Fly fishing is a sport of endless experimentation and revision. Just like the watersheds we fish, techniques are always changing, banks shifting, tides climbing, and floods receding. So it is with the flies we tie, the casts we send over the water, and the approaches we take. It’s not the pursuit of perfection, but rather the pursuit of perfect process that draws us back, time and time again.

My process of finding the right strike indicator for my own cast and purposes has been no different. Off the top of my head I can count five or six types or styles of indicators I’ve tried in my quest to find one that, for me, landed in the sweet spot: it’s effective, and it’s at least mildly enjoyable to cast.

The first style of indicator I ever truly committed to was the New Zealand indicator. There are endless resources online to explain what this is and how it works, but it involves attaching a piece of wool or yarn to your leader with small, flexible tubing. I first encountered this style of indicator on a guided wading trip with Jesse Tolliver of Tolliver’s Guide Service out of Boone, North Carolina. Jesse is a fantastic guide and was more than happy to explain how the New Zealand system worked and why he liked it.

For our purposes that day on a small stream, the NZ indicator was perfect. We nymphed pocket water and deeper pools all day in crystal-clear water that receives lots of pressure. The NZ system falls to the water quietly, which is one of my main concerns when nymphing, especially in smaller streams and shallower water. 

When I officially adopted this system for my home water, I found that the NZ indicator struggled to keep larger nymph rigs afloat without constant floatant application, and even then, a heavier double nymph rig was just too much for the wool. In addition, the NZ system requires an extra tool, and I’ve got plenty hanging off of my pack already.

At that point, I decided to give airlock indicators a try. When someone tells you your indicator is just a bobber, this is probably the one they’re talking about (and they’re right). For really deep and/or fast-moving water, it’s hard to beat the buoyancy of these indicators. They float forever, require no floatant or other dressing, and are easy to see on the water. Guides have rigged me up with these on float trips, and I’ve caught plenty of fish with them.

I just can’t get over how clunky they feel when casting. I’m sure a large part of that clunkiness is a fault in my casting stroke, but I’ve been unable to make adjustments so that these rigs shoot smoothly over the water without feeling jerky and inaccurate. In shallower water, they also make more of a splash than I’d like.

After reading several very positive reviews on Oros indicators, a similar system to the airlocks, I gave them a try, but I ran into similar frustrations. Oros indicators are definitely an improvement over the airlocks, as the leader goes through the middle of the indicator (and, for me, they were easier to attach to the leader), but I got the same clunkiness and the same splash.

Enter the Dorsey yarn indicator. An innovation from the legendary Pat Dorsey himself, I’ve found this indicator combines the best of the worlds mentioned above and has been my go-to system for the last few years. There are great resources online to show how this works and how to attach it to your leader, but it consists of macrame yarn and orthodontic rubber bands (which, in addition to its advantages for fishing, also make this system incredibly cheap).

The polypropylene yarn used in this system floats almost as well as an airlock. It requires some floatant throughout the day, especially in faster water, but less than a dry fly would require. Because it’s light, it lands softly on the water and doesn’t interrupt my cast with the jerkiness of a heavier bobber. It’s also easy to adjust the depth with the Dorsey, as you can simply slide it up and down the leader without detaching it.

Furthermore, it’s simple to use different sizes of indicators with this system. Nymphing a small stream? Just use less yarn. On the other hand, a larger clump of yarn works great for faster and deeper water.

What I consider the greatest advantage of this system (and, for that matter, the New Zealand indicator), is the delicate feedback it provides. The largest brown trout I’ve ever caught took a tiny nymph under a Dorsey indicator, and the take was so subtle that I’m not sure it would have moved a bobber-style indicator. 

That was all the evidence I needed to stay committed to this system.

Have questions about indicators? Post a reply and we’ll try to help!

Love nymphing? Try on this latest design from Drift & Mend!

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