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Nymph Fly Fishing Indicators
The Pros and Cons

Gene Macri

Some fly anglers call them bobbers, others have total disdain for using an indicator while fishing nymphs.  Many anglers use them all of the time. There are pros and cons to using indicators and no one has the right to pontificate their holy gospel as dogma on the subject.  The use of a nymph indicator is up to you.  However, I can give you the pros and cons of their use. For the most part in my mind these started out West and with good reason. On many Western rivers and streams it's damn hard to see the leader when fishing underwater.  It's also tough on the eyes especially with glare.  The idea moved East many years ago and fly anglers have been debating it ever since. (Below a massive rainbow trout of over 7 pounds caught on a small nymph in a lake)

Massive Rainbow of Over 7 Pounds Caught on a Nymph at


Here are some pros and cons of using indicators:

  1. They definitely help on big water in locating and controlling the drift of the fly.
  2. They aid in watching for hestations for the strike mechanisms of nymph fishing.
  3. You can structure the type of indicator to suit your type of fishing.
  4. In some streams they can spook trout especially in the East and many times on spring creeks.  You may catch smaller fish but they may spook bigger trout.
  5. They can slow your learning process on really tough fish because you miss the subtle changes in leader during drift.  The actually slow your reaction time due to "the bright visual" information is missing from your system.
  6. On many streams the fish are just too fast for the indicator to be an aid. I watched trout take artificial nymphs underwater on spring creeks and the indicator never showed any signs of it.
  7. If you use them too much when you have a really tought situation you'll be overwhelmed.
  8. Many fly anglers strike too hard with the indicator and it causes them to snap fine tippets on more selective fish.
  9. If the indicator is not used properly it can cause more problems then it's worth.
  10. You can use them to regulate depth and drift precisely on especially on bigger waters which might be impossible without them.


A Classic Fishing Technique at

There are many types of indicators. Let's discuss a few of the them and how they can best be used:

  1. The Fly Line Indicator: This is nothing more that an piece of hollowed out fly line.  Usually about a half an inch it serves as more of leader finder and drift indicator.  These work well everywhere except on spring creeks where they can cause problems.
  2. The Plastic Mini-Bobber: These just little plastic balls that slide up and down the leader. These are better for regulating depth and drift control.  Many fly anglers hate these and just call this bobber fishing.
  3. The Foam Indicator: Works similar to the mini bobber. Various sizes and types. Do about the same thing. Great for big Western Waters or larger rivers in the East
  4. The Material Indicator: this can be some yarn or synthetic that has been greased.  It is sometime tied to the leader with a loop knot. This is my least favorite type.
  5. Dry fly Indicator:  These work well.  You tie your fly on the hook bend have a large dry fly as the indicator. I saw these years ago out West on Henry's Lake.  To fish Trics these guys tied the Trico size 22 on the tail of the large dry. Works for nymphs and dries.
  6. Color Leader Indicator: You can buy these or make them up. You just use a colored section of leader somewhere on the leader. Works to find the leader in the current but no real accurate otherwise.
  7. Colored Fly Line Indicator: Some fly lines have a few feet that are brightly colored. There are plus and minuses to this. The most obvious is the possiblility of of spooking the fish.
  8. Colored Loop Off The Fly Line: You can attached these loops to the end of your line and attached your leader. You can buy the brightly colored ones to use as an indicator. This does help in basic leader locaton but not too much else.

These are just a few of the many methods used in dropper fishing.  In the future I'll have some percentage of what I think each does in the way of helping you or hindering you in certain situations on the stream. Whether you like them or not nymph fishing indicators in there various types are here to stay.




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