How to Choose the Right Strike Indicator for Nymph Fishing

September 16, 2016

This is one of the most important blog posts that I could possibly make for many folks.  Choosing the appropriate indicator for a particular nymph fishing situation is critical.  I see anglers scrutinize over their flies, depth, and knots only to rig it up under an indicator that offers them ZERO chance at a trout!  Here is some critical information for y'all.  Now that the fall season is here the trout will be feeding primarily under the surface and this information is critical to your success.


Understanding how the indicator/nymph relationship really works.

The indicator and the fly size/weight must have balance and agree!

  1. Surface currents are fast. - The indicator will almost always float ahead of the nymph towing it along.  Especially if the indicator is too buoyant.
  2. The fly should direct the drift and be able to slow the indicator down, or even direct it into another seamline. If the indicator is too big it won't react to the flies desire to be in another seam. 

Suspension Nymphing vs. Dredging vs. Surface Nymphing

There are three basic types of nymphing:

  1. Suspension Nymphing.  This is the most common. Its my #1 tactic, your fly should be suspended about 90 degrees under the indicator levitating partway up the water column.  This is also the most critical style for your indicator and nymph to work together.  Keeping that 90 degree angle is much easier when the fly/indicator agree.  Yarn indicators are probably the best for this because they float slower than "bobber" style.
  2. Dredging.  You'll really  need to be on foot for this.  It doesn't work very well from a drifting boat. "Bobber" style indicators like a Thingamabobber or Airlock Indicators.   Your indicator MUST be buoyant enough to pick your flies up off the bottom and drag them off the substrate.  
  3. Surface Nymphing.  This is emerger stuff here usually.  This is delicate stuff.  You'll be doing this within 18" of the surface most of the time.  Your indicator here must be very small. Palsa Indicators or a tiny tuft of New Zealand Wool is great.

Strike Indicator Variety Pack

This kit includes every indicator you need to be successful nymph fishing for both Trout, Steelhead, and Whitefish. Yep, I said it. Whitefish. Just making sure you are paying attention! Watch the video here for some great tips.

*colors will vary by assortment. 

Kit Includes:
  • 3/4" Thingamabobber
  • (4) Palsa Pinch On Indicators
  • 1 Large Yarn Indicator
  • 1 Small Yarn Indicator
  • 3/4" Airlock Strike Indicator
  • 1/2" Thingamabobber
  • 1" Thingamabobber
  • 1 1/4" Thingamabobber
  • 1" Airlock Strike Indicator
  • New Zealand Strike Indicator Wool

  1. Thanks Joe! As always, extremely informative. Really appreciate it. Line management is so overlooked when nymphing.....especially with an indie. I've always found a constant upstream mend, plus maintaining as little fly line on the water as possible, critical when nymphing. Thank you so much for your updates and posts. You make us all better anglers.
  2. Thank you, Joe....I just returned from my first steelhead trip on the Rogue River near Shady Cove...Because this was my first steelhead trip and I haven't learned to spey cast yet, we were fishing an indicator rig on my 10' 7wt rod....My guide had religion with Raven indicators...They are more of what I'd call a vertical indicator than round and the indicator attaches to your line by using 2 in sliding tubes of rubber on each end (your leader is also inside the tubing---alongside the indicator stems....When you want to move the indicator, you just slide it on the leader....Or, when we moved to a section of the river that had a different depth or speed, we would swap out the indicator in seconds to fit the water....I noticed that each of the indicators have a number (in grams) on the side....Apparently, the number represents the weight the indicator is intended to suspend....We were using a 3.8 gr on a rig with a big stonefly point fly and "prince-like" nymphs as the dropper....I thought this worked extraordinary well---I hooked 5 and caught 3 (natives)---first in my life....Are you aware of this brand/type of indicator?....Your post here was extraordinarily informed and beginners like me owe you a debt of gratitude for your teaching....However, you didn't include this type of indicator and want to make sure I'm selecting the right gear and developing the right habits from the start....Thank you, Patrick---from Indianapolis, IN.....Cheers
  3. Patrick, this is a great tip. I am going to check these things out. Thanks!
  4. What a perfect succinctly delivered lesson in indicators. Finally relinquished and came to the conclusion I'm not tight or Chech,so bobber fishing for me. Truckee River seems to be notorious for smart trout,even the little ines demand perfect drifts. Please inform me of other intel spots you might be in.