I often get asked what my favourite method is when fishing productive trout lakes. Without question my response is always floating lines and strike indicators. This is not to say that other lines and tactics are not effective at catching trout, but rather, that the majority of stillwater trout food sources can be very effectively fished with indicators. While it appears simple in design and technique, indicator fishing can be quite complex and the proper setup and depth control is key to consistently catching fish.
The science behind the use of strike indicators is based on lake morphometry (structure of lakes) and biology. The majority of trout feeding occurs on the shoal or within the shallow water zone of the lake. This typically means at depths of less than 25 feet. The shoal is the grocery store in the lake where photosynthesis reaches the bottom and stimulates the growth of green plants. The benthic substrate and lush growth of such plants as pondweed, coontail, lily pads, bulrush and cattails provides superb habitat for scuds, chironomids, mayflies, damselflies, caddis flies, dragonflies, leeches and forage fish. Trout and char in such environments do much of their feeding close to the bottom and within the cover of the heavy plant growth. These foraging tactics are what make the use of indicators so effective. Indicators allow the angler to suspend, wind drift or slowly retrieve flies through preferred, precise feeding depths.
Getting Geared UP
Regardless of fly pattern or how many I have on, they are all attached with non-slip loop knots. This knot allows the fly to swing and undulate as it hangs under the indicator. Wind drifting patterns under an indicator from an anchored position adds even more natural movement to the fly. I prefer to make a long cast directly upwind and allow the fly line, indicator and fly to drift back to me. All I do is keep the slack out of the line so that a straight line connection is maintained between the tip of the fly rod and the fly line. Upwind casts are done only in a gentle breeze situation. If the wind is too strong it will be very difficult to get any distance to your cast and the drift back will be too fast with an unnatural movement to the fly.
When fishing chironomid emergences it is very important to get your pupal imitation(s) down to the depth zone the fish are feeding. In many instances trout like to feed on the pupa in a very narrow depth range. For example, if there was a good pupal emergence occurring in 16 ft of water the trout may be gorging on them at a depth between 14 and 15 ft in depth. Pupal patterns suspended at 8 or 12 ft go unnoticed. The rule of thumb is to present patterns closer to the bottom than higher in the water column. Almost all the prominent trout food sources can be very successfully fished under an indicator. However, chironomids, mayfly nymphs, leeches, damselfly nymphs, caddis fly pupa and scuds are my go to patterns for this technique.
Here are 2 of my favourite patterns to fish under indicators:
Thread – 8/0 black
Hook – 10-2X to 8-3X streamer hook
Tail – Black/Red Arizona Simi Seal dubbing
Body – Black/Red Arizona Simi Seal on copper wire dubbing brush
Bead Head – 1/8th in copper cone head with maroon silver lined glass bead behind cone head
Black and Red Chironomid Pupa
Thread – 8/0 black
Hook – Scud hook in #18 to #6
Tag – Red Holographic Tinsel
Rib – fine red copper wire
Body – black Midge Flex
Bead – Super white metal bead