Andrew Cartwright has found a way to control fishing depth with a sliding dry fly.


When I first heard about New Zealand or duo/trio style of fly fishing many years ago, I thought it was a great idea. It covered all the bases, from the water’s surface all the way through the water column. Most people I saw put a length of tippet straight off the hook-bend or hook-eye around three feet in length. To my mind this would work well in water of around one and half to two feet of water, as the nymph wouldn’t hang directly down under the dry, but trail behind the dry at around 45?, so when you fished deeper water the nymph wouldn’t be anywhere near the river bottom. Of course, you could always keep swapping the tippet for longer or shorter lengths but that’s far too much like hard work for me.

So how to alter the depth? I talked to a few competition anglers I know to see if they knew how to get round it. The first one I talked to said, yes, he did know … and that was as far as the conversation went!

Then I was enlightened to the secret of the sliding dropper. I tried this for a while and it seemed critical what leader material you used to attach the sliding dropper. If a fish took the dry and the sliding dropper slid down the leader quickly, you had one of the biggest pig’s tail in a leader you have ever seen. After experimenting with this for some time, I still thought there must be a simpler way of doing it.

I had an idea which was simple and very easy to fish with. Essentially, all you need to do is have a level piece of 6-8lb fluorocarbon of about six feet long. To this attach the dry fly by using very small diameter coarse anglers’ silicone tubing. Cut it into a small band like a float band, then put the leader through it. Put the hook point through the tube, so the fly is facing towards the fly line, put the leader through the hook-eye and then another band on the leader and push it over the hook-eye. When you go to slide the fly up and down the leader you want to feel resistance, otherwise the dry will move of its own accord. I want the fly facing the fly line, so if a fish takes the dry, when you lift the rod up it sets the hook.

One other advantage of attaching the dry in this method, is that you can use barbless dries. Now on the terminal end put a small micro ring to serve two purposes, the first to attach the nymphs to the main leader and the second if a fish takes the dry and the fly moves down the leader the ring will act as a stop-knot and the dry won’t get dragged down to the droppers and snap them off. For the droppers, I make them up the same as if you were making any dropper rig but put the flies closer together, roughly about 18-24in apart, serving two purposes again. One, it helps to stop the flies tangling and, two, it concentrates the weight of the nymphs to get them down through the water column quicker. This way you haven’t got to keep casting a long way up stream, to give them time to sink, which causes you more tangles. You can fish a single nymph, two or even three, which I have heard called quarto style! In total, your leader set up is going to be around 9-12ft.

Match up
The main advantage I found with putting the leader together like this, with the dry in line so to speak, is you get far less tangling of the nymphs with the dry fly. Of course, you have to match the size of the dry to the nymphs. When winter grayling fishing with tungsten bead flies, I can hold up three flies with 3mm heads on a large dry. I started with Stimulators, but I now use a sort of a cross between a Stimulator and a Sedgehog (just a Stimulator with the deer hair wing all the way along its body). You can really pack a lot of deer hair into a smallish fly, though the first time I tried this method many years ago I made a Stimulator on a size six long-shank hook. I thought a fish wouldn’t take it, but it would hold the nymphs up well, how wrong can you be! A 2.5lb grayling came straight up and took it. I was that shocked it took me a while to even lift the rod tip! So I don’t worry too much about the size of the dry. If you’re having a day when the fish keep coming up to the dry and ignoring the nymphs you can swap to dry only.

Sometimes as the dry slides down the line, fish can shake the hook out because it’s barbless. If this happens a few times you can lock the dry in position by simply putting three or four turns of line around the hook-bend, simply just wind it around – close to the rear silicone band. When you go to slide the dry now it will need a lot of force to do so and this will also usually keep the fish on. If the dry does move it will only be very slow and when it comes to rest against the mini ring it can’t go any further, and will maintain the pressure on the fish. As for which nymphs you use, I have several of my own that I like to use but on a river you will never go far wrong with PTN’S and Hare’s Ears, in their various forms.

Once the cast is all set up I attach the leader to the floating fly line loop with a simple tucked blood-knot. Fishing the set up is simplicity itself. One of the most important things to consider is whether you’ve set the right depth for the nymphs. Ideally, you need to see the dry fly ‘ticking’, ie very slightly bumping as the point fly taps the river bed. If the point fly is fishing too shallow, you won’t see this. Sometimes a fish will move up off the bottom to take the fly but a lot of time it won’t. If the point fly keeps getting stuck on the bottom then you’re fishing too deep, but as you have a dry that can alter the Nymph’s fishing depth, this isn’t a problem.

You can either fish upstream, fan casting in front of you to cover all the water (and don’t ignore any). Treat the water as a chess board, with squares divided into square metres. Put your flies through each square around two to four times then the move onto the next square. Once you’re happy you’ve covered the water properly, move upstream a couple of yards and repeat the whole process again. Cover all the areas and move. The best advice I can give is don’t stand in one spot and just go through the motions; the fish won’t come to you, you have to find them. I prefer a longer lighter rod, of about 10ft for a #4 or #5. Not only can you work your way upstream, you can also use this method like short-line nymphing and work your way across the river and downstream, with only a short length of fly line extended outside the tip of the rod. The same principle applies, look on the river as a chess board and put the flies in every square. If you can go from one side of the river to the other, then simply turn around when you have covered the water to the far bank and fish your way back. If it is too deep to get all the way across, turn round and work your way back. Put in a couple of casts as you work your way back (sometimes fish will move over your foot steps as food is dislodged as you wade).

Once you’re back to where you started, move downstream around four feet and start again. It is so important to cover as much of the river as you can.

Having the set up working well with the point fly tripping the bottom the dropper/s mid water and, of course, the dry covering the water’s surface, not only have you covered every square metre of the water surface, but you’ve covered all the depths as well. What you’re looking for with the dry, is anything that looks different. If the dry twitches or acts differently to the drift before, lift the rod and see what caused it to do so. If it goes under, lift the rod, it could be a fish, a stone or a stick, there is only one way to find out, lift the rod.

If you are faced with some really deep fast water where the dry keeps getting pulled under water due to the strong current, one other trick to try is to slide the dry right to the tip of the fly line and fish short-line nymph style, with only about six inches of the tip of the line touching the water. (This is when the longer rod can also come into its own, keeping the line off the water and preventing all the different currents giving false bites). Then just watch for the tip of the line jumping or lifting off the water’s surface or moving forward, to show something has touched the flies.

This method is good for trout and grayling all year round.

I was asked recently to take part in a grayling research project for the Environment Agency and the Wye & Usk Foundation, on a short stretch of the Wye around Builth Wells. It was a nice streamy run that just screamed grayling, about 100 metres in length. I started working my way upstream fishing the dry with two nymphs under it. The first pass up the run brought 22 fish to the net, 21 grayling and one trout, two taking the dry and the rest the point fly. As the run looked so fantastic, I thought I would give it another try.

I swapped the dropper fly for a small Czech nymph bug (as the dropper fly hadn’t caught any fish on the first pass up the run), left the point the same and proceeded back up the run for another try. The first fish came to the Czech Nymph, I thought this was a change for the better, but the rest of the fish came to the point fly again. This time 19 fish came to the net, two trout, 17 grayling of which eight had already been caught and sampled. All this took place within four hours and proved the method can work brilliantly on its day. Fishing a moveable dry is not the only technique to have in your armoury, but a good one to add to it!

Read Charles Jardine’s article on how to tie Zippy, a fly pattern that catches trout, moves up and down a leader and provides a visual indication, by clicking HERE.


The all-important dry fly:

Stimi Hog
: Partridge size 12 standard Klinkhamer.
Tail: Approximately 10-15 fibres of Orvis coastal deer hair.
Body dubbing: Orvis Ice dubbing light olive.
Wing: Coastal deer hair.
Hotspot: Orange Ice dubbing.
Hackle: CdC in dubbing loop.

When forming the wing tie in a clump of deer hair then add 2-3 turns of dubbing, then another clump of deer hair, working all the way along the back of the fly to make it as buoyant as possible.