by Kenny Klimes
Don’t forget to think about the type, size, or style of indicator to employ when you’re using the dead drift method with nymphs, midges, or larva type flies. Every class I teach someone always asks, “Kenny, what kind of indicator do you use?” This is what I tell them – indicators are like women. They come in all shapes, sizes and styles and we all prefer something different just as we do in our indicators. So which indicators do I use? The answer is… it depends. It depends on the flies that I am fishing, the depth of the water, the speed of the current, the weight of the flies, etc.
So with that said, let me explain. There are all types of indicators; yarn, foam footballs, thingamabobbers, Palsa stick ons, etc. The one you select must be sensitive and responsive to very light, subtle hits from a trout. Size is very important. If you use an indicator that is too large for your tiny flies it will never give you the ‘indication’ of a light or subtle strike. You should use an indicator small enough that it will float just on top of the surface of the water but not so small that your fly/split shot makes it ride just slightly below the surface. Riding just below the surface will not allow the indicator to give you indications of a subtle strike. I have been using the thingamabobber indicator lately for several reasons. They are very sensitive. They come in different sizes which gives me the opportunity to use a medium size when I fish two flies with split shot (remember the indicator has to float on top of the surface not below). And, I buy the ones that have the posts attached to them. This allows me to easily move them up and down, allowing me to change the depth of my fly quickly.
Changing the depth of your flies is critical when using the dead drift method. Having an indicator that makes it easy to change the depth of your flies gets you in the zone quickly to find those fish. If I guess wrong on the depth when I first start fishing I will change the depth of my indicator up or down around six inches after 8 – 10 casts and no strikes. I will continue this technique until I find fish. You have to be in the zone.
Now, speaking about being in the zone. Adjusting to the speed of the current will keep you in the zone longer. Your flies have to get down fast or your drift “in the zone” will be short as the flies take their time sinking. If the current is moving swiftly make sure that you use split shot or beadhead flies to get them down quickly. The faster the current – the bigger the split shot and remember, the larger the indicator. Adding more weight will make the small indicator sit too low in the water so change to a larger indicator.
So, how do we actually fish with an indicator. This is where you can lose fish and most of the time it’s because you never realized that you had a strike. Any flyfisher knows they have a strike when the indicator shoots below the water but I see so many not realize that they have a strike when the takes are subtle. Think about this next time you are fishing indicators. On a good dead drift the indicator must lead the fly line down stream. Make sure you have a good mend so you get a nice long drift. I like to keep my rod tip low to the water and actually point at the indicator as it floats down stream. This makes me keep my eyes and concentration on any movement of the indicator. My left hand is holding my line and my right hand is ready to raise my rod tip up for the strike. But I am not only looking for the indicator to shoot under the water. Many trout will take your drifting fly and ‘blow’ it out in a second when it realizes it is not what they want for dinner. More concentration is needed to catch this trout. To do this watch the rate of flow (speed) of your indicator as it naturally floats down stream. Put this ‘speed’ in your memory bank (if there is any room left). Now if your indicator does anything different; stops slightly, slows down, or twitches – SET the HOOK! Most guys especially miss the slowing down or the slight stop and go of the indicator as a strike. Once you see it or feel it, you will have it. This is the trout that is on the bottom just sipping in insects and you only have seconds before it spits your fly out. If every time you set and there is no indication of a fish then maybe you are hitting bottom and need to raise your indicator. In either case don’t NOT set the hook. You will catch many more trout using this technique.