floating along with a good natural drift. Tapered leader not necessary - I like to start with a piece of fairly heavy tippet, straight off the butt section, about 3 or 4 feet of 0X or 1X connected with a surgeon’s knot or a loop-to-loop connection. 

I like surgeon’s knots beacuse they're less likely to catch the fly on a trailing loop. I use the thicker tippet because it holds the indicator better and doesn’t get all kinked up. From there another surgeons knot with about 4 feet of whatever tippet is appropriate given fly size, water conditions, and fish size.

Next comes the first bug, let’s call it a size 16 pheasant tail on 4X, tie that on with your basic clinch knot, then another clinch knot with more 4X through the eye of the same pheasant tail. Now we have two clinch knots coming out of the eye of the same fly. I like to spread the flies out about a foot-and-a-half to 2 feet.

Now comes the second fly. Let’s go with a size 18 zebra midge. Same thing, clinch knot in one side of the eye, another piece of 4X coming out the other side. Now we have our tail on to hold the weight. I usually go with about a foot to 18 inches on the tail.  A simple overhand knot at the bottom keeps the shot from sliding off. I then tie another overhand knot above the split shot. That way when the shot hangs up in the rocks it breaks off at the knot just above the shot and you keep the rest of the rig. All that is needed is another shot on the end and you're back in business.

The advantage to the drop shot rig is that it gets down fast and it is adjustable for depth. The trick is to get the depth right. If you have a run that is around 5 feet deep, then you need to set your indicator about 5 feet above the split shot. Now you can cast upstream, mend once, and the flies immediately drop to the proper depth and you’re in their face with the perfect drift. 

Then it's just a matter of giving the indicator enough slack by mending and feeding it line to keep it floating down naturally, the same speed as the current. You can get the perfect drift to go on literally to the end of your fly line. Once I get set up in a hole it usually takes a few casts to get indicator length set correctly. I like the new screw on top indicators because you can easily move them up and down the line without damaging the tippet.

On the first few casts I like to err on the side of too shallow. I make my first cast, run the whole line, and if I don’t get at least one bottom tick I increase the length between indicator and split shot. Next cast still no bottom bounce - make it deeper until you find the bottom. If too much bottom, shorten it all up. I like my drift with just an occasional tick off the bottom. Too deep and you get too many “false positives” and too many lost rigs in the rocks. 

The drop shot rig is not the only way to fish nymphs, its kind of a bitch to cast, but when the goal is a dead drift right on the bottom it is a deadly set up.
Reading Time:
This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.

Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.

Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Fishing Waters
The Beaverhead is a nearly 70 mile long tributary of the Jefferson River. Its original course has changed due to the construction of the Clark Canyon Dam, as have its headwaters, once ... moreformed by the confluence of the Red Rock River and Horse Prairie Creek. These rivers, along with the first 6 miles of the Beaverhead, are now flooded as a result of the reservoir project. Today, the Beaverhead flows through a wide valley where it meets the Big Hole River and forms the Jefferson River. The river is well known for its clear, blue-green color, narrow, winding turns, willow-lined, undercut banks and thriving insect life that attracts fish.

The origin of its colorful name can be traced back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, when their indigenous guide, Sacajawea, recognized a large rock formation in the middle of the river known to her as the Beaver’s Head. According to Lewis, this indicated to her that they were close to the summer retreat of her Indian nation. On August 15, 1805 the party reached her tribe, where one of her remaining brothers, Cameahwait, Chief of the Shoshone, provided crude maps, food and horses, making it possible to continue the Expedition through the mountains. On their return trip Lewis gave the river, once full of beavers, the name it now holds.

Fortunately, floating the Beaverhead in today’s world is much easier, more fun and amply rewarding. It is widely considered one of Montana's premier Brown trout fishing rivers, producing more large trout, particularly Brown trout, than any other river in the state. Due to its abundance of large trout, fly fishing the stretch near Dillon, from Clark Canyon Dam to Barrett’s Dam and through to Twin Bridges, tends to be very popular and get can crowded, even although the fish can also be hard to catch. While large fish can be caught with dry flies, it is primarily a nymph fishing river along with a swiftly moving current, so expect to be constantly mending your line.
The Big Hole River starts in the Beaverhead Mountains south of Jackson, Montana and flows on for about 156 miles. Beginning as a slight stream, it picks up muscle as it joins with ... morethe North Fork, and draws more volume as it passes through the Wise River basin. At the Continental Divide it changes its northeasterly direction and heads southeast until it joins the Beaverhead and forms the Jefferson River close to the town of Twin Bridges, Montana. It hosts one of the last known habitat for the native fluvial artic grayling but is best known to fly fishers for its trout.

Like so many Montana rivers, the Big Hole is as full of history as it is of water. When Lewis and Clark stumbled upon it, the river was providing a buffer zone between rival Indian tribes vying for land as they sagely anticipated the westward push of European miners, furriers and settlers. Fifty years later, a significant number of the Nez Percé, a tribe that had initially befriended the Expedition, refused to accept life on a reservation and were nearly wiped out by U.S. troops in the Battle of the Big Hole. Today’s battles consist of quarrels between ranchers who desire water for irrigation and recreational users who wish to see the water preserved.

Fishing the river can be basically divided into three sections. From the headwaters at Skinner Lake to Fish Trap, the river meanders slowly through high meadowlands. This is where the few remaining artic grayling can be found, although browns and rainbows are in abundance here. In the second section, Fish Trap to Melrose, you will find boulders and pocket water rushing through a narrow canyon; here rainbows outnumber the browns with an estimated 3000 fish per mile. The final section, Melrose to Twin Bridges, is lined with cottonwood bottoms, braided channels and long, slow pools. In contrast to the second link, browns outnumber rainbows 2 to 1 with approximately 3000 fish per mile.
The Madison River is arguably one of the best trout fishing rivers in all of southwest Montana, if not the entire world! It’s certainly the most talked over, written up and frequented ... morein the state of Montana – which is considered by some the capital of fly fishing. Anglers will find plenty of great access sites to wade or float along the Madison’s banks and reservoirs (including Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake). Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and more abound in this majestic fishing stream.

The Madison begins its course almost twenty miles into Yellowstone National Park. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.

Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hebgen Dam releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.

Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintains relatively low water levels and provides wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
3 days
Experience the Madison River Like Never Before Learn the best spots on the Madison River with 3 great fishing days with Red Mountain Adventures. Eric Shores, with over 35 years of ... moreexperiencing guiding on the Madison River will take you down a journey of the best places to fish.

The journey starts on the Upper Madison River on a guided float trip covering about 8-11 miles of premier fly fishing water. The following day includes a recipe (location flies, and technique) on a do it yourself wade location near the fly fishing town of Ennis. The third day moves you on to where the Madison River dumps into Ennis Lake for a full float day stalking the giants.

Note: The order or location may change based on where the best spots are at the time.
/ Boat
2 anglers
1 day
We specialize in guiding on the Beaverhead river. We cater to anglers of all skill levels, from beginner fly fishermen looking to catch that first trout on a fly, to the seasoned angler ... moreseeking a veteran Montana fishing guide who knows these waters like the back of their hand. Our experienced guides will work hard to help you have a first-rate Montana fly fishing experience.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
1 day
Sign up for a day on the Big Hole River and you'll be paired with a guide who knows the tricks for successful fishing in Montana. The Big Hole is an excellent river to float and provides ... morean opportunity for anglers of all skill levels to reel in a nice catch.
Welcome to Southwest Montana's finest fly fishing adventures. Blue ribbon trout water is literally steps away when you visit us in the picturesque town of Ennis, Montana. You may spend ... morethe day on our home river, the world famous Madison or drive to one of our other local rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby or the Jefferson. Whether you are a new angler or an old pro we have the expertise and patience to make your time on the water chasing wild trout a success.

Discover Your Own Fishing and Hunting Adventures

With top destinations, guided trips, outfitters and guides, and river reports, you have everything you need.