Finding a Better Strike Indicator

by Ralph Artigliere, Education Director for the Blue Ridge Mountain Chapter; reprinted from the BRM November 2014 Newsletter.


Over the years I have tried a number of different types of strike indicators. The goals of a strike indicator in my view are (1) to provide an indication of the fish taking your fly in color or colors that meet changing light conditions, (2) provide the best opportunity for a direct connection between the tip of your rod and your terminal tackle, (3) assist in getting a natural drift by slowing down or speeding up the fly’s drift as the case may be, and (4) providing a visual assist in mending and monitoring the drift of the fly. Ideally an indicator should accomplish the foregoing while (5) not making it difficult to cast, and (6) not spooking fish as it alights on the water. This may be pushing it, but my ideal wish list could be extended to include that the indicator (7) should be easy to put on and adjust up and down the leader, (8) adjustable in size to support large or small to tiny flies, (9) not destructive of my leader by kinking it or weak-ening it, and (10) economical. I know that’s an awful lot to ask of a piece of plastic, foam or fur.

Before proceeding with my experience with and evaluation of indicators, I do want to deal with the issue of criticism of the use of any indicators based on so-called ethics and not performance. If you think that an indicator is a bobber and an unfair and unnec-essary piece of fly-fishing tackle or you think that it is only for “lazy” fly fishermen who are unwilling to develop the skill to be a true angler, then you are entitled to your opinion. You do not need to read on. I give up. You are a better fly fisherman than the rest of us, and there is no need to argue your point. But if you see the indicator as a tool to make you a better, more versatile fisherman or woman unencumbered by unwritten and unnecessary “rules” who catches more fish and has more fun doing so, read on to learn how to even improve your skills further. You are among the 95% of fly fishermen who do not judge yourself or other fishermen by artificial and arbitrary standards, and I applaud you while recognizing the right of purists to their own opinions. In order to help move us on, I would admit that an indicator is a bobber if purists would admit that a dry-dropper rig uses a fly as a bobber. If you think a dry-dropper rig is unethical, I can’t help you. I’m tapped out. Let’s sing kumbaya and hopefully leave each other alone.

I will proceed with my personal progression over the years from the ridiculous to the sublime in indicator selection. Keep in mind my personal ten goals of a good strike indicator above as I tell you my own experience. The first indicator I used was a little (3/8 inch), round closed cell foam indicator with glue that was activated by removing a wax paper cover, allowing you to stick the two sides together around the leader. It worked OK some of the time, but would not support larger flies like streamers and size 8-10 stoneflies and it had a tendency to get waterlogged after a while if it stayed on at all. The glue and foam tended to stay on and gum up my leader after removal. Also, the glue in the product degraded as it sat unused in your vest, making it useless. I stopped using those small foam indicators when yarn indicators became fashionable, as they were quite a bit more versatile. For me, the advantages of yarn were that it was fairly easy to cast, and, in larger sizes soaked with floatant, it would support larger flies. However, yarn has lack of easy mobility on the line, gets waterlogged over time, is not readily adjustable in size, and tends to lie sideways instead of upright and ultimately sink. Frankly they were ugly and underperformed more often than not, many times when I really needed a good drift.

thingamabobberMy issues with yarn indicators led me to use the Thingamabobber, which is harder to cast and kinks the line, but still floated more reliably for me than the yarn indicator. The Thingamabobber was limited in sizes but did provide a size big enough to support larger nymphs and streamers and actually improved the drag free drift under many condi-tions. The Thingamabobber has a number of disadvantages. It is pricey, breaks over time, kinks the line, makes it impossible to perform a tight-looped cast, and lands with a splash that will spook fish. Color and size can be adjusted only if you have a supply of different colors and sizes in your vest, and those adjustments are limited. These limitations make it difficult for even the best angler to deal with changing depth and water speed, clear water, overhanging branches, and conditions where the fly will be landing in proximity to fish. All the issues are exacerbated when teaching newbies to fish, and the disadvantages become difficult to overcome and severely limit where you can achieve a drag free drift. Still, on open water and especially in less spooky cir-cumstances, the thingamabobber seemed to be my best option, and I used it for years myself and teaching folks to fish. That changed when I had the opportunity to try the New Zealand Strike indicator.

nz_indicatorThe New Zealand Strike Indicator has all the advantages of yarn and the thingamabobber and none of the disadvantages. Yes, I said none. It performs better as an indicator and eliminates all the disadvantages of yarn and also eliminates all the disadvantages of the thingama-bobber. The product is natural wool that comes in a variety of colors that can be changed on the stream in color and size (down to size 18) very economically. The wool comes in a variety of useful colors that can easily be applied and changed on the stream without undue waste. It is not a “one size fits all” proposition, as it may be trimmed from extra large (like the size of the traditional yarn indicator) or in any custom size down to size 18. yarn indicatorThe product does not kink the line, is easily adjustable up and down the line, stays put where you want it, and pro-vides a reliable, visible indicator with an upright profile that detects subtle as well as hard takes. The NZ Strike Indicator is easy to cast, lands gently on the water, and will not spook fish. It was developed in New Zealand for fishing in crystal-clear waters over some of the most educated and spookiest trout in the universe.

If all this sounds too good to be true, believe me, it is not. I skeptically tried and fished the product myself, and I was surprised at how easily it goes on and off the leader and can be trimmed to size or enhanced if a bigger indicator is needed. If you apply some Aquel floatant, the wool does not waterlog and floats reliably over long periods. The tool used to apply the indicator is sturdy, and I expect will last my lifetime. The plastic sleeves are reusable, but the device comes with an abundant supply in case you lose one. The wool is economical, as a small amount is used each time. I guess you could re-use the wool if you want to change colors or remove the indicator, but I see no reason to re-use the wool. As a bonus, wool is natural and is not harmful to the environment if dropped or discarded. yarn_install

As a final test, I used the NZ Strike Indicator with my newbie vets during Project Healing Waters last weekend, and it performed as intended every time. I was dealing with three different fisher-men brand new to casting, line control for drag free drift, and detecting takes. I attach a photo of Iraq War Vet Jeff Ingram on his first day river trout fishing with a rather nice fish caught with the help of the NZ Strike Indicator. Jeff and I used the indicator in gentle flow (where he got that fish) and faster, broken water where he got several more and broke off a monster. I also used it successfully with other wounded vets and in teaching drag free drift to Bob Keller, one of our new TU chapter members who fished with me on Sunday after the vets were done. Bob was learning to river fish for trout and caught a bunch of trout in a couple hours … and was really happy as you might expect. Having used all sorts of indicators in teaching my version of drag free drift over the years, I can say that teaching Bob and the vets was facilitated by using the NZ Strike Indicator.

Jeff Ingram with his big rainbowYou can tell that I am sold. I am most impressed with the ease of casting, suitability for spooky fish, and lack of kinks in my line. But the product actually handles all ten of my wish list items for an indicator. No more thingamabobbers when teaching fly fishing and no more thingamabobbers for me in my own fishing. I expect the NZ Strike Indicator will be perfect for winter fishing here in North Georgia, which is 95% nymph and streamer fishing. If you see me on the water, I will put a NZ Strike Indicator on your line for you and you can try it yourself. For a video on the product, go to https://vimeo.com/104230658

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