Strike indicator takes the guesswork out of delicate nymph fishing

“Strike indicator.” More than once I’ve gotten a derisive laugh from non-fly-fishing friends when I’

“Strike indicator.” More than once I’ve gotten a derisive laugh from non-fly-fishing friends when I’ve used the term for a small, brightly colored float affixed to my line that moves — OK, it bobs — when a fish bites.

“You mean a ‘bobber,’ ” they usually say, with that “you silly fly-fishermen with your fancy talk” tone of voice.

Call it whatever you want. The strike indicator (I’ll stick with the fancy term) has become a pretty indispensable part of sub-surface fly-fishing, and many anglers won’t fish a nymph without one.

An indicator addresses the central challenge of nymph fishing: knowing when you’ve gotten a bite. Nymphs are meant to be fished in deep water, where you can see neither the fly nor the fish. Without the help of something visible to give a clue about what’s happening down there, you’re relying almost entirely on feel. And trout are deft little critters, allegedly able to suck in a nymph, figure out it’s a fake and spit it back out so quickly and gently that the angler never even knows it happened.

You can watch an indicator floating along and — assuming the fly is directly below the indicator or close to it — know whether you’ve succeeded in drifting the nymph though that fishy-looking little pocket next to the boulder. And if a fish does grab the fly, you’ll see the indicator

react. It may stop moving, it may get yanked under the surface or it may just slow down. As soon as it’s no longer floating along at the same speed as the current, you’ll know you should set the hook.

I’m not a great nymph fisherman, but of the fish I do catch, I probably catch more without an ind­icator than with one. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like staring intently at a floating piece of plastic. (If you haven’t done it, you may be surprised how tedious it can be.)

Sometimes, I can’t be bothered putting one on my leader in the first place.

Mostly, I feel the urge to fish by feel, rather than by sight. I think strikes that are felt result in hook-ups more often that those that are seen. For one thing, the ind­icator provides a false sense of security and I tend to fish father away than I should. Nymph-fishing is close work. Fishing without an indicator, I’m forced to make sure that my rod tip is as close as I can get to directly above the fly and little or no line is lying on the water. I have a straighter, tighter connection to the fly.

I may miss the really subtle strikes. But I’m able to sense the take, lift the rod and find myself hooked to a trout often enough to give me confidence in the method, and that counts for a lot in this kind of fishing.


John McKeeby, executive director of the Schoharie River Center, will speak at the monthly meeting of the Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel at 1228 Western Ave., Albany. As reported in The Gazette last week, local high school students from the center’s Environmental Study Team believe they have pinpointed a source of pollution on the Normans Kill in Duanesburg. The talk is free and the public is invited. It will be preceded by a fly-tying demonstration at 6:30.


Vendors are wanted for the Clearwater Chapter’s annual flea market March 28. This popular event draws a good crowd of people interested in fly-fishing and the outdoorsy life, and is a good place to offer such things as fishing tackle, fly and lure making materials, books, videos, art, crafts, etc.

A table costs $20 and 10 percent of proceeds. The money goes to Trout Unlimited’s conservation efforts in cold-water ecosystems in the Capital Region. Contact Bob Mead at 399-9000 or [email protected] for more information.

Categories: Sports

Leave a Reply