There comes a time every year when we exchange our beautiful dry flies for gaudy chunks of foam and yarn.  There are certainly opportunities to fish with dry flies throughout the winter season, but to consistently hook fish when the thermometer drops it is sometimes necessary to make the switch over to what some consider to be the dark side of fly fishing.  Indicator fishing may have its stigmas, but it is a surefire way to improve your catch rate and a great way to learn where fish hold and feed when they are not actively eating on the surface where you can see them.  Indicator fishing is pretty easy, but there are some common mistakes that keep many fishermen from unlocking the real potential of the technique.  Knowing how to avoid these errors will accelerate your learning curve and help you catch more subsurface feeders! The Dead Drift: The dead drift is your key to success in most nymph fishing situations, but it is overlooked by many fishermen learning to nymph with an indicator.  The basic idea is that the indicator acts as a floating hinge point between your leader and fly line above the surface, and the remainder of the leader with your flies attached below the surface.  The hinge setup enables your rig to sink at an angle close to ninety degrees, more easily penetrating the current to reach fish holding deeper in the water column.  When used properly your indicator setup allows you to drift a fly or team of flies beneath the surface at the same speed as natural insects that would be swept along the bottom into the waiting mouths of hungry fish, but it takes some practice.   The one thing to avoid when trying to get a dead drift is drag.  Drag is the enemy of the dead drift and can be caused by several different variables.  If you do not allow significant slack during your presentation by either mending or feeding line into the drift you may have too much tension on your line.  A line with no slack will be swept by the main current and cause your flies to swing up off of the bottom, speeding unnaturally away from the fish.  To prevent this from happening you must pay attention how the indicator moves in the current.  If it is dragging, a "V" shaped wake will form around it, and you know to add some slack in the form of a mend.  Look closely at which direction the drag “V” is coming from.  If the "V" is pointing upstream, the drag is coming from upstream and performing a downstream mend should set things right.  If the "V" points downstream your line is probably dragging in the heavy current and pulling the indicator down with it.  This situation can occur if you are trying to fish over or across heavy current to softer water on the other side.  It can easily be corrected by mending some slack line upstream. Many beginning indicator fishermen assume that if their indicator is floating at the same speed as the surface current they are getting a perfect dead drift, but this is not always the case.  The current in a river is faster on the surface than it is on the bottom.  Because of the rough, rocky texture of most river bottoms, drag causes the current to be slowed to almost a halt in some cases when above the river can be rushing by at full speed.  In this situation your indicator might be floating at the same speed as the current, but your flies below will be ripping by the fish at mach speed!  This is why it is important to cast well upstream of your intended target to give your flies some time to sink.  As they are sinking you can make what I like to call an indicator mend.  This is basically an exaggerated mend that flicks not only your slack line, but your indicator upstream.  Depending on the speed of the current you can move your indicator anywhere from a few inches to a couple of feet upstream of where your flies entered the water.  This way the flies will have time to sink and get a "head start" on the indicator so it is not dragging them unnaturally. The Strike: Another common mistake people make when learning to use a strike indicator is not detecting the strike!  Strikes are often much more subtle than you might imagine, and if you are waiting for your indicator to jerk a foot under the water like when you used to fish for bluegill on grandpa's farm pond you are missing a lot of fish!  A fish can inhale your fly, decide it is fake and reject it all in a split second, and even the most seasoned angler might not even know he had a strike.  This is why it is very important to focus on the movement of the indicator and set the hook at the slightest bump or unnatural movement.  Sometimes your line will rip away and you will know for sure it is a fish, but other times your indicator will simply twitch, twist, move to one side or drag funny in the current and these are all signs of a subtle strike.  You may come up with nothing, but hook sets are free and the biggest fish are often the most subtle takers! As a side note, make sure you choose an indicator to fit the size of water and current speed you are fishing.  Many yarn indicators you buy from the shop are overdressed right out of the package and need to be trimmed smaller before they will be useful.  The indicator should just be able to support the amount of weigh you are fishing with and no more.  This way it is sure to move at the slightest bump or tug.  If it is overdressed not only can it spook the fish but you have a good chance of missing the strike completely. Try these tips and hopefully you will find indicator nymphing to be an easy and effective fly fishing method!


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