|Take em off|
But there are times when ditching the indicator is a great idea. Here are two such circumstances where indicators are best left in your vest.
1: Spooky Fish - spring creeks and other smooth, clear water conditions
In these conditions, bulky indicators are simply not stealthy enough. They scare the fish. If they don’t send them skittering away, obtrusive indicators will, at the least, raise their level of skepticism. If you need to use an indicator here, extremely small stick-on, or yarn indicators are best so as not to cause a ruckus. Better yet: Use a dry fly and drop your nymph off the back. However, if you are able, try fishing to these fish without any indicator at all. Of course, this is best if you can actually see the fish laying up in a shallow water lie, but this technique can also be fished blind.
Fish at least a 9 foot, light gauge leader and tie on your nymph(s). The weight of the nymphs should depend on the depth and speed of the current and the activity of the fish. Identify the area where the fish are likely to be holding and wade into position. If you can spot the fish, then wade closer to a ninety degree or just slightly upstream to so as to keep them in view. Cast out across the river, upstream and beyond the lane that the fish is holding in. After the line lands, a large, aggressive upstream mend is in order complemented by a big slack mend stacked above it. This will ensure that it has time to sink and drift naturally down into the fish. Without the indicator you need to watch the fish (you can watch your fly line on the water, but it might be too late before you notice the slack pull out of it) in order to detect the strike. Notice any movements on the part of the fish. If it moves like it is tracking towards your fly, wait and set when it turns back in the other direction. If your fly is at snout level, then sometimes it’s just a slight movement of the lip. If there is no interest, it may be that your flies are simply not deep enough, so play around with weight, casting angle and mend-size before switching up the fly patterns.
If you can’t see the fish, this sort of presentation needs a little more skill to keep it moving naturally where it counts. Here, you want to maintain just enough tension on the line without it dragging your flies across the current. So, some bit of slack is important in the beginning of the drift to get your flies down and drifting naturally, however, too much and you lose your fly to hand sensitivity. This all takes some experimentation. So again, you want to identify the fish zone, and wade some distance upstream of the target water. Cast across the current and begin your mend. A real effective mend in this case is an elevated reach-mend, performed by raising your rod tip high and reaching upstream. Keep your rod elevated until the fly swings into the correct path and then start to slowly lower your rod tip so that the leader is free to move along at just shy of the surface current speed. This way your flies are sinking, drifting naturally and you are able to feel the bite (The higher and further upstream you reach your rod during the mend, the more you will be able to give back to the drift). Hopefully the fish will take in this drag-free window. Remember, that as you lower your rod tip down to the river, more and more fly line will contact the water, making excessive drag a problem. However, if you choose your target water correctly, and set up your drift accordingly, then your drift is looking its best where it counts.
If the target water is moving faster than the water where you are standing, then it’s possible that no mend at all will be necessary. In this case, the fly line can lay flat on the water after an upstream-and-across cast and left to drift back down into the zone. Tackling the water in this way might be an easier bet, and should be considered, especially if you can cross over to the other side of the stream. But be careful not to cast over the fish and maintain a stealthy distance from their home.
*Special Note: It may be that the fish will be most interested in your fly as the dead drift ends, the line comes under tension, and your fly starts to swing up into the water column. You just never know, so it is often best to fish the drift out into a swing, so as to give it that emerging insect look. For these swing presentations, the use of indicators is Not Recommended.
2. High Sticking broken water currents and slots
There are times when fish migrate from the edges of the river out into stronger current lines and deeper holes. I used to see this all the time while fishing the Madison River during the summer. They might start the day off at the edges, but once fishing pressure and the angle of the sun intensified, out towards the middle they would go. This was always the perfect time to lose the indicator. The nice thing about broken surface water is the fish can’t see you as well, and they feel safer under its cover. However, fishing these areas often means fishing heavy flies that can sink quickly around boulders and deep channel slots. Again, bulky indicators become cumbersome for this type of game, and they may inhibit your flies from reaching the required, ever-changing target depths. Enter High Sticking. The beautiful thing here is that since you are fishing water that is so close in proximity to you, you can eliminate excess fly line from the surface of the river above your flies. Essentially, by keeping your rod tip HIGH in the air and moving the rod from an upstream to downstream position at the rate of underwater current where your flies are, you maintain direct contact with your flies. Since there is limited line on the water, you maintain control over the drift by eliminating the influence of changing surface currents. Not to mention, you can control your depth by the level at which you hold you rod tip, which is especially nice for picking up and dropping your flies around boulders and getting really deep where necessary.
This can be a deadly technique for reaching those hard to get fish during midday. Tie on some heavy flies, add some split shot, and get that clunky indicator off of your leader. Wade out to the edge of the broken water and roll cast, quartering upstream. Manage depth and drift rate by repositioning your rod tip over the course of the drift. Once your line is downstream of you, start to lower your rod tip and reach it downriver so as to extend the drift. Set the hook by lifting your rod high and towards the river bank if you feel even the slightest bump.
Have a good time,
The Gorge Fly Shop
"Fly Fish the World with Us"