4 Reasons to Ditch The Indicator

And 2 Reasons to Use One

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I get asked a lot, “What is the deal with this Euro-nymphing, tightline, indicator-less fishing method I keep hearing about.  Is it actually any better?”  (and yes, I get it asked exactly  like that.)  Well today, I’ve decided to answer this question from my own perspective and experience, and the results are actually quite impressive…

The reality is, that in most wade fishing scenarios, ditching the strike indicator has some serious advantages.  I used to be a pretty poor nymph fisherman and would usually catch more fish on dries than I would any method of nymphing simply due to my lack of skill.  After I dedicated a year to nymphing, I found some vast improvements.  I now catch way more fish nymphing most days than I do on dry flies.  Why do I share all of this? Well because it sets the stage for the next truth bomb.  
After spending only 5 trips out on the water euro-nymphing, I was catching twice as many trout as I used to in regards to indicator-nymphing.  The difference was shocking for me.  I couldn’t see why this technique was any better, but the number of fish caught was clear evidence.
Over the years now, I’ve continued to unravel this success and I’ve broken it down into four key reasons why ditching the strike indicator is almost always the better way to go. 
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1 – It Beats the Current

Match The Hatch, Match The Current

The current when using a strike indicator is often your enemy.  When you ditch the indicator however, you negate nearly all of the effects of the current on your flies.  The current in a column of water does not move at the same speed.  Water on the surface of the river almost always is moving faster than the water at the bottom of the river.  When you have a strike indicator floating at a faster speed than your flies down lower (where the trout are) it drags the flies and the trout catch on and will ignore your presentation.  When you remove the strike indicator, the only drag that happens from the current is on your leader/tippet, which is substantially less than before.  This difference is a key part to why tightline nymphing is so much more productive than traditional indicator nymphing.  
Keep in mind this is not the case if you’re using a strike indicator from a drift boat.  On a drift boat, you cancel much of effect of the current as you’re matching the speed of the current to your drift, but there is still some that happens from the difference in speed from the top of the water to the bottom of the water.

2 – It Tightens Up Your Game

Shorter Casts = Better Casts

There’s a reason 50ft casts are called hero casts, because it takes a hero to make them work.  I don’t care if you’re the best angler in the world, you have a lower chance for a successful hookset and landing of a trout the further out you cast.  It’s just science.

In euro style nymphing, you make shorter casts with less line – this means you have a tightline the entire time you fish and the moment you feel a bump or see your line move in an odd way, setting the hook is near instant and results in more hookups.  (I still miss many fish this way because fish eat and spit flies quickly especially on pressured rivers so there’s never a 100% day with every eat being a hook up.  But this helps and teaches you a lot about how many fish that eat the fly and with an indicator you’d never even see it move, more or less be able to set in time.  It’s wild really.)

3 – Double Those Drifts

Now That Fly Will Hunt Twice as Hard

The more time letting your fly hunt for trout, the more trout you’ll catch.  The more time your fly can be drifting productively, the more fish you’ll catch as well.  Both of these are key as you can make a 100ft cast but only get 10ft of a good drift due to drag.
When you tightline, you get shorter, better producing casts/drifts due to what I said above.  This also means you can get more drifts in a day.  When I watch a friend fish an indicator and cast up stream 25ft and do a 15 second drift, I can fish that same water with 10 ft cast and 10 second drift.  Over time, i get more casts and longer drifts with each cast.  More drift = more fish, it’s just a numbers game at that point.

4 – You Can Adjust Your Depth With the Tip of Your Rod

No More Line Kinks or Begrudging Indicator Adjustments


It’s a pain in the butt to walk 10 ft up the river and have to mess with that strike indicator and adjust the depth.  Most of us just don’t do it and either fish the water with an improper depth, or skip the water all together to go find more water like you were just fishing.  It’s a huge mistake to do that.  What if I told you that all you had to do to adjust your depth 6 inches was raise your rod tip 6 inches?  Well now, that’s much easier isn’t it? 

You can adjust your depth on every cast, or as needed.  This is huge when you’re wade fishing from a deep hole to a shallow riffle.  with an indicator, you have to adjust the rig every time you want to change depth in the river.  With a tightline technique, you can simply raise or lower your rod the amount needed to change your depth.  Makes it super easy to cover water as you wade of all different kinds (which in turn you’ll find fish in places you never thought and you’ll learn to stop walking over productive water) 


And 2 Reasons to Keep the Indicator

While I’d say I tightline nymph about 80% of the time now, there are certainly some times you want to keep that strike indicator on.  let’s go over those to make this a well-rounded guide.

You Can’t Reach the Drift You Want

If you can’t reach where you want to cast with your rod tip, you won’t be able to tightline if very well, so that’s wen you use an indicator to cast further out.  There’s times where the river is too big, or the current is too strong for you to wade to the place you want. That’s when adding a method to suspend your nymphs works great.  I really like wool or yarn indicators as they are more sensitive and productive for me, but that’s a completely different guide I’ll do another time. 

Your in a Drift Boat

The other time you will struggle to euro-nymph is when you are on a drift boat.  You need to be 25-30 ft away from the drift boat most times in order to catch fish.  That’s further than you can tightline unless you have a 20ft fly rod (which i don’t think they make) so stick to the indicator in the boat.  

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So if you still aren’t convinced that ditching the incidator can improve your fly fishing game, then I challenge you to prove me wrong.  Go and spend 2 hours on the water.  1 hour with your method and 1 tightlining and see which catches you more fish.  I’ve done this test many times myself and I know how it turns out, which is why I tightline.  

Try it out, you’ll be impressed with how easy it is to outfish your buddies and find productive water across the entire river and not just the holes.  

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