Learning how to fish nymphs with an indicator will drastically increase your catch rate.

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Why Use Indicators?

Some purists view indicators in less than a positive light but they are seen more and more among seasoned fly fishers.

An indicator is usually yarn or wool, foam, a small plastic float or even a larger dry fly. I will share here why you should use indicators and a few tips on their use.

I have already mentioned the number one reason. Detecting the strike is easier, which will increase your success. You will be able to see what is going on with your fly. If you can’t see the fly an indicator will "indicate" the slightest take.

With many small items floating downstream, trout will often take some small objects in their mouths, examine and then expel them if the items are not food. It is often hard to detect this event.

Another feature of the indicator is that it will help keep your nymph off the bottom, and allows you to control the depth the nymph reaches.

How to Fish Nymphs Using Strike Indicators

There are several considerations for setting up your nymphing indicator rig properly. Each will help you achieve the best presentation of the fly to the trout.

Choose the Right Leader

Start with a leader about seven feet long. Leaders used with nymphs are usually shorter than those used for dry flies. This is because nymphs are usually heavier and can be harder to turn over when casting. Another reason nymph leaders are short is that when fishing fast-moving water it is best to fish with about twenty feet (or less) of line and leader out past your rod tip. It is hard to maintain a natural drift with much more than that.

Read Our Guide to Leaders

Use the Right Fly Line

Use a floating line when nymph fishing with an indicator. This may not sound right but it makes it easier for you to mend your line and maintain a natural drift.

Learn More About Fly Lines

Add Weight to your Leader

Adding weight above the nymph will help keep the fly near the bottom. Do not use one heavy split shot. Instead use micro-split shot spread out along the leader. This will improve the natural unrolling of the line and leader during the cast and improve the presentation (making less of a splash in a calm pool).

Fly Casting Guide

Go Deep Enough

The general rule of thumb when fishing streams is that the indicator should go above the fly about 1-1/2 times the water depth.

Fly Fishing Tips

How To Fish Nymphs Using Two Flies

Adding a second fly to your leader is a great idea. Using two flies gives you twice the chances of discovering the best nymph to use.

The first fly can either be another nymph or a very buoyant dry fly, which will also act as an indicator. I have had trout hit my indicator so this is a good idea.

The dropper fly is typically a smaller nymph tied about eighteen inches below the first fly and tied either to the bend in its hook or tied to an uncut four-inch end of a surgeons knot.

Using Dry Fly as Indicator

A benefit of this setup is that you may get a strike on the dry fly.
This is best when you use the adult version as the dry fly and the nymph version as the dropper or lower fly.

Different Indicator Types

Yarn or Wool Indicators

These are adjustable when you use a slipknot. Once tied, clip the ends equally about ½ inch long. Add floatant to the yarn or use unwashed wool (which still has its natural lanolin on it). The big advantage with this indicator is its more natural color.

Plastic Float Indicator

These come in several sizes. Use as small as you can and stay away from fluorescent colors that may frighten trout. They are also adjustable. Unless you feel real comfortable teasing your fly fishing buddies don’t call these “bobbers.”


I do recommend you learn how to fish nymphs using strike indicators. They allow you to see very subtle strikes, they keep the fly off the bottom and they help in presenting the fly in a more natural drift.

Will they help you improve your catch rate? Yes! But you still need to pay attention to what is going on. Concentration is still the key to success.