Waters & words

Posts tagged “strike indicator

Good Indications : Indicators , depth, and the fly zone

I often read about “hanging a fly under an indicator”. I don’t get it. If the fly is hanging, it must be heavy, and if the indicator is holding it up, it must be HUGE. Maybe its just a turn of phrase. I did however try casting a thingamabobber the other day. That would hold a fly up. It was the smallest one you could get.

strike indicators (1 of 1)

It was like trying to throw one of those practice golf balls. It made a lot of noise, and went nowhere. When it did land it was with a great big PLOP. No thanks.

I like my indicators small. PD says you need binoculars to see them, and that it kinda defeats the object. He is right.  I know that because I am using the New Zealand strike indicator tool and system, and I don’t put enough yarn, so it doesn’t wedge on the leader, and instead slides up and down. “Short and stubby” I keep telling myself.

Strike indicators


Put more yarn, but still trim it short enough that PD will shake his head. Then it will be delicate for presentation purposes.

If you are struggling to see it, try using two contrasting colours, like chartreuse and orange. I find that works a treat after mid day when it gets silvery on the water. That is when the orange comes into its own.

strike indicators (6 of 8)strike indicators (1 of 8)

If the indicator is sinking, even though you have pre-treated it with “waterwhisp” and greased it heavily, then consider that maybe the fly is pulling it under.

Rather than lowering yourself to a thingamabobber, try moving it further up the leader. In this way your fly will be banging along the bottom, and all that the indicator will be supporting is the tippet.

strike indicators (8 of 8)

Remember that a light tippet will generate less resistance in the current, and that a drag free drift will be further cause for the indicator to stay on top.

Of course depth varies all the time, so if you are not changing the position of your indicator all the time, you will be getting this formula wrong on just about every drift. I move mine at just about every change in the water type. In other words when I go from a tail-out to a deep pool, or from a pool to a rapid, to pocket water.  This is why the latest indicators are such a great thing:  you can move them with ease, and so long as you use enough yarn, they stick where you put them! I also find that by having to consider where the indicator should be, it causes you to focus on the water depth. I estimate the depth in a run, set the indicator position, and fish it. Then I wade on up through that run, and get to see how deep the water really was. This goes into that computer they call my head, and with a bit of luck, I get better at estimating depth.  When the fish are hugging the bottom, as they so often are, guessing that depth right is an important part of fish catching.

Perhaps a more important part of fish catching, is not focusing on the strike indicator alone. That is more difficult than it sounds. Typically after a day on the river, I fall asleep with the rhythmical images of the same strike indicator floating back at me time and time again.

Game Pass  (3 of 5)

If that dream occupies most of your night, you may need to shake out of this bad habit, like I need to.  I think it was Tom Sutcliffe who wrote about trying to watch the fly (or the fly’s zone) and the indicator simultaneously. It is a lot like looking through a microscope with one eye, and keeping the other one open to do the sketch. Guys who did Biology at school might remember being taught that skill. In the “fly zone” you are looking for movement of any kind. An opening mouth, a darting shadow, a ripping tippet. It could be anything. If it is subtle you might not strike. If it is definite, you will. If it is subtle, but the indicator moves in a subtle way too, you will likely strike into a fish that you might otherwise have missed. This is all a bit like those dual garden beams of mine, that require a signal from both sensors before triggering. This avoids birds. We don’t want birds either. We want fish. And if your dream is of the indicator drifting undisturbed towards you every time, then you haven’t been catching fish, have you!


Since I was a high school kid, I have been mildly obsessed with finding the perfect indicator.

Back then I remember we hollowed out balsa wood struts from left over bits of our model airplanes. They were small sections of square bar, and we used a needle to make a small hole through them lengthways, so that we could thread them onto the leader. Then of course they had to be painted and varnished for durability. As a school-kid I was excited that this idea made it into print. The downfall of these things is that you had to position them over a join in your tippet. So you found yourself making a join in the spot where you needed an indicator. It was hardly worth trying to move the the thing along for differing water depth! So despite the idea being published, it left a lot to be desired.

I cant clearly remember what came after that. Maybe we gave up on indicators for a while.

I do remember that at some point I made up yarn pom-poms, and kept them in a little box, with strands of nylon trailing, and that we tied these onto the leader. But again we had the problem of not being able to position them for each pool or run we encountered during the day. The only thing that was right about them, is that we could make them very small. This is a pre-requisite for me. My fishing buddies sometimes laugh at my indicators, since they are sometimes too small to see. I can see how that defeats the object, but I cant bring myself to be throwing a ball of wool behind a #16 nymph.

Then came Nigel Dennis’ very clever idea: Nigel showed me how he used small sections of ear-bud stem, and wrapped the yarn around these sections, binding the two ends tightly where they came together, to form a pom-pom on one side of the little plastic ring. He then threaded these onto the leader, and secured them by using a tooth pick end to secure the position. For the first time we could release the thing and move it to where we wanted!

I played around with this a little, because the indicators were too large. What I did in the end was to revert to my pom-poms tied with tippet material, but then secure this to the same plastic ring. In other words the pom pom was tied to the ring with tippet material. This allowed us to use very small plastic rings, and suddenly we had an indicator as refined as you will see today.