Here’s some tips on how to fish Floating lines and strike indicators with success on stillwaters…
I’m passionate about fishing for trout in productive stillwaters. My favourite way to fish lakes is with floating lines and strike indicators. Strike indicators allow you to present flies at precise depths at which the trout are feeding. Chironomid larvae and pupae, scuds, damselfly nymphs, mayfly nymphs, caddis pupa and leeches can be suspended or wind drifted under a strike indicator with amazing results.
The reason indicator fishing is so successful is based on a little lake biology and trout feeding behaviour. The most productive trout feeding zones in a lake are the shoal or littoral zones and the edges of the drop-offs. Limnologically, the shoal zone is defined as that portion of the water body where photosynthesis can penetrate to the lake bottom and allow green plant growth to flourish. This typically means depths of less than 20 feet. The shoal is the grocery store in the lake. Trout come onto the shallow water of the shoal to feed on aquatic invertebrates which are living in the vegetation or within the benthic zone of the lake. Feeding trout can be very specific as to what depth they will eat their prey. For instance, if a chironomid emergence was occurring in 18 feet of water it would be common for the trout to be gorging on the pupae between 17 ft and 15 ft. Suspend your pupal patterns above or below that narrow 2 foot zone and you will experience far fewer bites. In most shoal feeding situations the trout are going to feed closer to the lake bottom than higher in the water column simply because it is safer to feed at depth rather than higher in the water column where they are more exposed to predators such as ospreys and loons.
There is no question that chironomid emergences are what popularized strike indicator fishing in lakes. Large numbers of pupa often suspend within a couple feet of the lake bottom prior to rising vertically through the water column to emerge. Trout literally swim through these bands of pupa and gorge on the helpless insects. Keeping your pupal imitations at the right depth zone was key to success. However, other common trout food sources, such as those mentioned earlier, are also inhabitants of the shoal zone and they all can be effectively fished under the indicator.
The RIO Indicator fly line is perfect for casting indicators. The heavier, thicker tip section was designed to turn over even the biggest indicators. I match this line to the 10 ft. RIO Indicator leaders which have short, 3 ft. tapered butt section followed by 7 ft. of level tippet. Add more tippet to reach the desired depths to be fished. The overall thinness of the indicator leader and extended tippet sections sink faster thus getting your flies in the fishing zone quicker.
The use of strike indicators give you the most control over precise depth presentation which can be critical with trout feeding behaviour. As well, I never tire of watching the indicator going down!
Wind drifting patterns under an indicator imparts more horizontal movement to the fly. Tying flies on with a non-slip loop knot adds further natural movement to the drift. Wind drifting is done from an anchored position and a cast is made quartering to the wind or straight upwind. Both these presentations are made when there is a light breeze. Quartering into the wind allows a belly to form in your fly line as the wind swings the fly downwind. This is a perfect cast to make with mayfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs and caddis pupa. Keep in mind that your leader will need to be longer than the depth of the water being fished because the wind drift motion will pull the fly and leader on a shallow angle – ie. not perpendicular through the water column. Upwind presentations are very effective for leeches, damselfly nymphs and scuds. Once the cast is made, just strip line in to keep up with the slack being formed as the fly line and fly drift directly back to you. Upwind casting provides a natural, drag free drift of your presentations.