Poor results in fly fishing are one of those things that has always promoted lateral thinking. It has spurned better rods so longer casts can be made; a plethora of flies running to thousands of different patterns that will surely fool a trout, hundreds of different types of tippet material - including the supposedly invisible fluorocarbon. None of these are a panacea - and all fly fishers know the answer is not always available. Sometimes the fish just aren't eating. Many a lake fisher will tell of those dreaded days when stillness, sun and temperature combine to create horror conditions for fishing. As bad as a day as this might be for anglers - my wife would - for her pursuits as a sun worshipper call it perfect.
The question, for anglers, is one that has them perplexed. Polaroiding is not even on the cards as waves are necessary to open up a window through which to see the fish. So what is it going to be - sightseeing?
No - let's look at a technique that, although it has been used in various forms by river fly fishers for many years - in particular in fast streams in New Zealand, it has not seen a lot of use in still waters. That is not to say it hasn't been used, it has, but now it is becoming more refined. Strike indicators are a super way of catching fish, not just on bright still days, but also when the action is slow and fish are deep. This is written from a boat fishing perspective, but it is not exclusively a boat technique. Use it from the bank as well, especially if you are fishing a dropoff or deeper area.
What gear do you need?
There is no need for sinking lines, nor fancy leaders, or in fact fancy strike indicators. Your standard dry fly set up will do, which is terrific - and especially for a lazy angler like me who is loath, and reluctant to change too much. I certainly have a bag full of intermediate, sink tip and a variety of different sink rate lines. I also have the ten foot rods and loch style leaders and everything that a master angler needs. Trouble is, I am rarely a master of any of my gear and often it masters me instead. But of course I feel much more the "Complete Angler" just by owning all that stuff.
All you need is your normal dry fly gear and a straight 6-8lb leader with the length dependent on the water depth - as you will see later. You also need a packet of "Glo Bug Yarn" which is available from most tackle stores. It is a fly tying product that floats like a cork when treated with a good floatant.
Leader set up
The length of the leader should be around about the same as the water depth and set up as shown in the diagram. Some anglers use a two fly set up, whilst others use a single fly on the tippet. The single fly is much easier to cast, but certainly doesn't give you the chances of attracting as many fish as the two fly rig. Better anglers like Peter Hayes tell me that it is very important for the leader to be as thin as you can possibly get away with and it must be made from the heavier flurocarbon material. This ensures the flies sink to depth quickly. Guides like Peter use a loop knot onto the fly. They believe the rise and fall of the indicator with each wave imparts a kick to the fly that is the undoing of many of the larger, cagey fish.
Weighted nymphs and stick caddis are the preferred flies, the heavier the better. Tungsten bead head flies sink fast and get to the strike zone quicker than anything else. The Glo Bug yarn will support to tungsten flies, but you might try a lighter nymph or a stick caddis on the dropper. Good flies will be simple but functional patterns. Size 12 is about right and keep the dressings sparse and the profiles slim. This aids the sinking process. If your normal nymphs are not heavy enough it is a simple matter to add a pinch of Airflo's "Di Do" tungsten putty to the head. This inexpensive material turns any wet fly into a bomb instantly. You can buy it from most good fly shops.
One of the keys to success is to know the depth of the water you are fishing - either from the shore or when drifting in a boat. A drogue is important if there is much breeze. A Peter Hayes Super drogue is about the best there is for this. The drogue is important to slow the boat's drift so the flies can get down to the correct depth and remain there as long as possible.
Take a good clump of "Glo Bug Yarn" - say 75-100mm long and double it over a couple of times. The amount used depends on the weight of the flies it is to support. It is also a good idea to use a strand of Chartreuse with a strand of Orange. This way one or other of the colours stands out in the various light conditions.
Treat it with Gink - or much better still one of the silicone sprays you'll find in an outdoor or hardware store. You'll quickly use all your Gink in one go otherwise and the silicone is much more economical. After treating it and doubling it over a couple of times form a loop in the leader as shown and tighten it up on the yarn. You'll need to tie the loop as shown - around the correct way otherwise casting will undo the loop and you'll lose the yarn. Tied the correct way it will stay tight.
The yarn indicator needs to be tied into the leader at around 800mm shorter than the depth. This will allow the bottom fly to suspend above the weed and as fish can see up and not down they should see your nymph as the swim along the bottom.
Use another nymph 1.5 metres further up and you'll have a very good coverage of the water column.
A fishfinder is very useful in these circumstances to keep an eye on depth, but not essential. A bit of string with a weight on it works nearly as well and I have seen the occasional rod poked over the side to check the depth. (Please don't use the latter method though). Keep your casting action nice and slow or you'll get a big tangle. A long cast is not essential and you'll do best if you cast at 45 degrees to the front or back of the boat. This way you'll get a lot longer drift with your flies as they can be fished from say 15 metres in front of the boat to alongside and then 15 metres past (behind) the boat. The depth of water that can be fished is only limited to your ability to cast a long unwieldy leader, but something between 2 and 5 metres is reasonable. Casting is always much easier if the indicator is located near to the fly line.
Now the critical part of this technique, and this is the bit I'm not so good at - concentration.
Concentration is critical to success
If you are dry fly fishing you'll see the fish take your fly. If you are wet fly fishing you'll feel the fish take your fly. Fishing with an indicator you'll neither see or feel the fish take your fly. By the time you see the indicator move the fish will have well and truly taken the fly and moved off. So it is vital to strike as soon as you see the indicator do anything out of the ordinary. You'll be lucky and hook some of the fish, but goodness knows how many you'll miss if you are two slow. Watch it like a hawk, keep you line free of slack and you'll improve your hook up rate considerably.