When to use an indicator for fly fishing

Do You Always Need a Strike Indicator to Fish Nymphs?

It’s no secret that strike indicators are extremely helpful when fishing nymphs. But are they always necessary? And are there any advantages to fishing nymphs indicator-less?

To help you decide when to hitch on an indicator and when to fish your nymphs “tight-line,” here are some things to consider.

types of indicators
types of indicators

In Water That’s Clear, Low, or Slow… No Indicator

One of the biggest drawbacks to floating strike indicators like the Thingamabobber (link to AMAZON for price check) is their fish-spooking ability. Especially in clear water, the splash landing of a strike indicator can send trout scattering in all directions and put them off the feed for the rest of the day.

Instead, if you’re faced with skittish trout in picturesque yet challenging gin-clear waters, leave your strike indicator off and fish a traditional nymph rig.

If the water is shallow or slow-moving enough, you should have no trouble presenting a single nymph on a long, tapered leader to your quarry. If you feel like you’re fishing a dry fly, you’re doing it right.

Also, don’t be afraid to fish a long leader. The more tippet you can put between your fly and your fly line, the less likely you’ll tip off the trout.

In Streams with Drastically Varied Depths… No Indicator

Floating strike indicators are great for suspending flies and weight just off the bottom where the fish are. The problem is, however, that since the strike indicator must be set at a fixed position, your rig will only drift at a constant depth. This works great in low-gradient streams with minimal depth change but can be a huge detriment when fishing streams with varied terrain and structure.

When fishing without a strike indicator, removing slack from the line to stay “tight” to your flies allows you to feel your rig ticking the bottom. Throughout the drift, depth adjustments can be made in the moment by simply raising or lowering the rod tip and stripping in or letting out line as needed.

When Maximum Sensitivity is Needed… No Indicator

Strike indicators do their intended job well they alert you when a fish takes your fly. But since trout can eat and eject a piece of food almost instantaneously, the twitch of a strike indicator doesn’t necessarily mean a trout is still there. Go ahead and set the hook, but don’t be surprised if you were too slow.

high stick nymphing
high stick nymphing

When you fish tight-line without an indicator, detecting strikes becomes a matter of feel. Through practice and experience, you learn to detect the daintiest nibbles and react instantly with a strong hook set. In essence, you’re taking your eyes out of the equation and letting your hands and instincts do the work.

Using Alternative Strike Indicators

The term “strike indicator” is most closely associated with the floating variety. But strike indicator options extend far beyond specialized bobbers for fly rods.

As we covered in “Experimenting with Euro Nymphing Techniques,” highly visible pieces of butt material can be built into the leader creating what’s known as a “sighter.” While sighters can’t suspend flies and weight like Thingamabobbers can, they do give you an enhanced visual indication of a strike.

To take it a step further, you can upgrade your basic hi-vis sighter to a French-style “curly-Q” or “slinky indicator.” A curly-q is created by wrapping hi-vis monofilament butt material around a dowel then heating it to set the line in a spring-like shape. The curly-q is tied to the fly line before attaching your leader and tippet and offers many of the same benefits of floating strike indicators but with much less spook-factor.

Related Articles to Help Catch More Fish

A great article on my recommendations for nymphing rods, reels and line. The Best Nymphing Fly Rod, Reel and Line

Learn how to tie up a traditional nymph fly fishing rig in this article. Tie Up a Traditional Nymph Fly Fishing Rig.

Get back to the basics a little in this article. What is a Strike Indicator and Tips for Using.

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