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Detecting Strikes (7 of 14)

Video Transcript:

You can often tell if a fish takes your nib, by watching the tip of your floating line, or by watching your leader. If it hesitates or dips under suddenly, you've either hung bottom, or a fish has taken your fly. But strikes can be quite subtle, and fish can take and reject, or spit out your fly very quickly, and unless a fish takes your fly in fast water or very aggressively, many strikes go unnoticed.

Just as with any other kind of nymph fishing, any time that floating line hesitates, wiggles, twitches, does anything that looks weird, and looks suspicious, set the hook immediately. With nymph fishing, those fish are going to take that fly, and spit it out really quickly, and you've got to set the hook quickly. That doesn't mean wrench it way over your head and break the tippet, but you've got to be quick, and just about this much, just like you're going to make another cast, but do it quickly.

So, to help stack the odds in our favor, we use strike indicators. These are little more than tiny bobbers. In fact, I once fished with a nymph a whole day on the North Platt River, in Wyoming, with one of those big plastic bait bobbers. I bought it in a gas station. It was a little clunky, but it worked. Strike indicators turn nymph fishing from something that was almost a black art, into one of the easiest ways to catch trout on a fly. In fact, nymph fishing with a strike indicator is a lot like fishing a worm with a bobber, and some of the deadliest nymph anglers are those who started out fishing worms for trout. It's not that different, except the fish spit out your offering faster.

Indicators come in all different colors, and sizes, and types; and most people carry a variety of them. Different colors show up better under different light conditions, so you should experiment. Also, carry a range of sizes. The indicator should be big enough to hold your fly and weight off the bottom, but not so big that it spooks the fish.

Most people these days use a big plastic or cork strike indicator. They're really buoyant, and float all day long, but they do land kind of hard, and there are some times when you want something more subtle. That's a time when you want to use a yarn indicator. Yarn indicators on flat water like this are very subtle. They don't land with a lot of commotion, and you can really see the slightest twitch in a yarn indicator. So, they're one of the best things to use on flat water like this.

Indicators serve another very important purpose. Besides being strike indicators, they're drift indicators. You can't tell if your fly is dragging under water, but you can watch your indicator, and if it begins to struggle against the current, you know the fly is dragging and that you need to mend line. If you watch your indicator, and make sure that it's traveling at the same speed as the bubbles or debris in the current, you can be pretty sure you're getting a drag-free drift. If it's not drifting properly, mend a line to adjust your drift, or use a reach cast the next time you present the fly. Exactly where to put your indicator on the leader is part trial and error, based on how often the fly ticks bottom.

When you put an indicator on your leader, the general rule of thumb is to have the indicator about one and a half times the water depth. You want that fly to be riding just above the bottom, and the fly is seldom going to hang directly below the indicator, so you want to estimate the water depth, and then the water's pretty shallow here. I think it's about this deep, so I'm going to go right about here with my indicator. I'm just going to put the indicator on my leader here. This is the foam kind - it's got rubber bands inside. You just twist it a few times, and that holds it wherever you want it, yet when you change water depth, when you go to another place, you can slide that indicator and move it to wherever you want.

This is only a general guideline, though, so play with the strike indicator's position until you either tick bottom once in a while, or you catch a fish.