Indicator nymphing is an extremely popular and effective means of catching trout on some of New Zealand’s rivers. A quick winter visit to New Zealand’s central plateau Lake Taupo tributaries you will see just how many anglers pick this as their method of angling on any given day. In decades gone by its popularity has surpassed traditional wet lining and dry fly methods which not too long ago was the ‘go too’ for most Taupo anglers depending on the season.
There are a number of common mistakes and traps that are easy to fall into often as a result of habit, misinformation or the mantra of “well that’s how everyone else does it”. Vilfredo Pareto, the man behind the 8020 principle, must have been a fly fisherman in order to create such a principle that is so applicable to fly fishing… 80% of the fish are caught by 20% of the fisherman. As such “well that’s how everyone else does it” is often the logic of the 80% catching the 20%.
So here comes a highly opinionated list of errors of made whens using the indicator rig…
- Missing Strikes
Yea yea, we all know how to do it, “when it goes under strike”
No. Well yes. Do strike when it goes under…but not only when it goes under! Strike when your indicator behaves in any way that is slightly unusual. Strike when it stops, strike when it kinda starts to go under but doesn’t fully, strike when it does absolutely anything that a piece of pumice floating down the river wouldn’t do. More times than I can recall or count have I set the hook to find I have a fish on and not be able to fully put my finger on what it was that made me strike. Yes, it won’t always be a fish and will often be the bottom but if you start striking everything you will be surprised at how often you find a fish on the other end. The diagram below illustrates the delicacy in which a trout can take a fly.
2. Having An Indicator The Size of a Budgie
“But it floats really well…”
I know it floats well. It floats so well it takes a fairly aggressive strike to bob under or show any significant unusual movement as mentioned above meaning you miss more strikes. It’s also an absolute burden to cast acting as both a shock absorber to the lines kinetic energy and is the opposite of aerodynamic. Many anglers would benefit significantly from a pair of scissors and cutting that giant indicator in at least half to a minimal size. The New Zealand Strike Indicator offers the perfect balance of sensitivity and adjustability. Try to make it on just large enough not to be dragged under by the weighted nymphs.
3. Fishing Heavier Flies Than Necessary
This is something you see a lot in winter as most anglers are aware that fish are feeding only opportunistically and on predatorial instinct therefore are not going to move through the water column a great distance to take a fly as they would in summer. If this is your mindset then you are 100% correct. But it often leads to us going too heavy to the point where we eliminate the natural bouncing along the bottom drift and instead carve out a new channel as our nymphs dredge the bottom.
It’s not just weight you should be thinking of when thinking about sink rate. Tippet size and fly profile are also important. Those big chunky size 10 4.5mm tungsten with two wraps of lead Hare and Coppers are actually not very fast sinking. Yes they are heavy, but they also have a hell of a lot of resistance when sinking through the water column. It’s like throwing a brick from an aeroplane with a parachute attached. Instead go for something with a slimmer profile and less weight such as a 3.5 – 4mm beaded Frenchie or Pheasant Tail. If you want it to sink like a stone use a Perdigon Nymph.
4. Tippet/Leader Too Long or Too Short
This can be tricky to get right and often takes a bit of trial and error as it changes with depth and speed of the water. As an overly general rule of thumb I try to go 1.5x the depth of the water I’m fishing. If it’s very slow meandering current you can go closer to 1x the depth as your flies will sink to being nearly directly beneath your indicator as oppose to a pronounced upstream angle in faster currents.
As it can be a balance and not a one size fits all solution, next time things are going slow, instead of a fly change, go for a change in leader length. If you’re not getting the occasional bit of indicator movement (false strike) from the flies on the bottom. You probably aren’t long enough.
Often these mistakes are related to one another and as you start to fix one the others begin to sort themselves out. For example your indicator may be too big because your flies are too heavy which results in mixed strikes. If you catch yourself doing any of these things, maybe consider going away from it. Just because you catch fish with your current set up doesn’t mean you won’t catch more with a few simple changes.