In this blog post I am going to discuss the basic principles of understanding the drift, and what your flies are doing under your indicator. I haven’t fished much with an indicator this year though I do enjoy seeing the bobber go down. I'm not going to lie it is exhilarating, and is something I have loved since I was a kid. Some fly fisherman like to see a trout sip a dry fly, but I get the same excitement watching an indicator rip up stream. It often seems to me, however, that the use of an indicator is looked down on or seen as an easier way to fish by many fly fisherman. I am not sure why there is this discontent, but I hope by the time you finish reading this article that will have a better understanding of your drift, and how to properly set up your indicator, without having to feel like you are fishing with training wheels.
I agree that indicators can be an easy way to nymph fish to some extent, but if you want to be highly effective with an indicator there is a lot more to it. I think it’s actually a lot tougher than just using a longer leader with a built in sighter as with many Euronymphing set ups. Now hear me out on this, I know some of you are already typing your angry response to that statement.
|My cousin Ryan with his first trout on the fly, caught using and indicator.
|In this photo I am Euronymphing for wild trout in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.
|A cookie cutter stocked rainbow trout caught using an indicator on a slow pool in South Central Pennsylvania.
I want you to think of your drift while indicator fishing as a right triangle. If we are looking at a cross section of a stream the top point of the triangle will be your indicator. Now let’s drop straight down from this point. This straight line distance to the stream bed is the water depth or the “adjacent leg” of the right triangle . The last point is where your nymphs are at, the ”opposite leg”. The angled line “hypotenuse” of the triangle is the depth at which you need to set your flies.
Wow, who would have thought that you have to know geometry to nymph fish with an indicator? The simple fact is that you don’t really have to know all of these geometry terms and no I am not going to give you a formula that will give you the exact distance to set your flies. There are too many variables with to make this possible but I want to help you understand the factors that will effect the “hypotenuse” length of our triangle.
The two biggest factors that need to be considered, in my opinion, are the weight/composition of the nymph you are using and the current speed at the surface. These two factors, in my opinion, have the greatest effect on your drift while using an indicator. The construction of the indicator also plays on this, and I will touch on that in a later blog post. For the time being let’s say that we are using a 1/2” thingamabobber.
|A pretty stocked brook trout from one of my local streams.
|Buggy stoneflies like these will experience quite a bit of drag compared to flies tied with synthetic materials.
|Some blow torch nymphs I tied using mostly synthetic materials.
Now let’s bring these two factors together in a way that makes sense with some simple principles you can remember.
Fast top current- longer fly depth
Slow top current - shorter fly depth
Slow sinking flies - longer fly depth
Fast sinking flies - shorter fly depth
Fast top current, slow sinking flies- longer fly depth
Fast top current, fast sinking flies- shorter fly depth
Slow top current, slow sinking flies- longer fly depth
The longer it takes the flies to sink the longer you want to make your distance from your indicator to your flies. The more drag your indicator experiences the longer you want to make the distance to you flies. The faster the top current is the longer you want to make the distance to you flies. That’s the basics of all of it. Now let’s apply this to fishing.
Most streams have all kinds of current, pools, differences in water depth, etc. Most of us anglers don't want to be walking up the stream and adjusting our indicator every time we encounter a different flow condition. This is one of the reason I don't often use indicators, and the biggest downfall to using them. The easiest way to know if you are in the zone where you will receive the most strikes is to watch your indicator. If you cast up stream, and your indicator just floats on by, you are fishing too shallow. Your flies are off of the bottom. I suggest adjusting your depth in 2" increments until your flies are just bouncing on the bottom. You will know you are in that zone when your indicator just ticks along. It should bounce a little on the drift as the flies are hitting rocks and other debris on the bottom. This is your money spot. If you go too deep your fly will keep getting hung up on the bottom, and the indicator will stop, and go under even though no fish took your flies. Just watch the indicator until it is only ticking off the bottom and you will see your strikes increase. There are times when the trout will feed in the middle of the column, but more often than not you will see most strikes when using the method discussed above.
Another point I want to make on using an indicator is that you are not simply just casting your line and letting it lay on the water. When I am using an indicator I do everything in my power to keep my line off the water. Although I am watching the float I still want to be connected to my flies. Some instances where you have to cast a further distance, no matter what you do you have to have some line on the water. You will want to mend your line, shoot some line up stream of the indicator, so that your line does not create drag and ruin your presentation. Also when you do detect a strike, the added drag of your line ripping through the water will add time that the fish can reject your fly, or not give you enough power on the hookset. This splashing may also spook other fish in the hole.
I will create another post on discussing the different types of indicators, and what I like and dislike about each, but wanted to give an understanding of what actually happens on the drift, and how to set up using different flies and current conditions. Fishing with an indicator can be highly effective, and is not as simple as many make it out to be. In my opinion there is much more to comprehend and adjust for when using an indicator effectively than when using a built in sighter, but that is just my 2 cents on the matter.
|A golden rainbow trout I caught using an indicator an olive lively legz pheasant tail.
|Another shot of my cousins first trout.