Whether bouncing a bead-head pheasant tail down your local tailwater or dredging a flesh fly in western Alaska, dead drifting sub-surface flies, or ‘nymphing,’ requires the ability to detect extremely subtle takes that are not always visual.
For many anglers, various types of strike indicators are a huge help in detecting when a fish has taken to your fly, and while we’d never argue against the effectiveness of an indicator, believe it or not, sometimes we prefer to fish without one at Alaska West.
Fishing without an indicator, when coupled with a long leader, gives the angler the freedom to adjust the depth at which the fly is fishing at all times, rather than suspended at a fixed depth, allowing the fly to be teased in and out of structure. However, detecting strikes can be difficult, requiring an especially soft hand to pick up on the most subtle cues of a strike.
One thing we’ve found that has helped us when nymphing without an indicator is the use of what we like to call, the ‘trigger finger.’ While tracking your fly throughout the drift (rod tip high, please), rather than clamping your fly line against the cork with your stripping finger, lightly drape it across your stripping finger while extending your finger just off of the cork handle. Why? We’ll tell you.
Pressing the line firmly against the cork handle, like you would when stripping streamers, allows for only the top of your hand/wrist to detect the bump of your fly as the tip of the rod is pulled down from the resistance of the take. Your wrist is not overly sensitive.
However, unlike your wrist, the pads of your index or middle finger are extremely sensitive to pressure. Thus, by lightly draping the fly line over your preferred stripping finger, any slight change in resistance (like when a fish eats your fly) can be more easily felt through the tension of the fly line against your finger, rather than through the bend of the rod alone.
Once this tension is felt, the stripping finger can be squeezed against the cork nearly instantaneously (ahem, like a trigger) as the rod is raised to set the hook. It works really well to detect subtle strikes when high stick or ‘Czech-style’ nymphing, as well as makes for lightening fast hook-sets, and we think you should give it a try.