Strike Indicators

by Gary Borger

Editor's Note: Jason Borger's lithographs offer something special here.

Strike indicators have received a great deal of attention in the past few years because they transform dead-drift nymph fishing into a relatively easily accomplished tactic. However, these tiny floats are not of modern-day conception. In her book, "A Treatise on Fishing with an Angle," Dame Juliana Berners instructed the anglers of the 15th century: "For the trout take a piece of cork no bigger than a garden pea and burn it through with a hot iron, and that shall be your float." Five hundred years have passed since the publication of the Dame's book, but the advice is still as sound today as when it was first set upon the page.

"From Russia with Love" The best Atlantic salmon fishing in the world is in Russia, and this litho was created to honor this fishery.

Lithograph by Gary Borger

Strike indicators are not bobbers. A bobber is a float, to be sure, but it is large enough to suspend the bait and any attached weight at a desired depth. Strike indicators do only what the name implies: indicate the fish's take. They are so small that they usually cannot suspend the bait, lure, or fly. They are so small that they create no resistance to the fish when it takes the angler's offering. They are small, but boy! are they effective.

A number of years ago I held a class in spring creek tactics for fly fishers. Although the instructional level was advertised as intermediate to advanced, one of the students had never used a fly rod before. The challenge was how to get the raw recruit into fish as soon as possible so that he didn't become discouraged. After he'd had a bit of casting practice, I rigged his rod with a small, weighted pheasant tail nymph and slipped an indicator up on the leader. "Just cast out into that riffly water and watch the indicator," I instructed, "and when it stops or jerks under, set the hook." He took fish consistently all day and was a confirmed addict by the time the evening sun slipped behind the mountains in the west.

"Danica: The Original" The Mayfly (Ephemera danica) from which the order derives its common name. Very large insects, they hatch is midday and provide very exciting angling. Jason photographed specimens when fishing in England.

Lithograph by Jason Borger

Indicators can be made from a variety of materials: cork, hard or soft foam plastics, yarn, fly line coating, even a dry fly. I carry three types and use each in different situations. The first indicators I used (25 years ago) were modeled after those of Dame Juliana. They were tiny popper corks, 1/4 inch on a side. I burned a hole through them length-wise with a hot needle and painted them various fluorescent colors. Today, in place of the cork, I use 1/4- to 3/8-inch diameter, styrene plastic balls manufactured specifically as strike indicators. These are slipped up on the leader and the end of a toothpick forced into the opening to hold the indicator in place. Because they are large (and hence easily seen), I prefer this style of indicator when fishing large, heavily weighted nymphs in rough water.

When fishing more delicately, I switch to a smaller diameter indicator made of fluorescent, fly line coating. Again this is specially made as strike indicator material; the coating of a normal fly line is chemically bound to the core and cannot be removed. This material is about 1/8 inch in diameter and can be cut to any length (normally 1/4 to 3/4 inch). It's jammed over a knot on the leader or held in place with the tip of a toothpick.

"The Better to Hear You, My Dear" Guaranteed to bring out a little smile even on the most dour of personalities.

Lithograph by Jason Borger

When fishing very tiny flies, dry flies, or casting over spooky fish, I normally use a yarn indicator. The best material is Bug-Yarn, Lefty Kreh's indicator yarn, or other fine denier yarns. Treated with fly flotant, they ride high and are easily seen, yet are as light in weight as the most delicately dressed fly. I use white yarn for spooky fish (the white indicator looks like a blob of foam on the surface), otherwise I prefer fluorescent colors. Form a single overhand knot in the leader, insert a short chunk of yarn and pull the knot tight. The yarn can then be trimmed to make an indicator of any desired size. The knot won't weaken the leader because the yarn prevents the knot from pulling completely tight against itself.

Another great trick is to use two colors of yarn, black and any light color you like. When the indicator is on dark water, the light color shows. When the indicator is on light water, the black shows.

In riffly water, position the indicator at a distance from the fly equal to twice the depth of the water. When fishing with a tiny, impossible-to-see dry fly, secure an indicator two or three feet from the tip of the leader; it will mark the relative position of the fly on the water. When fishing deep, fast currents, use several indicators spaced over the length of the leader to better see the take.

Watch the speed of the indicator relative to the current. If the indicator slows, stops, or darts upstream, set the hook. The indicator may sink or be washed under by a wave. Often it's visible even when submerged; if not, lift the rod tip to pull the indicator back to the surface.

The indicator not only helps see the take, but because the fly is so small, can also act as a bobber to hold the fly at the correct depth.

Indicators can make the difficult easy and the impossible at least probable. For the angler who fishes dead-drift, they are a must.