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Fly Fishing Jazz: Beyond the Bobber

by Kirk Deeter
photos by Kirk Deeter

Alternatives to Nymphing IndicatorsWHY GET STUCK in the same old nymph fishing rhythm?  Using strike indicators (I call them bobbers) is like playing in the marching band.  I think it’s much more fun to step out of line….

I think too many anglers lean too much on strike indicators.  Especially some fly guides.  Think about it… the newbie signs up for a guide trip and wants to do all those fancy casting loops they saw in A River Runs Through It.  What they end up doing instead, is flipping casts, watching a yarn ball float down the river (over and over), and wondering, “Is that it?

Strike indicators work wonders, and success also breeds interest… I get that.  But I think it’s kind of like riding a bike with the training wheels permanently attached.  It’s far more fun to improvise, and put the “think factor” back into your nymph fishing.

Here are a couple ways to do that. First, dab a bit of floatant (the same stuff you smear on a dry fly) on your leader.  Then, at the same spot where you might otherwise attach an indicator, apply some Xink (sink gel).  Doing so will create a “dimple” where the greased leader dips into the water current.  When the dimple is disturbed, set the hook.

Another way to pull that off is to attach a short strand of red “Amnesia” line where the fly line meets the leader.  When you see that red line bobble, stall, or sink, you should set the hook.

Eventually, you’ll be able to detect strikes without any visually aids at all.  You’ll know when your flies get bit just by watching your leader.  And trust me, that’s a blast.  So in the short term, be willing to trade strikes for information and experience. Swing those nymphs in a classic “wet fishing” style, or at least tempt your instincts to go somewhere beyond the bobber.

Doing so (even just now and then) will ultimately make you more of a player.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Fflutterffly

    About time we had an article on alternative methods. Balloons, yarn, plastic bobs all tell the same story: set the hook! However, it doesn’t teach concentration. My favorite use of an indicator is none, but I do use them. Teach the client to watch where the line enters the water. Teach the client to fish with only 20′ of line out of the tip in the beginning, how to work the close waters, banks and how to detect fish. But if you must, start with the smallest indicator possible, forcing the client or yourself to ‘pay attention’, be in the moment. If I do use an indicator it is the smallest amount of paste floatant. This way I can move it easily, demonstrate it’s effectiveness and then… take it off! One other thing. It is popular for beginners to want equipment like the ‘pros’. So often I see people with fast action rods that have very stiff tips. IMHO it’s best to begin your fly fishing addiction with a soft to moderate tipped rod, this way the ‘nod’ of the tug is seen and, important and overlooked, the casting stroke has to slow down, which is another  tale to be tackled. Nice essay.

  • Jdc034

    “more of a player” who watches nearby fishers using indicators hook more fish. Lest one forgets, the goal of fly fishers is, or should be,  to hook/release fish; not ” swing those nymphs in a classic…style…”.

  • Harveyrude

    100% correct, stopped last year using the BOBBER and not looking back!

  • JM

    I have a nymph line from Rio that has about 3′ of orange floating line at the end.  Works nicely and in shallow streams I’ll forego the leader and attach a few feet of tippet directly the line.  Smoother and stealthier flip casts to weary fish = better success. 

  • Kirkdeeter

    I was going to add something, but March Brown said it perfectly. 

  • Wildbilly

    Whats the difference? Balloondicator or red Amnesia line. Nothing.  I don’t understand the purpose of this article.  If you use less of an indicator and strain your eyes to see that little bitty bobber than you will enjoy FLY fishing more and eventually catch fish by watching your leader with no visual indicator.  Danielson needs to be one with the fishy  and crose his eyes and feel the take.  Now thats addicting.

  • Jantrout

    I think one reason clients with guides using strike indicators catch more fish is that they float down the main current at the same speed with the nymph below the indicator steadily floating along at the right depth and at an even pace. Every bnow and then they get to lob that sucker again.Sooner or later a fish grabs it. Not my idea of fly fishing. Meanwhile, us bobber-less guys on shore have to cast and pick up and cast again, and keep changing the depth, mending, observing, sneaking along, having a ball, enjoying the whole range of the angler’s art, etc. I hate the look and feel of those big bobbers, especially the ones that resemble inflated condoms or giant yarn balls. Full disclosure: I prefer dry flies whenever possible anyway.

  • Stickyferrule

    How do you adjust a greased/xsink leader for depth?  Do I need a de-greaser now too?  You had me sold on trying this technique out until I thought about how often I adjust my indicator for the depth of a new spot. 

  • KirkK

    The training wheels analogy is great, and they should come off eventually. For newbies tough, one great line taught to me when starting was this:
    “It’s a strike indicator, not a run indicator!”

  • Pingback: In Defence Of The Bobber « The Ozark Fly Fisher Journal()

  • mojoe

    I discovered that  ubiquitous spider web is a useful material to mark location on a line and can be moved up or down. It can be rolled into a small ball and is not high viz.  Otherwise, learn how to tie a bobber stop knot, which can be moved up or down.  Use Stren Golden or Cajun Red. 

  • Rivergeezer

    Being a mere mortal, unlike the learned author, every time I’ve tried to “lean” on strike indicators I’ve fallen over.  Are my indicators too small? Do I need to join Jenny Craig? Should I poo-poo the fellow fly fishers who laugh at me when I use an NBA basketball for an indicator? So many questions….

  • Spindrifter

    Good nymph fishermen don’t need, or for that matter want, strike indicators. Whilst I don’t want to be labelled a “Luddite” and Flyfishing evolves and will continue to do so both technically and in more advanced techniques there are some basic tenets, we are not float fishermen! The eye to hand co-ordination of a good nympher is one of the greatest skills in the flyfishing world, it also helps to have good reflexes. Floats detract from two of the most important skills of flyfishing – casting and observation. The closest I’ve come to strike indicators is a dropper dry fly. It gave me the additional benefit of acting as a float, but the real purpose for its use was to search the water for what the fish’s preference was – wet or dry! Whilst I like to try new equipment (purse permitting :-)), new techniques and not get hung up on purist topics of dry versus wet, Halford versus Skues, I love both dry and nymph, but when it  comes to the issue of strike indicators, for me they are floats – nothing more. The skill of a great nympher is observation, immediate reaction to any “out of the ordinary” movement of the leader before the fish has spat the hook out. That’s “real” nymphing, long may it live!

  • Josh

    These are just other forms of indicators. I am not sure how a guide with a “newbie” client is supposed to help a paying customer catch fish with a red strand or grease rig any quicker then with yarn? Do you guides get many clients who want to trade strikes for knowledge? Knowledge comes with experience too. Most of the fun is the learning curve (yarn or no yarn).