Fishing Strike Indicators (Fly Fishing with Bobbers)

by: Bob Shannon


Fly fishermen, especially those new to the sport, have the image and the illusion of catching fish on the surface. Sure there’s no better rush to the sport of fishing and especially fly fishing than watching a dry fly travel along the surface of the river and seeing a trout or other fish rise to the surface. There’s no doubt that even seasoned fly fishermen prefer the rush of a fish sipping or attacking a surface fly. But let’s face the facts; a fish’s diet is primarily made up of sub surface foods. In this month’s article my hope is to clear the air on different types and different applications of using a strike indicator. Ok, better stated, a bobber. Some fly fishermen frown at the thought of putting an indicator on their leader, but it’s a necessary tool for those learning how to properly drift a fly below the surface of the water and improve their chances of hooking fish.

In order to understand the benefits of using indicators for the purposes of catching fish, let’s first tackle the definitions often used by both fly and spin OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfishermen so we better understand the benefits of these devices. Like all sports, fly fishermen use certain lingo to express their sport. Here are some of the definitions I researched that I think you will find beneficial to better understand these devices. So let’s start with the obvious: BOBBER – a small float placed on a fishing line to hold the hook at the desired depth. Fly fishermen typically prefer to use the term “strike indicator” when referring to their sport. I found the definition of a strike indicator to be: STRIKE INDICATOR – a brightly colored, highly visible tab, sleeve or bead or similar material used in fly fishing. Such devices may be attached to the line or leader when used in areas restricted to fly fishing only.

And after a little bit more research I stumbled upon the term: FISHING FLOAT – a float, also called a bobber, is a device used in angling that serves two purposes. It suspends the bait at a predetermined depth, and it serves as a bite indicator. Floats come in different sizes and shapes. Ok, are you as confused as I am? I guess they’re all bobbers. For the sake of giving you the illusion that I’m a more sophisticated fly fisherman, I will refer to the bobber as a strike indicator for the rest of this article.

So here’s our objective, I’m using a strike indicator while fly fishing with a fly to fish the fly just below the surface into the middle column of water, and possibly even the lowest column of water, in pursuit of hooking feeding fish. 75% of a fish’s diet is made up of sub-aquatic species (below the water’s surface) So if you want to increase your opportunity of hooking and landing fish on these flies you will need to use some form of strike indicator. Most fly fishermen that come through the shop realize the importance of the indicator, but I find most don’t realize that fly fishing strike indicators are effective for certain applications.

Indicators that are used for surface and middle column fly fishing are primarily made out of yarn, foam, or lightweight plastic and are more specifically designed as a bite indicator to allow the fly to freely drift below the water surface at a shallower depth. These indicators are typically used with un-weighted wet flies or bead headed flies. Adding additional weight with these indicators takes away the effectiveness of the indicator because they will quickly sink below the surface. These forms of strike indicators are not designed to carry additional weight and cast more easily than larger strike indicators. Only recently in the fly fishing world have strike indicators been used with a more traditional shape of a bobber or float to allow fly fishermen to add additional weight or split shot below the indicator to carry the fly to lower levels of the water. For these bobber-type indicators you would either use a Thingamabobber strike indicator or a Raven float. These indicators only function right when the proper amounts of weight are added to the leader to make the float correctly suspend the fly at the desired depth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen fishing with strike indicators, you must first and foremost realize that you cannot false cast these leader systems without finding your line tangled and twisted. The preferred method of casting is to use the roll cast method followed by an upstream mend so your floating fly line always drifts upstream of the indicator. By doing this, the fly line does not pull or drag the indictor faster than the speed of the current. The mending techniques I use when fishing with a strike indicator is an upstream flip mend or an upstream stack mend. To better explain this method of casting and mending your line with an indicator system, we are including a video to show you the proper techniques for indicator fishing. It’s only been in the past five years of my guiding career that I have fly fished with float indicators and carried multiple weights, mainly due to the difficulty of casting these systems. With a little practice and the visual benefit of this video, you’ll be able to see how easy indicator fishing can be and I will tell you that a slow day of fishing is often saved by fishing flies in the lower columns of water during non-hatch and non-surface feeding times by using a BOBBER!