How To: Choosing The Right Indicator

Nowadays it seems like you have an endless choice of fly tying tools to help you land that fish of a lifetime. Seriously, you can buy $100 dollar nippers. They must have been forged in the heart of a volcano by the Queen of England, and cooled using the tears of unicorns. Fortunately, indicators seem to have stayed reasonably priced, while giving anglers a large range of variety based upon their unique needs. However, walking into a fly shop and looking at the indicator rack can leave one feeling confused at what to choose. This is especially true for newer fly fisherman, who may only know they need an indicator and end up buying 5 different kinds just to cover their bases. So, what are the pro’s and con’s of those various indicators found on store shelves, and what ones will work well for you? Let’s find out.

I’ve gone ahead and picked 6 of the most popular indicators for fly fishing you’ll see online or at the Fishwest fly shop to give you some insight into what might work well for you:

Yarn Indicators

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Yarn indicators come in all sorts of colorful packages and are often coated in the newest hydrophobic formulas to prevent submersion. These wonderful little puff balls resemble the hair on those troll dolls you owned in the 90’s or perhaps even a much better version of that dry fly you keep attempting to tie. However, they do give an angler the added benefit of stealth compared to using more traditional, heavier indicators. Furthermore, they are quite sensitive when to comes to takes as the yarn takes less effort to be pulled under compared to other indicators.

Yarn indicators come in all sorts of colorful packages and are often coated in the newest hydrophobic formulas to prevent submersion. These wonderful little puff balls resemble the hair on those troll dolls you owned in the 90’s or perhaps even a much better version of that dry fly you keep attempting to tie. However, they do give an angler the added benefit of stealth compared to using more traditional, heavier indicators. Furthermore, they are quite sensitive when to comes to takes as the yarn takes less effort to be pulled under compared to other indicators.

Pros:

  • Sensitivity
  • Stealthiness
  • High Floating
  • High Visibility
  • Durability
  • Easy to Adjust
  • Environmentally Friendly

Cons:

  • Can begin to sink after prolonged use
  • Hard to tie on using a plastic ring variation
  • Can come off during casting if using a roll on version
  • Fish may find your indicator tastier than your fly
  • Cannot be used well in strong current

Bottom Line: Yarn indicators work really well in slow moving currents, where increased sensitivity and stealth are important to help you catch fish. This would be slow moving creeks, where the fish are spooky and heavier indicators may cause issues. Furthermore, they work wonderfully on lakes, where there isn’t much of a current other than what is caused by the breeze. These indicators are always a good idea to have on hand when you’re after those hard to catch fish. You can find various brands such as Loon Strike Out or Orvis Perfect Drift.

Air-Lock Indicators

Air-Lock indicators are the spherical plastic balls filled with air and are attached by wrapping your leader under a screw on top. In the past couple of years there has really been a rise in their popularity, as most anglers enjoy their durability and versatility on lakes and rivers. However, these indicators do come with a few issues that may cause you to think twice about durability compared to practical use.

Pros:

  • Very Durable
  • Easily Adjusted
  • High Visibility
  • High Floating
  • Won’t Sink Easily
  • Can Handle Big Current

Cons:

  • Will twist up your leader, causing a deformity
  • Losing the top means you cannot use it further
  • Rides awkwardly in the water, meaning subtle strikes are often missed
  • Can take on water if the top is not properly sealed or is broken
  • Will make a large splash on entering the water

Bottom Line: This indicator does a good job for new fly fishermen and those who want their indicators to ride high and to last a long time. Though you will miss some of those more subtle hits, more often than not you’ll be just fine using this indicator. I just prefer an indicator with a smoother ride in the current and that won’t leave my leader bent out of shape.

Putty Indicators

Putty indicators are a bit of an anomaly. They offer some versatility, but it often comes at a price. To use this product you will scoop out the putty and add it to the desired placement as your indicator. This means that to change the height of the indicator, you will need to remove it and reapply. Using the same piece of indicator often doesn’t work, as that piece can become sticky and unwilling to be reapplied. Furthermore, if you’ve used a piece of putty that is too small to float properly you will need to add more. This may become a challenge if the putty is wet from being in the water. However, there are some cool glow-in-the-dark options that make this product a little more appealing.

Pros:

  • Can make your own indicator size
  • Can adjust the size of your indicator
  • Easy removal
  • Easy to carry
  • Can be adjusted
  • Reusable
  • Biodegradable

Cons:

  • Can be too sticky
  • Often hard to gauge the size to apply
  • Does not work well in faster current
  • May not stick well after several applications
  • Can fly off during casts

Bottom Line: If you don’t mind a little extra work and sometimes being frustrated with stickiness, then you might enjoy using indicator putties. They are convenient, adjustable, and can be moulded into a shape that works best for you. I’ve found they are better suited for slower moving streams, as their buoyancy isn’t as good as other indicators. However, keeping one of these products in your bag might save you when you run into an area where some larger indicators don’t fair as well. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy having piece of mind that you always have an indicator no matter what.

Stick-On Indicators

Stick on indicators work exactly how you’d expect, you peel em and stick em. They work great when you don’t want to add an indicator before tying your flies, or, often in my case, I forgot to put the indicator on beforehand. I’ve found these indicators work best on slower moving streams or in lakes where the current won’t bog it down. They are normally found in smaller sizes, meaning they aren’t truly meant to be used in areas where the current is strong. Orvis makes a pretty decent stick-on indicator.

Pros:

  • Easy to apply
  • Sensitive to light strikes
  • Sticks well

Cons:

  • Not easily adjusted
  • Cannot be reused
  • Rides lower in the water
  • Not suitable for strong current
  • Low visibility
  • Can make your leader sticky
  • Not environmentally friendly

Bottom Line: I really enjoy using these indicators in really small creeks. Smaller fish often don’t produce large strikes meaning you can miss those fish when using bigger indicators. However, anything outside a small creek renders these indicators useless. They sink easily, can’t be adjusted, leave your line sticky, and are hard to see at times. Unless you’re an avid small water fisherman, I would probably suggest leaving these little guys on the wall.

Football Indicators

Okay, so I almost didn’t review these things. Not because they aren’t useless, because they truly are. I reviewed them because I don’t know how many new fishermen will grab these things from the bargain bin at Bass Pro because they are on sale and look easy to use. So, how do these spawns of satan work? Well, inside the styrofoam football shape is a little rubber tube. You place your leader next to the rubber tubing and twist both end of the rubber like your at the bad end of a swingers party. After the indicator is loosely secured, attempt a cast and watch the indicator fly off behind you into the wood. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for making that frugal purchase as your self worth is much lower than before you started the day.

Pros:

  • None

Cons:

  • Too long to list

Bottom Line: Only buy these if you’re into S&M and enjoy self loathing.

In conclusion, get the indicator that suits your needs and the needs of the waters you fish. Though there are many more indicator types and brands to use, think about where you will be using them and what kind of conditions they will face. Moreover, there is no shame in carrying more than one indicator in your pack, as you never know when versatility will outweigh frugalness.

Tight Lines – @Troutmadness

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