Fly fishing with indicators

17th of April 2023

A strike indicator is a floating device attached to a fly line that suspends a sinking fly, mostly a nymph. It allows the angler to see when a fish strikes the submerged fly, similar to a bobber in conventional fishing but specifically designed for fly fishing. The use of a strike indicator can increase your chances of success, especially in conditions where you can not see your fly and in strong currents where it's more difficult to detect whether a fish is taking your fly.

Are you a more visual learner? Check out the video at the end of this article.

Advantages of fly fishing with an indicator

  1. Increased strike detection: with a visible indicator, you can more easily detect when a fish has taken your nymph, resulting in more hookups and less missed opportunities.
  2. Improved depth control: by adjusting the position of the indicator on the leader, you can control the depth at which your nymph is presented, allowing you to target fish at different depths.
  3. Better drift management: a floating indicator can help you see the speed and direction of your drift, making it easier to adjust your presentation.

Types of strike indicators and their uses

There are several different types of strike indicators, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. We'll discuss the most common types of indicators and their uses in fly fishing:

Yarn indicators

Yarn indicators are easy to see, highly sensitive to fish nibbles and strikes, and ideal for small flies and casting into currents. They require floatant to maintain their buoyancy and are very lightweight, making casting easy. However, they may not be suitable for larger flies or fast currents due to their limited buoyancy.

Foam indicators

Foam indicators are light, inexpensive, and do not require floatant. They float better than yarn indicators, making them suitable for heavier flies or fast currents. However, once attached, not all of them are not easily adjustable.

The orange indicator one you see in the picture of this article is one that you can easily adjust. It has a piece of elastic inside of it that you twist around your leader. This enables it to be moved along your leader, changing the depth at which you're fishing.

Bubble rigs

Bubble rigs, such as the Thingamabobber, are highly sensitive, buoyant, and easy to see. They are simple to attach and work well with nymphs. However, they can leave a slight kink in the leader, which may weaken the line over time. Due to their size, they're also more difficult to cast.


Sighters are colored monofilament indicators that are attached to the leader for increased visibility. They offer versatile fly presentation options but may not be suitable for long drifts or situations with excessive slack in the line.

Rigging and positioning a strike indicator

Each type of strike indicator will attach to your line differently, and the ideal attachment point on the leader depends on the desired fishing depth. Adjustable indicators are advantageous because they allow you to easily change the depth at which you fish, adapting to your specific fishing scenario.

Using strike indicators with nymphs

While you don't necessarily "need" a strike indicator when fishing with nymphs, using one can make it easier to catch fish, especially with smaller, lighter nymphs. For larger, heavier nymphs, a high buoyancy indicator like a bubble rig may be more suitable.

Tips and tricks for using strike indicators

  • Apply floatant to your indicator to improve buoyancy
  • Smaller, and/or football-shaped foam indicators cast more easily and offer minimal water resistance
  • Use the smallest indicator possible to minimize casting and retrieval interference
  • Experiment with different colored indicators to find the most visible one for you, and the water that you're fishing. You'll be surprised how much yellow or orange can make depending on the water conditions!

Adjusting to changing conditions

One of the keys to successful fly fishing is adapting to changing conditions. As water depth, current speed, and fish behaviour change throughout the day, it's important to adjust your strike indicator accordingly. Try out different setups, and don't forget that it's always an option to remove the indicator.

Detecting strikes with indicators

When a fish strikes your nymph, the strike indicator will typically move, dip, or hesitate. Be prepared to react quickly and set the hook. Keep in mind that fish can strike very subtly, so even a slight hesitation in the indicator's drift may signal a strike.

Video about fly fishing with indicators

This video nicely sums up all the options and techniques of fly fishing with an indicator

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