Fairfax County, Virginia, October 7, 2014
I received a couple of questions about the strike indicator I was using on a recent trip to the Yellow Breeches in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. A few of the emails left the impression that the angler thought this was the newest secret weapon in the already massive arsenal of fly fishing gear. But the New Zealand wool strike indicator just happened to be the right tool for the job on that particular day.

There are a lot of different strike indicators on the market and each one, if used correctly in the right situation, allows the angler to present the fly at the correct depth and speed without spooking trout. But there is no one, perfect indicator. Each type has a weakness.


It is what it is. A
loop of colored wool attached to your leader keeps the nymph drifting at the right depth. Once you get familiar with the product it becomes an indispensable tool for fishing deep pockets or runs in medium to slow flowing water. The angler determines the size of the indicator and a small chunk floats a lot of weight.
The kit includes a generous slice of wool, a threader and a bunch of tiny clear plastic tubes. Load the threader with several plastic tubes cut about 1/8 inch long. Use the hook end to snare the leader then push a piece of the clear tubing onto the leader, forming a loop.
Cut off a chunk of wool and place it between the loop then draw the line tight.

I find that moistening the wool a bit helps it seat properly in the plastic tube. You can pull or push the indicator up and down your line to adjust the depth of your nymph without experiencing line kink. The wool indicator is easy to cast, lands softly, dries easily and lasts a long time. We usually rub a tiny dab of Topside floatant into the wool if we plan to use it for most of the day.
The only drawback to this indicator is rough, fast water. It does its job the best on moderate to slow moving water where delicate presentations are required.

Thingamabobber by West Water Products appeared several years ago and this trapped-air device quickly grabbed a good chunk of market share in the fly fishing retail world. It’s basically a small plastic balloon with an attachment point for your line. Pick up a few of these in different sizes and you’re good to go, whether fishing for tiny brookies or powerful steelhead. They will support a size 32 bead head emerger to a size 2 cone head wooly bugger and a ton of split shot.
Attach the Thingamabobber to your line by threading a loop of leader through a reinforced hole in the attachment point post, passing the loop around the plastic balloon then drawing the line tight below the post to lock it firmly in position. To move the Thingamabobber, give the leader a bit of slack, pull or push the bobber up or down your line, then retighten the leader around the post. This method of locking the indicator in place is also the Thingamabobber’s weakness--it puts a kink in your leader at the attachment point and no amount of pulling will get that kink out.
There are other trapped-air indicators that attempt to circumvent the leader kinking issue. All of them employ some sort of post-and-lock system that tries to keep loops out of the line.
Air-Lock strike indicators by Field Systems Research, SOS Strike Indicator by Cascade Crest and the Under-Cator strike indicator all use twist lock system to keep the leader in place.

You can find these
at most stores under a variety of names and manufacturers but they all work the same way. Pass your line through a hole in the indicator, slide it to the proper position on your leader then use the peg (a small colored dowel--use a round toothpick if you loose your dowel) to lock the line in place.

The wider side of the indicator always faces up! It can handle lots of split shot and heavy flies and besides suspending your nymph at the correct depth this indicator can be used to achieve proper dead drift. Watch the protruding dowel. When it points straight up (or close to it) your fly is drifting straight under the indicator. If it leans forward or backward you either have to mend line or adjust the depth of your rig because you’re dragging bottom.

The main drawback to this type of indicator is that it lands pretty hard and you might spook sensitive fish.
Just like the tear drop foam indicators these
football-shaped floaters are made by a variety of manufacturers and come in all sorts of colors and sizes. Along with the Thingamabobber, the football indicator is probably one of the most common strike indicators around and can be found at most well stocked fly shops across the USA. It will suspend most of the flies in your box along with a reasonable amount of split shot in moderate to slow flowing water.

To attach this indicator to your line, place the leader into the slot cut into the indicator then grasp and pull the surgical rubber tube at each end. Keeping tension on both ends of the rubber tube, roll the indicator over the leader until the line is opposite the open slot then release both ends of the tube. Tension will keep the indicator in place. Or that’s how it’s supposed to work.

If you false cast a lot--violently false cast a lot--this indicator WILL come off your leader. I have picked up a lot of foam football indicators floating downstream or have found them stacked up in a quiet backwater eddy. I bought a pack of football indicators back in 2006 and haven’t had to buy more because I keep finding six to eight of them every year.