There are many different types of fly fishing indicators on the market. They all serve the same purpose - to let the angler know if they have a strike. They can also be used to help you fish the right depth. I hope to help you better understand the pros and cons of several different types of indicators to help you better choose the type of indicator that will work best for you.
A Thingamabobber is a strike indicator that I've found to work extremely well. They are simple, round, plastic, “bobbers”. They come in three different sizes and various colors. They are easy to put on and take off of your leader. Best of all, they’re pretty inexpensive.
To put one on the leader, simply pinch the leader together feeding it through the hole. Once through the hole you pull line through and further open the line, putting the larger end of the thingamabobber through. As you fish, you may find your indicator has slid up or down from where you originally set it. To adjust the Thingamabobber you need to take the indicator off and move it to where you want. While the thingamabobber is easy to install, adjust, and remove they do have the potential to kink your line.
To choose the size, you're looking for the indicator that will hold up your flies based on the weight of the flies and the current. When you're first starting out, it may take a little trial and error. Trout strikes can be pretty subtle, therefore you want to use the smallest indicator that will get the job done. A down side to the Thingamabobbers is that you may not be able to detect subtle strikes. For this reason, I prefer to use them when the water is between 50-65 degrees and the fish tend to feed more aggressively. They also work well when fishing for stocked fish that tend to strike harder. This also applies when fishing for other species of fish, such as bass, that feed more aggressively.
When fishing more technical waters with clear water and fish that spook easily, I use clear. Otherwise, I pick a color that I can see. It will vary based on the color of the sky, color of the water, angle of the sun, etc. I may start with one color in the morning, and as the day progresses and the angle of the sun changes, I may have to change out to a different color in the afternoon or evening.
Click HERE to see a video on installing a Thingamabobber
An Air-Lock indicator is similar to the Thingamabobber; it’s a simple, plastic “bobber”. Like the Thingamabobber, the Air-Lock indicators come in various sizes and colors. They do cost a little more than the Thingamabobbers; however, they are supposed to reduce the kinks in your line. They do this by changing up the design. The end of the indicator where the leader goes is able to be unscrewed and there is a slot for your leader to rest in. Then you simply just screw back on the end to tighten down. A down-side to these indicators is the small, screw-down nut used to hold them to your line. It is a tiny little piece; if you drop it, you’re done. If you have cold fingers or your fingers struggle a little more with smaller items, these might not be the indicators for you.
Click HERE to see instructions on installing an Air-Lock Indicator
Fish Pimp Indicators
These foam, football-shaped indicators come in various sizes and colors. They are 30% lighter than the standard Football shaped foam indicators. They have a rubber surgical hose in the indicator to allow ease of getting the indicator on the leader and holding them in place which also reduces the risk of kinking your line. To attach to your line you can either:
- Slide the leader into the slot and around the rubber hose.
- Remove the rubber hose, slide leader into rubber hose to desired depth and then place in the foam indicator.
- Remove the rubber hose, slide the leader into the rubber hose to desired depth, place in the foam indicator and then twist the rubber house, sliding the indicator over the hose. (Warning...Doing this is more of a permanent way to hold the indicator and cannot be adjusted once on the water).
The down-side to these indicators is the increased cost versus other indicator types.
Click HERE for instructions on installing a Fish Pimp Indicator
A sighter is an indicator used predominantly in euro nymphing. It is bi-colored monofilament that floats on top of the water. It is either multiple pieces of colored monofilament tied together; alternatively Rio and Umpqua make sighter material that is bicolored monofilament. The idea with these type indicators is to bring you close and personal to the fish. You are in constant contact with your flies and in better control of your line by producing a drag free drift. When using a sighter indicator, you keep your line “tight”. You lead your flies as they float through the currents going from upstream to just below you. You keep a small curve in your sighter and watch for it to stop or for it to tick back. A sighter allows you to see much more subtle strikes vs “bobber” style indicators.
Wool indicators have been growing in popularity over the past few years. The indicator is a small piece of wool yarn. You can choose the amount of wool yarn to use, thus choosing the effective size of your indicator. (Note: if you use too much, your indicator will tend to sink regardless of how much floatant you use) There are no knots needed as this indicator uses a small piece of rubber hose to hold the yarn on the leader. Using the wool is easiest with a special tool that’s small and inexpensive.
To place this on your line you will:
- Take the tool and attach it to your line.
- Pull a piece of rubber off of the tool and over your line creating a loop in your leader.
- Remove the tool.
- Place some wool into the loop.
- Pull on the two sides of your leader tightening the rubber over the wool to create a tension point to hold the wool.
- Apply a floatant to the wool.
This style indicator allows for great ease in adjusting depth; all you need to do is slide the indicator up or down your line. The trick to using a wool indicator is to put floatant on the wool prior to getting it wet. Once this is done, it will float for hours. If it starts to sink under the water, simply do a few false casts to dry it out.
These indicators are really good when fishing with nymphs. Compared with “bobber” style indicators allows more subtle strikes to be seen by the angler. This works well when the water is cold and fish are feeding less aggressively. I also enjoy using wool indicators when fishing technical waters where fish spook easily.
Click HERE for instructions on the New Zealand Strike Indicator
This is another technique I discussed in previous articles that works really well. I do not always use a dry to match what is hatching, but I will use a PMX or stimulator that can hold the weight of my nymphs. With this technique, you’re really fishing your nymphs but using something more natural in appearance to serve as your indicator.
Make sure to apply floatant to your dry fly. Watch for the dry to get pulled under, or for it to spin. Either of those movements could be a strike. I will typically drop my nymph about 2 feet off of my dry if trying to fish for trout that are hitting emergers. Otherwise, I’ll adjust the length to the depth of the hole or run I’m fishing attempting to bump the nymph just off the bottom.
Remember, when using any sort of indicator, watch for it to stop, twitch, or go under. Then, set the hook. Don’t be afraid to set the hook; a hook set is free. If it’s not a fish, just recast. As a rule of thumb, I allow 2 feet of leader from the fly to the indicator for every foot of depth. I adjust the leader length until I see the indicator “ticking” as the flies are bumping across the bottom.
Have a great week.