Published Feb 23. 2021 - 7 months ago
Updated or edited Feb 23. 2021

Nymphing Without An Indicator

Keeping it simple. Understanding the advantages of nymphing without an indicator and how to do it best.

Each situation calls for its own unique approach and sometimes, stealth is your friend. When the water is clear and you can see the trout beneath the surface, an indicator might actually hurt you more than it’ll help you.

I know it’s popular to use a strike indicator now and most people do use them properly, but that doesn’t mean you should always use them. In fact, there are many advantages to leaving your indicators in the truck.

Rigging with an indicator
Rigging with an indicator
Coty Perry

What Is a Strike Indicator?

Some people call them bobbers or floats but it’s essentially the same thing. It’s something you tie to your line to help make it easier to tell when a fish takes your fly. The main difference is the design and what people think when you say “bobber.” The bobber is your standard red and white round buoy looking thing.
Indicators come in varying shapes, sizes, and colors and most fly anglers find them to be a little more technical.

Why Fish Without an Indicator?

There are a few reasons you could fish without one. First, you have more flexibility in terms of adjusting your depth.

When you're nymphing, you most likely want to hold position closer to the bottom. If you’re using an indicator, you’re suspended higher in the water column no matter how you work it. If you’re not using an indicator it allows you to have more control over your depth and maneuver the fly as you please.

Fairview creek with josh
Nymphing a small creek
Matthew Young

I also find that nymphing without an indicator helps you to keep more flies. The name of the game is focus, and a lot of fly anglers tend to pay more attention to the indicator than they do anything else. When you don’t have that indicator hounding you, it’s easier to pay attention to potential hang ups while still being able to stay in the zone.

In fact, one reason that many fly anglers prefer fishing without an indicator is because it’s easier to cast without the extra weight on the line. It’s easier to stay in your zone and many people see that as more enjoyable. I’ve always found that there’s a more natural drift in the current which leads to added success on my part.

Tips for Fishing Without an Indicator

If you’re sold on the idea it can take a little bit of time to adjust to no longer staring at your indicator all day with the sun beating down on your eyes. The good news is that it’s a lot easier than you think and after a while it’ll become natural for you to focus on presenting your fly versus staring at a mini buoy.

Here are some of my top tips for nymphing without an indicator:

Caught without an indicator
Caught without an indicator
Josh Richards

Stay Tight

Tight lines are probably the more important tip because you’ll need to trust your own judgment if you want to feel any sort of strike. Without the indicator, you’ll have nothing to judge whether or not you have a fish on so you’re relying on your feel.
To get an accurate feel of what’s going on at the end of your line you need to keep as little slack as possible on the line. The more slack, the longer it will take for you to feel it. This is the ultimate key to successfully fly fishing without an indicator. Staying connected to the fly and focused on it at all times is important.
One tip I have for keeping the slack off your line is to lead it with the tip of your rod. Position the rod tip ahead of your fly in the drift so you’re leading it. This will allow you to quickly set the hook if you feel anything.

Keep The Line Short

Another great way to limit the amount of slack line you have is to keep it as short as you can. Don’t impact the drift but having a short line will help you stay better connected to the fly so you know exactly where it is in the drift.
High sticking is a popular technique here because it’ll take the extra line off the water which should allow you to detect a strike better but it’s not always recommended because it can impact the drift.

Set More Often

Since most of us can’t see our flies anyway due to the sun, glare, or eye fatigue, the only fool-proof way to ensure you don’t miss a strike is to set the hook more often. You’re relying entirely on feeling and intuition so setting the hook at every little nibble will help you get a feel for what is a strike and what’s wasting your time.

Final Thoughts

The main reason people nymph without an indicator is that they’re either trying to get over staring at it all the time or they don’t like the excess weight on the fly line. Either way, this presentation creates a nice little change in what we’re used to and it can help you better identify real strikes so you know one when you feel it.

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