The Skinny on Strike Indicators

By Brown Hobson

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One look at the indicator display in any fly shop can send even experienced anglers running back to the dry fly bins.  Some of the longest conversations I have with anglers in the shop revolve around which indicators would be best for a given situation.  I love all the indicators available and each one is king at the right time so I wanted to share some of what I think they do well.  The three types below are the three I use most often on the Davidson River and Watauga River.

Thingamabobbers/Air Locks

These indicators, (bobbers) lol, are the king when it comes to staying afloat.  If I am fishing heavy flies or lots of shot these are my go to indicators.  High water is another place these guys shine.  You can’t sink these indicators and even if a big wave swamps them they pop right back up.  I most often use the 3/4” size, but the 1 inch are great when fishing really heavy.  The drawbacks to this indicator are that you need a thick diameter leader/buttsection to keep them from sliding up and down the leader.  That is not a problem when I am fishing in the conditions above, but limits their versatility.  Because they float so well fish do feel the resistance from the indicator when they eat the flies below.  In fast water no problem, but in slower water I’ve found that fish spit flies faster as a result.  Also in slow water these indicators land with a loud plop and can spook fish.  High Water on the Watauga River is the ideal place for these indicator types.




I’ll try not to sound too biased here.  Yarn is awesome.  I have used the ORVIS Assortments, New Zealand Wool, and Lefty Kreh yarn and like them all a lot.  Yarn doesn’t float quite as well as the thingamabobbers, but the ORVIS assortment comes in enough sizes that you can put on a big piece or even two when high water is present.  I think fish hold on to the flies longer with yarn than almost any other indicator.  I switched to yarn in slow water 4 or 5 years ago and my catch rates doubled.  Yarn also lands without making a sound and hardly a ripple.  It also comes in colors that help it look just like leaves floating downstream.  On the Davidson River fish will move aside when brightly colored indicators come through a run so having yarn is crucial.  Because the yarn doesn’t float as well as the above mentioned indicators lighter strikes are much more detectable as well.  Low to Medium Water on both the Watauga and Davidson are perfect condtions for these indicators.



Foam Stick On

I first used foam stick on indicators on the South Fork of the Snake during PMD emergences.  Fish really key in on the emerging pmd stage and can be quite picky about the nymphs/emergers they eat.  They are feeding close to the surface but not enough to see them eat the fly.  Because the fish are so shallow you have to have something tiny.  These indicators are often smaller than a dime.  They are feather light so make no noise.  They also stay really well on the small tippet sections I often want them on.  They won’t float much weight and they leave a small amount of residue on your leader when you remove them, but all are small prices to pay when you need the 007 stealth.  Like yarn fish don’t spit these very fast and they go down with minimal pressure.  Low water on the Davidson River is a great time for foam stick ons as is a mayfly hatch on the Watauga River.




These three are by no means an all encompassing list.  Just the three I use the most.  Some of the others like corks, twist-ons, and other types of foam indicators have their time and place, but I think with the three types above you can handle 99% of all the situations out there.  Below are links to many of the products I mentioned.





Lefty Kreh

New Zealand Wool

Stick On

Asheville Fly Fishing Video

Black Scout Survival is back in Asheville fly fishing with Brown Trout guide Josh Gorelick again.  Cool video gives you a sense of where we fish and what we fish for.  Josh gives a great rundown on some of the bugs that hatch on the trout streams around Asheville in the spring.  Thanks Black Scout!

Check out some of their other videos.  There is really cool one about survival fishing in the swamp.  Its kind of like Tenkara 😉


And dont forget to give us a call or check out our main pages.  We would love to show you around Asheville.