Fly Fishing New Zealand

Strike Indicator – Looking at Different Indicators for Nymph Fishing

Strike Indicator – Looking at Different Strike Indicators

By Paul Corliss

I’m not talking about industrial unrest or rumblings among the troops, but that most vital aspect of bite detection in trout fishing with the nymph. Often under-rated this can be the one learnt aspect of successful angling most often missing in a trouter’s armoury. Looking at strike indicator options.

The dry fly is a different ball game altogether, and the take is generally unmistakable. Some of the principles of striking with the nymph can apply to the dry in such circumstances as fishing ripples and fast water, where the trout needs to take quickly or risk their tucker rapidly passing them by.

All the ability to spot trout, selecting the right fly, reading the water, or delicate and accurate casting – all count for nought if you can’t set the hook and connect with your trout.

Often it will be a combination of signs that signal the moment because it’s usually simply a brief moment that you’ll I’m not talking about the first signs of have. Signs of a quick movement from the trout as it slips sideways from its station towards where your nymph should be, or the merest of white flashes as its mouth gapes in the take. This is the time you need to have the strike down to a fine art. Sure, it takes time to pick up, and yes, you will miss more trout than you hook as you experience the frustration of the learning curve. But it is just that, a learning curve, always on an upward path. Over time you will develop a seemingly uncanny ability to strike before it seems the indicator has even hesitated.

Clearwater and a small roll-on strike indicator helped bring this trout to the bank. Photo courtesy of Andy Trowbridge.

While various anglers talk of a sixth sense as the explanation for this, it is far more likely that we instinctively read a combination of signs that experience has taught us indicate the time is right. This may simply be the wink of a white mouth or a portion of the leader starting to dip through the tension of the surface film.

We react without sparing time to analyse what it all means, we simply know. While the experience may be magical, the action is all too human. Occasionally the trout will hook itself regardless of how inept, inexperienced or delayed we may be in the strike. Don’t rely on this to happen regularly enough to satisfy though.

Recently I was with my brother on the incomparable Maruia River. He was very new to fly-casting and even newer to nymphing. In a run of shallow flow among the boulders at the end of the toetoe, we started spotting the dark backs of big trout. They were an unusual and spectacular emerald colour, quite bright in their green livery. With a strong downstream wind, Ken has trouble connecting and I unreasonably despaired at his efforts to get the line out.

When he finally got onto a good fish (having told him to only look at the drifting indicator and to strike when it hesitated) he simply stood there as the indicator sat motionless in the flow and the trout had clearly grabbed his bead-head Pheasant Tail Nymph. After 7 or 8 screams of strike! strike! strike! he raised the rod and the trout was off and away. As it leapt we could see it was fat and at least 5 pounds. lt ran mid-current towards the bush on the far side and as Ken started to wind the reel it leapt and snapped the taut leader above the nymph. One of the few occasions that a trout had hooked itself under clear water conditions.

If we fish the nymph (often as small as a size l8) the ability to actually follow the nymph’s path is nearly non-existent. It’s simply too small amid varying backgrounds and volumes of water, no matter how crystal and clear. It also assumes that all your trout are first sighted before you cast. The reality is often a combination of sight fishing to easily spotted trout, casting to vague shapes and suggestions of shadows and blind fishing the high probability water (the type of water that experience teaches us is most likely to hold fish).

You can sometimes get away with no indicator, provided all of your trout are very visible. Even then you need to rely on seeing the trout take, or some hesitation in the fly line. Often of course, by the time your flyline has hesitated the nymph has long since been rejected and the point and barb grasp only water. Your leader can be anywhere between 9 feet to 20 feet long, depending on the depth and clarity of the water being fished and how flighty your trout is. By the time the take is signalled through that length of intervening nylon (or the expensive but superb fluorocarbon), after you’ve taken the slack out of your fly line, cocked the wrist and raised the rod—tip, it’s already too late. The trout has generally finished with you and you are left with frustration and disappointment.

The lesson is that you need to get as early an indication as you possibly can so that your deception is in position to be struck home. It can come down to fractions of a second. Anglers have developed an array of methods and various strike indicators have been developed. You need to experiment a bit, as what will work on one water may be useless on another. Some may be too big or garish for stillwater and flighty trout.

Cortland used to put out a nymph-tip rocket taper floating line that had the forward end of eight to twelve inches coloured bright orange/red, and this acted as a built-in strike indicator. I used these successfully for years, only flagging them away when, for reasons unknown, Cortland did away with the forward section being weighted by being made thicker than the rest of the line and simply coloured the section. The weight of the previous design gave the pin-point accuracy often needed with the nymph.

The new style line will still do the job, though again there’s some distance between your nymph and the tip of the fly line for signs of the take to travel.

Floating putty (like the Biostrike indicator putty) can have several advantages. It is only a third the density of water so floats very well doesn’t require floatant at regular intervals, and can assist the cast to straighten out if there’s a bit of a headwind. It can be rolled on anywhere along the leader, though most anglers seem to put it on the tip of the fly line.

Sticky press-on or roll-on tabs that incorporate foam and come in a range of colours have the advantage of being quick to apply but are a bit slower and messier to remove. Palsa and Tiemco brands have done the job for me, though they tend to unravel a bit after some use and this increases the risk that it will trip up your leader in its line of travel as the cast unrolls. Anything that can interfere with the travel of your cast will at some time catch your leader or fly. You can guarantee that the resulting tangle of spaghetti occurs just as the big trout start going off the feed.

Murphy’s Law dictates that when you finally ease your way down into the bankside scrub and spot the big brown cruising the backwater your first range-finding cast will curl unerringly onto the indicator and the line speed will ensure a soul-shattering nest of nylon to enhance your frustration and helplessness. You can usually get it all unravelled by the time the brown slips past your position, into the fast water and far away. This is the main drawback but a small price to pay when weighed up against the advantages.

A long length of fluorescent poly-yarn is a splendid strike indicator in green, orange or bright yellow. It is ideal on two counts. Bought in a long length and stored soaking in floatant in an empty film canister it can be cut off to an appropriate length to suit the occasion. It is extraordinarily cheap due to the bulk of this now traditional flytying material. When used in the faster water or tripped through the ripples and ruffled water, it stands out like the proverbial canine testicles. You have even less time to react to a take in this sort of water, so the more visible the indication of your nymph being nuzzled the better. Tied onto your leader with a simple slip knot, the only disadvantage is that while it is easily removed, it can leave a kink in your leader where the knot once was. Pulling your nylon through a couple of pieces of rubber pressed onto the line will soon straighten that.

I read somewhere that in the North Island they are even using coloured plastic and polystyrene balls. It sounds a bit like coarse fishing floats to me, but then that’s really the same intent behind the nymph indicator. Anyway, we all know how unselective and tame those fat, farm-bred North Island rainbows are.

The strike indicator comes into its own in faster water. Randall Wood and a nymphed brown The strike was assisted by a putty indicator. Photo courtesy of Andy Trowbridge.

A dry fly as an indicator? Now we are talking of an ideal answer which probably has more positive advantages than the rest of the indicators combined. Fished above a nymph on a long dropper, a bushy dry will both fish for you as well as act as your nymph indicator. A Royal Wulff seems to be the fly of choice for this. With its very visible white calf-hair wings it’s hard to lose sight of. Its profile on the water is good and high and its fish catching ability is by now legend. It’s a good general pattern that also acts as an attractor fly, both browns and rainbows will take the Royal Wulff.

I’ve often had a trout come for a sniff at the dry, turn down and away and then snaffle the nymph below. In a big backwater, Ken and John spot two big cruisers which are taking from the surface, one is at least 8 pound. I drop into the water to my waist and follow the directions from the bank. Even though we become convinced that they’re both spooked, I continue to follow their signals and the smaller fish drifts across to the dry fly finds it distasteful but then dips to take the bead-head nymph below. A good performer with plenty of fury, it seems to leap on command in front of the appreciative audience before finally coming reluctantly to the edge.

Thirty minutes later, in one of the deep bays at the lower Groynes, we see a good trout rise to a fluttering live caddis trapped in the surface film. The trout slides slowly down into the depths when we stumble clumsily into view. I cast at its vague shape anyway and get some interest. I cast again and it comes back up to take the floating live caddis, right in front of us, then drifts across to sniff at the Kaufmann’s Stimulator dry before dipping down to take the Hare and Pheasant nymph. A good scrap and we net a very solid four-pounder in prime condition.

When it’s difficult to spot fish, boisterous waters make an indicator essential. Photo courtesy of Andy Trowbridge.

At the end of the day, the dry fly is probably the most all-around successful indicator. Two of the key factors in successful nymph-striking are an appropriate indicator and a steely concentration on its path. It is self-defeating to spend most of your time gazing dreamily at the hawking terns, or wondering if the eye of the next pool still has that spooky rainbow feeding near the surface.

By all means, think these thoughts, but leave your eyes fixed on the present cast, or by the time your attention has been redirected to your indicator, you can be assured it is just that fraction of a second too late to set the hook. Sun glinting on the water that even Polaroids don’t remove can hide the path of the indicator or ripple water can bury it from sight in the trough between them. There’s not a lot you can do about this.

Whenever the indicator pauses in its natural line of travel, hesitates or seems to stop momentarily, you need to automatically and every time treat it as a take. Cock the wrist, raise the rod tip and prepare for that delicious weight that signals a hooked trout.

This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 4:09 pm

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