Strike Indicators, What Matters to Me

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Carry different sizes and colors of strike indicators. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Do Strike Indicators spook fish?

There is a lot of debate over whether strike indicators spook fish. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one folks. I truly believe that most of the time they don’t. Especially if you rule out calm and slow moving shallow water. Only when I’m dealing with really spooky fish, do I downsize and dull down the color of my strike indicators. The other 80% of the time I think the fish pretty much just find them interesting, possibly a tasty morsel, or just another piece of trash floating over their heads.

What I really think we should be doing is looking at the other side of the coin. In my opinion, we should worry less about spooking fish with our indicators, and worry more about matching the correct size strike indicator to the type of water and rig we’re fishing. That makes much more sense to me, anyway. Now I know there’s lots of you probably saying this is obvious rookie stuff, Kent. I hear you all loud and clear, but bare with me a minute, because I still find myself having to explain to anglers why it’s a good idea to carry different sizes and colors of strike indicators on the water. And as long as I’m doing that, there’s a need for this information to be out there for people to read.

Here’s how I go about choosing what strike indicators I use on the water.

I Fish Big Bright Indicators For: High Turbulent Water, Harsh Glare, Big Heavy Flies & Split-Shot

It doesn’t make any sense to use a strike indicator that’s too small to stay afloat in turbulent water. Some will argue with me on this, but I believe it’s much easier to see strikes when the indicator is above the surface, not below it. Same goes for harsh glare conditions. If you can’t see your indicator how are you going to be able to see the strikes? Upsize your strike indicator and change to a bright color if needed. Lastly, when you’re going to be fishing big heavy flies or lots of split-shot, you’ll need to go bigger with your indicator to keep it afloat. It’s also important to remember that strike indicators aren’t just used for seeing strikes. We also use them to control and maintain the depth at which we want our flies drifting.

I Fish Small Dull Colored Indicators For: Calm Flat Water, Spooky Fish, Tiny flies with little or no split-shot

If I’m worried my indicator is going to make too much noise when I present my cast, I’ll downsize to a smaller strike indicator. This is often the case when I’m fishing flat calm water. If I’m dealing with super skittish fish, I’ll not only downsize my indicator, but also dull down the color. I prefer small indicators over large when I’m fishing small fly patterns and not using a lot of split-shot. Sometimes the takes are more subtle with tiny flies, and a smaller indicator helps me detect them much easier. Furthermore, tiny flies (finesse rigs) don’t call for as much buoyancy so don’t go with a bigger indicator than you actually need. If it’s floating high and you have no problems seeing it, you’re good to go.

Waiting for the indicator to disappear. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Most of the time I prefer using Thingamabobbers pictured above for my strike indicators, but by no means do I insist you have to use them. I find myself gravitating towards them for several reasons: They’re easy to see, reusable, and they don’t fall off during heavy casting. They’re also super buoyant for their size, and will float all day long without having to add fly floatant to them. Lastly, beginners seem to be able to cast them easier than the bulky yarn style indicators. There’s tons of brands and styles of strike indicators on the market today. Take the time to figure out what style of strike indicators work best for you. Just remember it’s always a good idea to have a variety of sizes and colors on hand so you’re ready for any fishing situation.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “Strike Indicators, What Matters to Me

  1. A couple of weeks ago fishing on the Hooch I was fishing with a strike indicator and a PT. A trout rose and bumped the strike indicator, so I switched to A tan EHC and caught him. I like the idea of several sizes and colors. Thanks.

    • Roy,

      Good work on catching them on top. That’s a very good point. When you see fish coming up to your strike indicator, sometimes it can be a sign that they’ll come up an eat a dry fly. Other times, It’s the attraction factor strike indicators have with fish.


  2. how are you always standing to such nice looking water in all these pictures. I can’t find a nice looking stretch of water in Ga. anymore. Not that I get out too often, but when I do there is trash and low water levels etc. But wherever you guys take all these darn pictures always looks perfect.

    • Chris,

      We try to fish the best water for sure. It also doesn’t hurt Louis is a photography prodigy. Sometimes you just have to walk a little further to get away from the crowds.


      • Through the first half dozen years of fly fishing i would have laughed at the thought of using something like this. The First time I fished with Ryan he worm them and me out using a TMBobber. I’ve never looked back at my old “elitist” ways, although it always good to have the high stick technique in the arsenal. The TMB will let you cover A LOT of water (lines and zones) from one spot really fast and efficiently. ALL sizes are a must have in your pack, vest, or I like to tuck them in my underwear.

  3. Maybe it’s time I go out and try some some smaller indicators, and some different colors. I was given some awhile back and knew they were probably too big. It’s like casting tennis balls! So I never used ’em. Done! Muchas gracias

    • Casting a nymph rig with an indicator like a TMB is an art form in its own right. The lob cast and water haul technique. False casting to much can cause your rig to look like something the cat coughed up. Side arm backcast and a higher degree front cast can help minimize a fur-ball.

  4. Great topic. I also carry 3 different sizes of strike indicators, although I don’t worry to much about color. I think the key point you made is having an indicator with just enough buoyancy to keep it afloat in relation to the amount of weight you’re using. We got our butts handed to us on the Green last Friday. We came the conclusion the fish were mouthing our flies without the indicators moving (we were heavily weighted in deep water). The next day Wyatt tried using two of the 1/2″ indicators in tandem, in hopes to still float but see the takes. He was high rod for the day. He’ll have to chime in and let us know if that tactic worked. Could just be that the force is strong in him and he senses more takes than anyone else 😉

    • Fish thinks he’s just gonna inhale a tiny midge but instead gets it, the tippet, 3 pieces of split shot – before the indicator even budges. That’s a lot of time and resistance. Using two 1/2″ers kept 10″ apart increased the sensitivity of my tandem rig.

      Detecting takes is an art in it’s own right. Might be a rock, might not…jerk anyway.

  5. Gotta love the TMB they are one of the best innovations in fly fishing in recent years. I believe these speed up the learning curve for beginners by leaps and bounds. They even have them preformed to be able to tie a pattern to it like a hopper. It is obvious someone on the R&D staff there is an avid fisherman and is a tinkerer.

  6. TMB’s work great for me except on thin leader. When I tie them on thin leader I find that they slip down to the split shot or fly. So, I revert to the Palsa floats when I’m really short to the fly.

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