Some years ago
l did spend a great deal of time related to the use of indicators
and the aspects of sub-surface drift techniques. I then had
published a very long article related to this subject, some of which
l will convey to you.
Make no mistake about this one. If you do not set up your rig the
right way you will not see all the takes that should give you an
indication. I accept that you will not see them all anyway, but it
is a percentages game here. Also you may have what we would term a
delayed indication, and l will explain that one later.
Along with this we also have the factors of human reaction time, and
that does vary a great deal from one person to the other.
In the UK, the use of floats, bobbers if you like is more like a
science, unlike the crude kind of bobbers that you find here. Match
fishing for freshwater species, known as coarse fish is big time.
Floats are constructed with many types of materials that have
various factors, that they are either positive, neutral or negative
buoyancy. That, there after coupled with the manner in which the
mono below to the hook is set up with shot in different
configurations of shot size and how it is strung, determines how
well or other wise a take of the fish is seen. In other words if you
do it right, the smallest of movement can be detected by a visual
movement to the float, or indicator.
I tell you this as there is essentially no difference to this
principle when it comes to fly fishing with an indicator, you use a
fly they use a bait. They cast mono, you cast a fly line. Factors of
induced drag and retardation of that drift are the same and so on.
If the course fisherman uses say a big bulky bobber as opposed to a
tuned all through system, he is not going to detect subtle takes,
and the same applies to fly fishing. That is a fact.
There are 3 main reasons why you use a indicator.
1. To be able to detect a take.
2. To give you a visual that you have good drift control
3. To act as a means to suspend a fly.
All three are related. It is how you set the system up and there
after afford control of that drift that determines how you will
Look at it like this.
Say we have 4 ft of water with a flow of 5 mph. You have a gallon
milk jug with 3ft 6ins of line attached to that is an 1 oz weight.
The gallon jug will support that weight. If that is let loose on the
water it will float down stream. And the weight will hang more or
less directly below the jug. If there is a adverse wind up or down
stream that will also affect that drift, by retarding it or moving
Same applies also when you have a indicator rig set up.
Water speed at surface moves faster than the bed of the river, but
there may be some variations depending on the bottom substrate. A
clean flat gravel bottom differs from one with a thick carpet of
moss or one that has a great deal of large rock structure. Adverse
winds will also change that, surface wise.
Back to the jug. We now add 3.6 ins of 5x and add only a BB lead
shot. We have now changed the aspects of how that weight will
proceed downstream. It will no longer hang directly below the jug.
The reduced weight offers little resistance, and neither will it be
more or less directly below the jug.
In order for that to happen we will have to change a number of
1. Reduce the size of the indicator (jug)
2. Add a filament of a diameter that is less resistant
3. Have the correct overall length of filament, that is directly
related to the fly used and any additional weight added over and
above that, for the fly to track close to the river bed.
If for example you drop a size 10 bead head nymph, one after the
other in the same spot you will find that they will more or less hit
the river bed in the same spot. That is determined by the weight of
your fly and the depth and speed of the water.
Assume we have 3 ft at 3 mph.
Now attach that nymph to say 4ft of straight 5x, to a indicator. Now
drop that set up in the same spot. You will see a big difference, no
longer will the fly hit the river bed at the same spot. The
indicator is now acting as a means coupled with the surface drift to
pull the fly down stream. In order for you to have that fly track
close to the river bed you will have to change the set up by.
1. Choice of diameter of mono filament
2. Length of that filament
3. Weight-be that fly, or added
4. Choice of indicator.
They are all related..
There are two primary considerations here. Wade or boat drift.
Wade fishing determines short line drifts, boat fishing long
My considerations for how l will set my indicator rigs up are as
follows. They are all related.
What l am looking for is that my fly for the best part is fishing in
the productive zone for the longest period of time possible, and
that my means of indication that a fish has taken the fly is
instant, and that l can detect minimal shudders, and slow downs, not
all fish will submerge a indicator, that is a fact. If you rely on
that one you will miss a great many fish, l can assure you.
Here is my list, not in any special order.
1. What is the fly l am going to use.
2. Has that fly added weight, bead head or lead etc.
3. Depth and speed of the water in the zone l am fishing.
3. Choice of indicator.
4. Diameter and BS of mono, and type, mono, copolymer,
5 What will be the presentation means, the cast l will use.
6 Fly line wt choice
7. Wind direction at that time, up or down stream
8. Fish feeding behavior, surface, mid or bottom.
9. Relative angle of presentations, up stream, across or down.
10. Average range l will be fishing as close contact and range will
differ a great deal here. I am not going to fish effectively at 50ft
with a 3wt, a 12ft leader configuration and say a BB as added weight
All of the
above matter a great deal in my book.
I will go into the above more so with a later post.
The influence of downstream drift is determined by the surface speed
of the water, and other wise by what you do by way of executing line
control. This applies to the use of indicator techniques. There are
other ways of dead drift without the use of a floating indicator,
but that is another matter for the best part, as most of those are
close range, such as high stick etc.
Take a 6 ft length of fly line, add to that a leader, add to that
5ft from the fly line a indicator, add then a no 1 shot. If you
throw that on the water surface, you will see that the water surface
will move the set up down stream. That is no difference to you when
fishing having the fly line to your reel, other than it is totally
free of hindrance from your connection to it.
The fly line will proceed the indicator down stream and the no 1
shot will be up stream from the former two. That is the normal
progression of down stream drift. But you can of course change that
when you are connected to the system as a whole.
So in order to have your rig set up in such a way as you are
presenting your fly at correct depth, you have to do 3 things, as l
stated in my previous post, and take others into consideration at
the same time.
Now l cannot write here the exact way to set a rig up for the zone
you will fish, as they will differ.
But first try to understand this principle.
Draw on paper two lines, one below the other, say 2 ins apart.
Now draw a semi-circle below the upper line so as the lower part of
you circle touches the lower line.
At the centre of the circle on the upper line mark a dot. This dot
is your indicator.
You will now have a radius of 2 ins from upper to lower line.
You can assume that distance to be what ever you wish. So lets say 4
ft. Now from that indicator you will see that if you only have a 4ft
tippet, it can only reach the bottom line, less than that it cannot.
Assume we have water speed of say 3mph. How much weight do you need
to add to that 4 ft tippet so as it tracks directly below the
indicator. A great deal l can tell you.
Remember that in a fishing situation the surface drift is pulling or
pushing the whole deal down stream, it is not static.
Now assume we have a indicator that can support without sinking a BB
shot. It will depending on the position you place it, determine the
max depth that fly can sink related to the speed of downstream
drift. In other words if you set that BB 6 ins from the indicator or
2 ins above the fly then the relative angle of presentation of that
fly will differ, its tracking depth.
The closer the weight to the fly the deeper it will be, but only to
So in essence what you have is a relative degree of angle related
directly to, surface speed, length of leader and added weight.
In a fishing situation you have to make the adjustments to have your
fly fishing at the correct depth.
As a rule of thumb, the faster the water the more weight you will
need to get that fly down fast for the short zone you will be
fishing, be it with weight to the fly added weight or both.
For this reason. When you make the cast, as soon as it lands surface
drift is taking over and moving the whole deal down stream. If you
do not have sufficient weight the fly will not get to the deck.
On the other hand for slower water you will need way less weight as
there is way more time for the fly to be able to sink, taking into
consideration the average depth of water you are fishing, even then
excess weight may cause the fly to hang up.
You have to at the time make the assessment of this factor. What
will be for the best part the longest period of time l can achieve a
productive drift, say 15 ft out of 25, better that that say 5ft,
because you had two much weight, or not enough !!
I know this is confusing but there is also another factor that takes
place here. You can add say a weight factor that would sink the
indicator you are using when placed in static water. If it is fished
on moving water then the down stream drift speed will not cause the
indicator to sink, unless the weight amount is excessive.
Now it would be possible to be very accurate on a scientific basis
to figure all this out, on the same basis as shooting skeet. Shot
placement in relation to angle and speed of the bird etc, but forget
that, it does not matter. I did try to do that, and the
configurations of figures did my head in.
OK, from here on. I do not make up my typical nymph rigs by the
manner of addition of tippet to a regular tapered leader.
There are two reason why.
The first is this, as a rule most time when wade fishing you are
working in water that is not much more than 6ft in depth more like 2
to 4 at average. Tapered leaders inhibit in my book a fast sink rate
as the increasing diameter of leader slows the decent rate down.
I have a permanent section of around 5ft from the fly line, attached
first with a no knot connection, which is 3ft of 20, 2ft of 15
Amnesia. To that is added a micro tip ring.
From that l add my additional leader/tippet, which most of the time
will be a straight section of my choice at the time, be it 4/5/6/x.
By this means l can reduce weight, know that my fly will get down
way faster due to the reduced diameter of filament, which would be
F/Carbon, most of the time, but not always.
I will also achieve a way better angle of hang to the fly from the
indicator this way. What l mean by that is how the section from the
indicator to the fly is seen subsurface, the less amount of bow
effect that l have then l know the faster l will see the take of the
fish, as slack line does not have to tension up before that is
registered, after the fish has taken the fly.
In the case of indicators, and l have used them all. In my book you
cannot beat yarn of the right kind. For many reasons l choose to use
I can fine tune yarn by cutting it down, for ultimate sensitivity.
You can see it at extreme range as it sits above the surface
You can see it when you are fishing very agitated surface
I can detect minimal movements, call them shudders, the change of
angle from it being up right perked and so on.
I personally dislike hi vis indicators, as l know at times they will
spook fish or draw the fishes attention to the indicator and not my
I will dye my own yarn, in more natural shades, gray, olive, tan,
Next post l will deal more with configurations of set up, and how to
make the right presentations.
In my second post, l made a reference to the semi circle, and how
from the upper line to the lower leader length and weight are a
factor to get the fly down.
Also in my list of other factors, such things as depth, speed,
weight, length of leader etc were noted.
Ok, go back to the semi circle scenario.
There is absolutely nothing to stop you adding 10ft of mono below
that indicator, even if you are fishing in shallow water.
There will always be a max depth thatís related to speed of water,
filament used, and fly with or without additional weight, that it
The only downside to that is for you to be able to know a fish has
taken the fly, as if there is too much belly in that section then
there will be a period of time before that indicator gives you the
signal, the faster the water this factor is less so, as the whole
system is being pulled along a great deal faster and the incidence
of a lesser degree of tension is minimized to some extent.
Now take a look at a scenario like this. You are fishing in water
only 1 ft depth, and you have placed a indicator 1 ft above the fly,
as a rule the fish will likely see your indicator and the fly at the
same time within that zone.
I would call this a factor of distraction, that the fish may not
make the right choice, and could be confused.
In this scenario l would choose to have my fly at least 2ft or more
away from that indicator. If l was using a dry fly, then that would
be another matter.
You have to determine within the range you are fishing, for the best
part how to rig that up so as the fly remains in the best visible
taking zone for the longest period of time.
OK, back to the semi circle.
If from the point that the indicator is fixed you now draw lines and
degrees of angle, you will of course have to increase the length of
mono from that indicator point. So add say 1 ft, you will of course
widen the effect of the 1/4 semi circle from the indicator, and the
same factor applies no matter how greater you increase that, by
2/3/4/5/6/7 ft of more.
If for example we used say a no 1 shot at 4 ft, and then increased
that placement by each additional foot we added then with the given
speed of drift the lead shot will change its relative position of
angle and depth.
So in order for our fly to be presented we will have to make some
changes, that as a rule will be related to both length of mono from
the indicator and also the weight addition, be it fly or added.
If we are fishing more than one fly then we can also determine how
each of those flies will track, is the upper fly way above the lower
or is it more in line with that down stream track of the tail fly.
Here again weight factors of the two flies would matter, which one
is above or below, as the heavier fly will act as a anchor effect to
Not to further confuse you, the type of indicator you use will also
have a effect to this. For example a fine tuned yarn will differ
from a large bulky very buoyant set up.
And that is related to how the surface drift works with that.
In other words the trick to this whole deal is that by a given
length of mono from the indicator, taking into consideration the fly
used and additional weight if any, that you can with the minimum of
weight cause that fly to fish in the productive zone, that is
normally close to the river bed.
the finer the diameter of mono, you use the easier it is to attain
this. And F/carbon greatly enhances this factor.
How you also present you cast makes a great deal of difference also.
And you may have to make certain kinds of presentation casts at
times for the best results.
To explain that a little better.
You throw a direct up stream line, that the line, leader, indicator
and fly all land on the surface at that same time. As soon as it has
done so then the influence of drift will start to move the whole
deal downstream. You fly may not get even close to the catching zone
within the zone you are fishing. Unless you have a great deal of
weight, and that may well be way too much. And further if you mess
around with orchestral mends it may never.
This is a very common mistake often over looked. It is not the way
to attain depth quickly, and may be not the addition of excessive
weight to achieve this.
There are some other casts that can be used but overall what is
called the tuck cast is about one of the best, particularly for fast
and deep water zones.
It amount to this. That you afford a controlled stop of the fly rod
that causes the fly to be in a direct line below the fly line whilst
it is in the air. It tucks down, hence the cast name.
As soon as the fly lands it is moved downstream and sinks as it does
so, a second or so later the indicator and fly line land on the
surface, by that time the fly is well down, or should be on its
downstream tract. In this way the fly has more or less a free fall
and is not impeded.
The then influence of the fly line will tighten up to the indicator,
and if you have set this all up right you will maintain a very
productive drift for a long period of time.
There are many other factors that will also determine a good drift,
and again this is a common error.
As soon as the fly has landed a big mend is made that often will
jerk the fly way up, you will loose good productive drift time here
as you have forced a delay to that fly being able to sink quickly.
Better to overthrow some slack line, allow the fly to sink before
you correct drift with the fly line.
The tuck cast executed correctly will allow for this.
Same applies also while the fly is in the drift mode, excessive over
mending will jerk the fly up and again here there will be a period
of time before that fly gets back down, if indeed it does.
And you may well spook the heck out of fish in the more shallow
If you watch a real expert at dead drift you will note that he will
make very few moves to correct drift. Reading the water, knowing how
much line to work with on the water takes time, l accept that.
Creating a influence of drag is as bad as retarding that drift
because you have a too much tension to the indicator, dry fly, it
matters not it is the cause of the problem.
As a rule if you have not enough slack line you will cause a adverse
effect to your drift when you raise that rod or try to correct the
drift. There are times that you have to set out on the water surface
a amount of slack line before you can correct a dead drift mode.
The fly line is way more important also than many consider.
If a line sinks at the tip end, had no inherent factor to float
high, for me that is a big problem.
A fly line that is below the surface and for that matter has a large
percentage of it in the surface inhibits big time effective mending,
hook sets and a number of other factors.
Now that may be due to the quality of fly line you are using, that
it is dirty or that it needs a dam good stretch, or all 3 of those
Keep a dry line clean.
Frequently strip of at least 40 ft of that line and stretch it, you
will be surprised how much it will do so also. Those curls on the
water are pressure points and will as a rule cause that line to sink
at those points, l want my line as straight as a arrow, that tells
me many things and it also allows for way better line control. It
will also cast way easier through the rod guides.
So far as leader to fly line connections, personally for a dry line
l detest braided loops, they have a inherent factor to cause the end
of the fly line to sink, and that sink tip scenario can spook fish,
it will also cause line slap on the surface, and not allow for clean
lift and corrections.
In my book the no knot connection cannot be beat, but other options
are good, nail knot, short sections of amnesia for loop to loop, not
my preference as l do not like anything that can cause a adverse
surface disturbance, loop connections can be the cause of that. Try
moving a dry fly line on a flat surface without causing surface
tremors. Loop connections will aggravate that one.
Contrary to some belief l use mucilin to high float my lines and
leaders, but l always give my lines a darn good clean after use, as
any additives used will attract surface grime.
Loon, high float is ok, but fluid, the name of the game is to apply
it when needed, keep that fly line on or as close as you can to the
Paul Arden as a matter of interest does not like to use F/carbon,
due to its none rot away factor, he still uses a old UK product
called fullers earth, and l do like wise as it greatly enhances sink
rate of mono filament.
OK, got to get back to the vice for now.