It’s August, and in our neck of the woods that means our rainbow trout, dolly varden, and Arctic grayling populations are keying in heavily on the conveyor belt of salmon eggs and flesh making its way down river. Therefore, fishing sub-surface is the name of the game this time of year, and with that, like it or not, fishing under a strike indicator is often to most productive means.
Although the majority of our indicator fishing might consist of egg and/or flesh patterns, the same fundamentals apply to conventional nymph fishing where a drag-free drift is desired.
So, the next time you’re nymphing under an indicator, here are five tips to keep in mind.
- Fish Your Fly First. One of the most common mistakes we see anglers make when using indicators is focusing solely on the indicator immediately after the fly hits the water. In clear and/or shallow water conditions, its not uncommon to see your fly as it sinks. Being able to see your fly throughout the drift, offers a huge advantage for fishing tight to structure (where the big boys live), keep from hanging up, or actually seeing the fish take the fly. Remember, there’s no better indication of a take. than actually seeing a fish eat your fly. Fish your fly as long as you can, and only once you lose sight of it, then rely on your indicator for cues.
- Mend All the Way to the Indicator. Bad casts might catch fish, but bad presentations rarely do. Proper mends are what produce good drag-free presentations, and when fishing with an indicator its important to mend your fly line and leader all the way down to the indicator. Aim to position all of the fly line and leader above the indicator (if mending upstream) without moving the indicator. A slow ‘lift and lay’ of the fly line works best here, rather than a quick flip of the rod tip.
- Lift the Indicator When Setting the Hook. We’ve said time and time again, that the best way to set the hook on big heavy fish is with a low, hard, set to the inside bank. However, when fishing under a buoyant indicator, setting the hook with too low of an angle can pull the indicator through the water column, causing a great deal of drag, thus slowing down the speed of the set. Rather, aim to set the hook with a slightly downstream, but upward raise of the rod. That will pick the indicator straight up off the surface of the water, thus providing a straight-line pull from the indicator down to the fly, for the quickest connection to the fish’s mouth.
- Short Drifts are Best on Foot. When fishing from a moving boat, long un-hampered drifts work well to put the fly in front of as many fish as possible. While moving at the same speed as the river, its easy to stay connected to the indictor at all times, ready to set the hook when necessary. However, when nymphing from a stationary position on foot, long drifts generally don’t equate to drag-free drifts. Plus, feeding a bunch of line down river to extend a drift typically results in a missed hook set if your indicator goes down anyhow. Several short drifts to cover a lie will out-fish one long drift the vast majority of the time.
- Stay Connected. While producing a drag-free drift requires slack, great nymph anglers are able to manage slack in the fly line so that the fly can still be set at any moment throughout the drift. At any point in the drift, no more slack should be present that can’t be entirely straightened by a raise of the rod. After casting upstream, followed by a mend, line should be drawn-in until the indicator is parallel with the angler, and then fed back out downstream to increase the length of the drift below the angler. This allows you to stay connected to the indicator, ready to set the hook, no matter when the fish eats.