Steve Fraley on Indicator Fishing
Floating Lines & Indicators, The Way I See It:

The Set-up
Again, as in the chuck-n-duck piece, I certainly can't write the book that would be required to cover everything from the get go (At least not right now.) so I'll assume that most of you interested in this already know the basics of dry fly fishing. For those of you that don't, I invite you to take a guided trip with emphasis on learning, or even better, sign up for one of our fly fishing schools.

Lets start with the rig from the floating line, but first a brief note on the rod. Simple, a longer rod works better. A longer rod will give you more line control for this type of fishing, mending, etc... that is why a lot of folks have gone to spey rods even on the smaller rivers for this method. I find that a nine and a half foot rod is fine for a river like the PM and is a good all around rod for many other applications as well. A stiffer rod is also better for most folks. Experienced fly fishers will find these turn over the rig easier, mend easier, etc... Less experienced anglers may want to stick with a moderate action rod so that they can get a better feel of the rod loading.

The Floating Line: This is where a lot of folks have different ideas; I'll just give you mine. Attach your floating line to the backing by way of an Albright or nail knot. For "indy" fishing I like to over line my rod by at least one and sometimes two line weights depending on the stiffness of the rod. (Soft action, one line weight. Fast action, two.) If your fishing primarily or exclusively smaller waters like the PM, Little Manistee, etc... You'll likely want to go with a double taper or the Salmon Steelhead tapered lines mentioned below here. (Something that will roll cast easy and allows you to throw a hard mend.) Those of you that are fishing primarily the bigger waters like the Big M, Muskegon, etc. Will more than likely want to go with a weight forward. I recommend a long belly fly line here so that you can still roll cast and mend hard with relative ease, but have the ability to make long cast as well. SA, Rio, and several other companies make those Steelhead and Salmon taper lines that are just the ticket.

The leader: I attach this to the fly line with a good old nail knot directly, but a loop-to-loop connection will work fine as well. The length of the leader (not tippet) is determined by the depths of water you mostly fish (For most sections of the PM, I run about nine foot.) and while I still prefer a good old-fashioned tapered leader to help in the turning over process, it is not entirely necessary. A straight section of something in the 12lb range will work because a small amount of shot will be applied to the end of the leader and the fly line should roll this out.

The indicator: (Or, bobber if you will... After all, that's what it is.) I've seen everything from a big steelhead Carlisle bobber to the pinch on foam type used here. A member of TSS turned me on to the Thill Ice-n-fly bobbers a good while ago and I haven't gone back. Whatever bobber you use, you will want to be able to adjust it up and down your leader. Many folks will go with the sliding type (like the thill) and use a toothpick to set the depth. A fellow guide that some of you know by the name of Tommy Lynch taught me a trick with a rubber band some time ago that I love. It holds very well and can be simply slid to the desired depth with some force. This is a little too involved to explain without actually showing, so the best I can do is to promises to share if you run into me, or I'm sure Tommy would be glad to help if you run into him. Ask around a bit also, I'll bet it's caught on. The size of the indicator is determined by the amount of shot needed in the location you're fishing. (Often, a lot less shot than most think...) You'll want the bobber to go down easy!

The tippet: This is the section of line that will actually present your fly to the fish. I like to attach the tippet to the leader by way of a double surgeons knot if I'm using split shot or I'll use a small barrel swivel if I'm using hollow lead. The double surgeon is a great knot for tying lines together that sometimes have great differences in diameter. It also creates somewhat of an L shape kink in the line that I like for putting the fly downstream horizontally of the knot and split shot. The length of tippet is determined by the conditions your fishing in, but for one fly three and a half to four feet is a good general rule. I almost never run two flies when indicator fishing, but when I do, I go around three feet to the first and another foot and a half to two feet to the second. As a side note I will mention that anytime your indicator fishing your loops should be exaggerated as much as conditions will allow. (Wider loops not tighter loops.) This will help keep your leader, shot, tippet and fly from getting tangled while casting as they often do when any weight is above the lighter last object. This rule becomes very important when fishing two flies...

This would require another book with lots of illustrations to explain properly, but I'll sum it up as best I can rather briefly. #1. Fish the indicator just as you would most dry flies! That sounds easy, and it is if you're a dry fly fisherperson. (Drag free drifts, mending, etc... it's all done the same.) #2. Adjust the indicator on your leader so that you're shot rides just above the bottom only touching occasionally or so that your fly is presented to the fishes level when suspended. #3. Often times it is almost impossible to get a drift in close enough to the bank or other structure on the first cast without hitting the bank its self, limbs or other obstructions. Here is a valuable trick to learn and practice. After putting you're cast in as close as you can to the target area, allow a brief moment for the shot and fly to sink just a bit, then roll cast you're indicator to the desired drift with just enough force to get it there, but no so much as to pull the fly and shot clear of the water. Mend immediately and the shot will swing under the indicators position giving you the desired current seam.

Indicator fishing is fast becoming the preferred "Big Fish" method among many fly anglers here in the Midwest. It accomplishes the goal in "most" situations of getting the fly down fast enough and yet allows for a more "traditional" style of casting and presentation verses the Chuck-n-duck. It is my contention that in order to be as successful as possible (Success being defined here as catching more fish.) on our rivers, an angler should master both techniques, keep both always available and use the one that suits the situation at hand best!

Tight Lines All!
Author: Steve Fraley

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