Bay Fishing with Strike Indicators

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing' started by CraigSmith, Mar 25, 2019.

  1. CraigSmith

    SDFish VIP

    Feb 25, 2008
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    Since it came up in the Sutherland Thread: Another excerpt from an article I wrote last year:

    Strike Indicators for Bay Fishing

    By Craig Smith

    I admit it, I like fishing bobbers. For me, there is some sort of thrill that comes from seeing a bobber dip below the surface, pulled down by a fish fooled by my offering. It also takes me briefly back to my youth, fishing for panfish with worms or minnows suspended under bobber.

    Although a fly fishing strike indicator can be any sort of item or contrasting color that is on or part of your fly line and leader system, the most common indicators are variants of traditional bobbers (I like to refer to them as “bobicators”). The use of strike indicators is commonly associated with trout fishing in streams and lakes, but they can be used in other situations and for other species as well. Though rarely used in saltwater fishing, in fact I have seen no other writings on the use of floating indicators in saltwater fishing, there is an application for their use on our local bays.

    Aside from providing a visual indication that a fish has been fooled by your offering, an indicator can be used for other purposes when angling our bays. The principle use is to employ a floating indicator, essentially a bobber, to suspend a fly so that can go no deeper than the distance between the indicator and the fly. This can be a useful tactic when fishing in shallow water where a sinking line will have you on the bottom in no time unless you use a fast retrieve. Sometime even the fastest retrieve you can manage won’t keep your fly off the bottom. You set the indicator so that the fly, when suspended vertically below the indicator, is right off the bottom or the top of the eel grass. When the fly is directly below the indicator, you can reach depths in the 4 to 8 foot range that are otherwise very difficult to reach with a floating line. In shallower water you can keep your fly off the bottom. Unlike when fishing midge pupae or nymphs under an indicator in a lake for trout, when fishing in the bays you do want to retrieve the line after making your cast. By making a slow, stop and go retrieve, the fly will move up and down in the water column seductively as it gets closer to you. The longer and faster you make each pull on the retrieve, the higher in the water column the fly will move. The longer you pause, the deeper the fly will fall. Sometimes short quick twitching motions will draw a strike. When using this technique, it pays to vary the retrieve to see what works. Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the indicator and set the hook when it dives under.

    This is one method of subsurface fishing where the strip set is less effective. That is because the angle created by the fly hanging from the indicator means you do not have a straight-line connection to the fly. So, you need to pull the slack out to set the hook. I keep my rod tip pointed at the indicator. When it goes under I set by rapidly lifting the rod while simultaneously pulling with the line hand. This is effectively combining a trout type set with a strip set in the same motion. Do keep your hooks sharp. Our local saltwater fish have harder mouths than trout. Because the rod bends with setting the hook, it is more difficult to get a good hook set and dull hooks will work against you.

    The ideal indicators to use are large, buoyant indicators like Thingamabobbers, Under-cators, or large foam indicators that are easy to reposition on the leader. It is best to use an indicator large enough to suspend your fly, but its ok if the indicator is pulled under a bit by the weight of the fly.

    Flies tied on jig hooks tend to work a bit better since the fly tend to ride a bit more horizontal. Large balanced leach patterns are great. My personal preference is for flies tied on jig hooks or mini lead head jigs such as Wapsi Super Jig Heads in the 1/48 and 1/32 ounce sizes. The Wapsi Super Jig Heads have a molded lead head. The image shows a fly at top tied on a Wapsi Super Jig Head, and on the bottom a fly tied on a #4 Eagle Claw EC-413 60-degree jig hook (Tiemco U506 is a good substitute). Flies that have a lot of built in motion that give them the appearance of something living with little imparted motion seem to work better than flies that are a bit more rigid in their construction. My favorite all around fly for the bay is the Clouser Deep Minnow but it seems less effective using this technique than some of my own creations. The two flies shown in the image are examples of the type of pattern I like to use under an indicator. The bodies are constructed from home-made dubbing brushes that have a lot of thin rubber or silicone strips to create legs along with course dubbing material. Those legs quiver with the slightest movement and just look like something alive.


    A floating 7, 8, or 9 weight floating line will help cast these heavier flies and an indicator. I recommend going up one or two line sizes from your rod’s rating if using a rod lighter than a 7 weight. For example, I usually use a 7 or 8 weight floating line on a 6 weight rod for indicator fishing in the bay because I found the 6 weight line didn’t carry the fly and indicator rig well.

    A level leader up to 9 feet long made from 8 to 12 pound test monofilament work fine. Some indicators are difficult to keep in place on thinner leader material. If this is a problem for you, create a thicker 2 to 3 foot butt section from heavier mono and attach the rest of the thinner leader to that using your favorite connection. The indicator can then be attached to the butt section. Tapered leaders can be used too. They don’t sink as fast as level leaders and the heavy butt section can prevent the fly from hanging vertically below the indicator, but just about any indicator will hold well on the butt section.

    This technique is best used in water 8 feet deep or less over eel grass beds. I have had the best success used in water from 3 to 6.5 feet deep. There are extensive areas of both San Diego Bay and Mission Bay that fit these parameters, depending on the level of the tide. It works best when employed from a boat, kayak, or even float tube, but it can also be used from rock rip rap like jetties or beach areas adjacent to suitable depth areas. We have found this method primarily effective for spotted bay bass but have taken croaker, corvina, bonefish, smelt, and halibut while using it. I don't consider indicator fishing a primary method for fishing the bays but it is a good technique to play with in some situations. I If you fish shallow water in the bay frequently I encourage you to give the indicator method a try; you might find it fun.
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  2. captwoody

    SDFish VIP

    Mar 1, 2008
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    19ft Kencraft
    Thank you Professor Smith my ongoing education continues this re release answered a bunch of my questions. I have used a similar technique with 7ft ultralights 2lb line and those same bobbers suspending ghost shrimp for bonefish .This was my go to method for bonefish before I flyfished and has accounted for over fifty bonefish along with a gaggle of other species.
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