Sunday, 16 December 2012

Using droppers whilst trotting

Recently I have had endless emails from guys wanting to know more about using a dropper with an artificial fly on it whilst trotting for Grayling.

I was first shown this technique 40 years ago by my fishing mentor Peter Skelly an old man of over 70 who knew everything there was to know about, fly fishing, bait fishing and making his own tackle, some of which I now possess and cherish, he knew the River Avon & the River Clyde like the backs of his hands and often said there would be a trout or a Grayling in such a place and go and pull it out from the said place.
Its become quite apparent to me that this technique of using a dropper when trotting has long established links within the central belt of Scotland predominately the two rivers already mentioned, talk about it to any other angler from south of the border or other areas in Scotland & they are intrigued and want to know, I’ve only came across a handful of anglers in The North Yorkshire / County Durham area who also use this technique, so hopefully this small article will provide a small insight into the technique.

Peter taught me near enough everything I needed to know about Grayling & Trout fishing and I can still picture him with his greenheart rod and allcocks reel, standing there on the banks of the River Avon with his trotting rig set up and then he was tying on an artificial fly…. What’s all this about?  He used to do it in two ways, the first way I remember him doing was attaching a dropper with a dry fly about 2 foot up the line from his float, & the explanation I was given was that even if the grayling were taking bait, which in those days was always a small red worm, from time to time some would see the fly on the surface and come up from great depths to take it, and sure enough I seen him take a few nice Grayling using this method, it was quite bazaar to see a grayling above the float hooked fair & square in the mouth with an artificial dry fly.

Remember in those days & going back further to the 50s & early 60s fishing tackle was mainly heavy & cumbersome compared to today’s materials and in some cases very expensive so the old boys adapted methods to cut down on cost and probably because the central belt of Scotland was all mining villages with not a lot of money to throw around was where someone first come up with the idea.

I haven’t used this method of dropper fishing since Peter died but am sure its just as good at catching Grayling today as it was back then, The 2nd method he showed me was a dropper below the float, often with a red tag fly with a single grub / maggot attached to it & referred to by many anglers through the years across the River Avon/Clyde belt as the red tag & maggot. The maggot not as a maggot as we know bought in shops but blown from chicken carcasses in bran in a biscuit tin at the bottom of the garden or during the spring months was often substituted for stick bait or the docken grub.

Stick Bait AKA The larva of the caddis fly, the little creeper style bug which can be found attached to rocks or other riverbed debris in its cylindrical case made from sand particles, small twigs &  other aquatic debris. These were collected prior to fishing & kept in a damp bag or tin and when required were pinched out their cases and attached to the hook similar to how a maggot would be.

There is nothing complicated about fishing the dropper method & its proven it worth time & time again when Grayling will not look at the natural hook bait, wither it be maggots or worm and often ignore both to take the artificial fly saving a long cold day on the river from being a total blank.

The method I was shown & still choose to use is by attaching a short 5” piece of line to my mainline by the use of a two turn water knot approximately 18” above my hook bait. I personally prefer my bulk shot above my dropper knot with a small shot below it but I know many other seasoned Grayling anglers have all the bulk shot below the dropper knot, this is down to personal preference. No special floats or anything else is required its simply your same trotting rig as you would always use apart from an added dropper with which an artificial fly is attached.

I have seen the same method on various occasions brought up to the 20th century by using a micro swivel caught between two float stoppers / split shot and the dropper tied to the other eye of the swivel effectively acting as a helicopter rig which is adjustable due to it not being permanently fixed to the mainline, From time to time this method will incur tangles where the dropper wraps around the mainline and this way seems to cut out the wrapping effect more than the water knot, but being a fly fisherman I have always done the water knot which serves me well.

Artificial flies on the dropper, I mainly stick to bugs but have also put on dry flies such as a red tag, grayling witch and they have all still caught fish. Bugs I use frequently would be sawyer’s killer bug, pink shrimp, pink brassie, hares ear with pink/red bead or any other bug combination I tie myself.

I hope this small insight has answered some of the questions people have been asking, I hate to think what some more traditional fly anglers who use nothing but fly fishing equipment think about it, and how out of the ordinary some bait fishermen might think, but I know for sure that’s it has a long history in the central Scottish region and will continue to do so as its an accepted method for catching Grayling and has accounted for many large grayling over the years, & only recently accounted for the 3lbs 3oz fish I had whilst in Scotland.

My Views are don’t knock it till you try it and my fish are always caught & released as I like to think I’m looking after the sport for the generations to follow behind me and I’m still getting my enjoyment from it.
Thankfully the days where you would go to many rivers throughout the country and see hundreds of Grayling thrown up the bank as vermin & left to die are long gone, & long may it stay that way…


  1. Very interesting method George, thank's for sharing.

  2. Your welcome, if one person can gain some knowledge from my ramblings then its a success.

  3. Dear George,

    I want to thank you for providing us all with such a nice, informative and honest blog. I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

    I was going to leave it until Christmas day but since the world will end shortly, I will take the boys and fish my pond for the first time today. Last night the fish were jumping clean out of the water so all these months of stocking look as though they might pay off. Since they were clearly taking insects off the surface, it is looking good for fly fishing!

  4. Hippo, I thank you for all your visits to the forum over the last year and thank you for the feedback and keeping me updated on how things are going over in Africa, I sincerely hope your restaurant is a success and that your fishing lake & the hours of fishing that are now in front of you brings you all the happiness that you deserve teaching the boys/
    Merry Christmas to you & your family and have a prosperous 2013.
    SlĂ inte mhath! (Good Health)

  5. Nice one George, many thanks

    1. More than welcome Tom, thanks for popping in.

  6. George,

    I have a feeling this may work for other species like big roach and dace. In the colder months I'll give it a try while trotting for roach. Best regards my friend.

    1. Blinking heck Richard, you have been delving into the archives. It works with a few different species.
      best regards

  7. Hi George I am wondering if you are still making floats I am looking to buy a selection for the river Avon in Lanarkshire.?

    1. No for general sale, No Ive not made a float in over a year for someone else.


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