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Indicator Nymphing – Pros And Cons

Indicator nymphing has been around for a long time. With this method, you are fishing subsurface flies (nymphs) with an indicator (bobber) that is suspending them. There are many types of indicators, in different sizes and materials. When the indicator moves, you set the hook. This movement indicates that you either have a fish, or you have hit the bottom.

Hook sets are free, so we always set the hook no matter what. Hopefully, there’s a fish on! Other times, we have snagged a rock or other debris.

Indicator nymphing has many benefits, but it isn’t always the best choice.

Sometimes, Euro nymphing a tightline system can be much more effective. With Euro nymphing, no indicator is used. You are fishing weighted flies right under your rod tip. You can feel fish bite, and you can feel the bottom. Euro nymphing goes off of “feel”, while indicator nymphing is “visual”.

This article will cover the pros and cons of indicator nymphing. It is a system that I use a lot, and it’s very effective. If you are a trout junkie or steelhead lover, indicator nymphing can account for most of the fish you catch.

Pro – Indicators Allow For Long Range Nymphing

Since the floating indicator suspends your nymphs, you can cast farther and nymph at long distances. As long as you have proper mending techniques, you can achieve good drifts at long distances.

With Euro nymphing, it is much harder to nymph farther away. Since you are using a tightline system, casting far can result in lots of drag. This is why indicator nymphing is the best choice for long range drifts.

This comes in very handy on larger rivers where you need to cast farther. The fish might not be right in front of you – they may be 30 or 40 feet away. Using an indicator rig is very effective for these situations.

Pro – Easy To Detect Takes With Indicators

Indicator nymphing is very visual. As you are watching your indicator, you are looking for any twitch or movement that could indicate a strike. Sometimes, this will be a large and obvious movement. Other times it will be quite subtle.

The strongest takes often come in the summer, when the trout are more active. If you are nymphing in the winter, fish may bite softly. In this case, your indicator may only move a little bit. So even if your indicator barely twitches, set that hook! It could be a trout.

Since indicator nymphing is so visual, it makes it much easier for beginners. With Euro nymphing, you have to “feel” the fish bite, which can take more practice and finesse.

Pro – Indicators Are Very Adjustable

Most indicators are adjustable, meaning that you can move them up and down your leader. Depending on the waters speed and depth, we set our indicator at the proper distance from our flies. My favorite way is to set the indicator at 1.5x the waters depth. For a 4 foot deep hole, I will setup my rig 6 feet deep.

Since rivers have current, I often set my rig deeper than the actual water depth. The nymph rig will ride diagonally in the water column, so you need more depth. In a lake, the nymph rig would be vertical – but a rivers current doesn’t allow that.

Con – Less Sensitive

Since you are suspending your nymphs, there will always be some slack in the system. This slack can result in missed takes. If a fish bites your nymph very softly, you may not detect it at all. This does happen a fair amount, and we don’t even know about it.

For this reason, Euro nymphing is a better option for detecting more takes. Since you are fishing a tight line system, you will always feel the fish when they bite. This means that your hookup ratio will be much better! This is why competition nymphers use tightline systems – they hardly miss any bites.

Con – Bad For Spooky Fish

On low and clear rivers, indicators can be a bad choice. They land with a “splat” and fish will see them. This can often spook trout and make them stop biting.

For bigger rivers and dirtier water, this isn’t a big deal. These fish will often not even notice your indicator. However, for tailwater fishing, it can really spook fish. Yarn indicators are best for these situations, because they land softly and fish don’t mind them as much.

Often times, fly anglers will size down their indicators for spooky fish. Small yarn works, as well as small thingamabobbers. Fishing a white or clear indicator is much better than a bright colored one. Always take into account how spooky the fish are, and rig accordingly.

Con – Indicators Can Drag Easier

River currents are tricky. The top of the water column is always moving faster than the bottom current. For this reason, your indicator is often moving faster than necessary. This can cause “drag”, especially in faster runs.

To combat this, some fly anglers have switched to tightline nymphing or “Euro” nymphing. With these systems, your leader cuts directly through the water column. This allows your flies to move slower and with the actual current. So, for the best possible drifts, Euro nymphing is often the best option.

With this being said, indicator nymphing usually isn’t a problem. You are still getting a good drift, it just isn’t as perfect as a tightline system.

To slow your drift down, you can add some split shot or fish weighted flies. This gets your flies lower in the water column and slows down your drift.


Fishing an indicator is usually my go-to method, however, I like to ditch the indicator in certain situations. Spooky trout, conflicting currents, shallow water – these are all reasons to consider dropping your indicator.

Indicators really are a great tool to have, but it isn’t the only way to nymph! You may find that Euro nymphing works better for you.