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What Are The Best Fly Fishing Indicators & When To Use Them

What Are The Best Fly Fishing Indicators & When To Use Them

Bite indication is arguably the most important factor in all fishing disciplines, the ability to determine when the fish has taken Is essential. However, fish often don’t read the textbooks and takes can often be so soft they are missed, you’ll be surprised how many fish you haven’t noticed on the hook over the years! Therefore, methods and tools in your arsenal that increase the sensitivity of your bite detection can often be the difference between good days and great days out on the water. Don’t worry, we have covered Stillwater and river techniques, so skip to the discipline you’re most interested in.

Stillwater Indicators

Indicators on lakes are a marmite topic, particularly with the purists, but it shouldn’t be. The floating foam indicator, more commonly known as the “Bung” is a highly controversial method, most likening it to course fishing. At face value, this comparison is understandable. However, it is a method that catches fish, and, on its day, a lot! You can present almost any type of fly under the bung. The beauty of the method is the ability to present a fly, or flies, vertical, static and at a specific depth. Depth, as all anglers know, is one of the most important factors in fly fishing. The ability to present a fly to the specific feeding depth of the fish is paramount to success. Too high above the fish, and they will often ignore the fly, too low and they won’t see it. Much like Goldilocks, it needs to be just right. Often the static presentation is the most effective way to fish buzzers and nymphs to represent the mid water ascent to hatching. A static presentation is difficult to achieve without it. However, on occasion, the manipulation of the fly/flies can often work to induce a take. Occasional slow draws can lift the flies in the water column, and fish will often take as they begin their descent. Particularly effective when fishing Buzzers or Nymphs. Unlike fishing straight-lined Buzzers, this lift and drop will always be within the taking zone (once you have found it) as the flies will lift a foot or two and then drop back and stop at the depth the bung is set to.

A fantastic Farmoor Reservoir Trout taken on a Buzzer under the bung. Check out or recent blog here: Curved vs Straight Buzzers

Finding the taking zone.

You can fish anything from one to three flies under the bung at various depths depending on fishery rules. On small waters, I tend to use either a single lure or a team of Buzzers. The lures tend to be 10mm Pure Blob, Nymph-It puddle bugs or worms. Alternatively, on reservoirs, I prefer a team of Buzzers, sometimes with a 10mm Pure Blob placed somewhere on the cast as an attractor which will often take a bonus fish or two. When fishing multiple flies it is best to fish the deepest fly around a couple of feet off the bottom, with the other flies evenly spaced above. For example, if I am fishing 14 feet of water, I will fish my flies at around 4, 8 and 12 feet. The depth can be adjusted t suit the lake you are fishing. Some floating indicators are designed to be adjustable to depth.

Alternatively, when fishing small waters, you are often limited to single flies. In this case, trial and error is usually the best course of action. Some start deep and work their way up the layers, whereas others start higher in the water column and work their way down. There is no right or wrong, but you must remember fish move up and down through the water column throughout the day. So if takes dry up, the fish are likely still there, you just need to adjust your depth to find them again. The same method can be achieved using a buoyant dry fly above a wet fly as a lightweight indicator that can also take fish.

Floating Indicators

When fishing floating indicators on stillwaters the key is to watch the indicator like a Hawk. Often, and more often than most realise, the bites can be so subtle the indicator may barely break the surface or only momentarily dip below. Foam indicators are great for fishing in a wave, ensuring they stay above the surface. I find that yarn strike indicators provide a more delicate presentation over foam and more sensitive bite indication in tough conditions. Our Hi-Vis Floating Yarn Indicators are designed to grip the leader when set and can be used on stillwaters or rivers.

An Upavon Bi-Colour Floating Yarn Strike Indicator with a Bug Body all purpose nymph
Fly Line

One of the best indicators seldom used by fly anglers is the fly line itself. The line straightening, twitching or lifting is the first indication you have a fish on before feeling the take. I prefer to watch a kink in the line or sag between the rod tip and the water for any form of movement, I’ll strike at anything that seems unnatural. High visibility fly line braided loops can also be useful for this technique on floating lines and Upavon offer some in a multi-colour pack, but you’re best to stick with black or clear loops for sinking lines – the fish will chase and bite orange braided loops and sleeves!

River Indicators

The floating indicator can be used on rivers and is to great effect along with a variety of options for Czech Nymph/Euro techniques. On larger rivers that have long, deep and slow runs, super heavy flies are used to achieve depth. Having the right indicators make presentation far easier. Similarly a yarn or foam indicator can be very useful during or after winter floods to help heavy flies hold depth without snagging the bottom. Floating indicators have the added advantage of being cast further to target areas out of reach to short casting methods. Make sure you mend the line to ensure a drag free drift.

However, in-line indicators are far more common and effective used in conjunction with European nymphing styles. These styles are designed to keep the fly line or leader off the water. This, in turn, aids presentation by minimising the drag and allows the angler to present the flies more effectively. Bite indications using these methods are also far more sensitive. Due to the line and indicator being held off the water, with “tight-line” techniques, the takes can be visualised by any movement of the indicator. 

A fantastic Itchen Grayling, caught using one of our Drop Bead Indicators

Mono indicators are frequently used by competition anglers who have strict regulations on the leaders and indicators they are allowed to use. Single-strand Mono indicators are slightly more sensitive than braid due to their finer diameter. However, they are often more challenging to see and easily affected by wind both in terms of drag and casting accuracy. Mono indicators come in a wide range of colour combinations; white, single colour, bi-colour and tri-colour for example. We really like the Cortland tri-colour which has black and hi-vis colour combinations, allowing visibility across a variety of light conditions and backgrounds.

Cortland tri-colour monofilament indicator (black/yellow/pink)
Braided Monofilament.

Alternatively, for those just starting river fishing or using these Euro techniques, braided indicators are a great option. Being slightly thicker than single-strand mono indicators, Braided Nymph Strike Indicators are easily visible, and perfect for fishing when there is wind. Braided Indicators come with pre-attached tippet rings to attach your nymphing leader and tippet. Euro style indicators are often coupled with a tapered mono nymphing line set up and don’t provide much flexibility for fishing a variety of conditions. Quick Connect indicators are a fantastic alternative, allowing anglers to switch between dry fly and nymph techniques on the water. These offer a tippet ring at one end and a braided loop at the other to loop to loop on to a fly line. This allows the angler to switch between traditional dry fly methods to a temporary nymphing setup without the need for a second rod. The advantage of this approach is that you can still target areas of the river not suitable for other methods and as the conditions dictate. Drop Bead indicators are made with the same braided core, however, where they differ is with the addition of the luminous beads. The beads not only provide a reference point for depth, but they also enhance take indication against various backgrounds. The different colour combinations also cater for various light conditions.

Upavon Quick Connect indicators in drop bead configuration.
Sighter Wax.

This popular alternative is fantastic for providing flexibility, both in terms of switching methods and for adjusting depth. The wax comes in a wide range of colours to suit conditions and is simply applied directly onto a mono leader or tippet. The wax can be wiped clean, waterproof, be re-applied and is biodegradable. Neon wax seems to be growing in popularity in recent years as anglers seek more subtle bite indication techniques. It can be applied in segments, combining colours or just a small blob to limit the brightness presented to the fish. We prefer the Skafars Neon wax collection, developed in Slovenia by one of their top river anglers.

Skafars Neon wax applied to clear monofilament.

Klink & Dink.  

Also known as the dry-dropper or duo. The classic and often the best technique for delicate presentation and bite indication. Simply tie a buoyant dry fly to a dropper or to the eye and hook bend (New Zealand style) with a small nymph on a tippet below and fish the same you would a dry fly. When the dry dips below the surface, strike! Adjust the depth as required and enjoy the added value of catching on the surface and not feeling guilty for fishing an indicator!

Thank you for taking time to read the blog, we really appreciate your thoughts and feedback so please feel free to drop a comment. If you enjoyed this article please subscribe to our newsletter via the homepage. Use code WELCOME10 at checkout for 10% off your first order with us or click here to automatically apply the discount to checkout.  A range of indicators available on the website, find them here: Indicator Range.

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Brian Insole - June 11, 2023

Great article . Informative and helpful . Thank you

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