Strike Indicator: Tool or Crutch?

While in Arkansas recently on a trout fishing trip to the White River the guide insisted (or strongly recommended) that his fly fishermen use strike indicators.

We agreed, grudgingly.

The trout supporting section of the White, by the way, begins below Bull Shoals Dam. This means that the water level can range from a trickle to a torrent, depending on the volume of water being released through the dam. The river level can and does change by the hour. It’s also sometimes remains stable for days on end. We were fishing with three generators open (nearly ideal for a float trip but it absolutely prohibited wading).

In these conditions a strike indicator effectively serves as a bobber with the bait (flies, in our case) drifting underneath.

I had little experience fishing with strike indicators but was something of a snob about them and viewed using one as a crutch. I was wrong.

What the indicator (a thumb-size foam float that slipped over the leader) did was keep the fly in the strike zone while making a dead drift in the fast-moving current. This is not as easy as it sound and while it can be done without an indicator the strike zone time will be measured in seconds. An indicator helps catches fish, which is why most of us are on the water.

The Arkansas experience also gave me an idea for May and early June, when, in an area where I frequently fish, bluegill and shellcracker (sometimes referred to as redear, for the penny size reddish dot on the gill flap) spawn.

In my view shellcracker are the crown jewels of fly rod panfish. They spawn about the same time as bluegill and in the same general areas. But whereas bluegill beds are typically 1-2 feet deep; shellcracker beds are often 5-6 feet deep. When fishing for ‘crackers near bluegill, the ‘gills are sometimes so aggressive they’ll attack the fly before you can get to the shellcracker, often spooking the deeper fish. You’ll rarely hear me whining about aggressive fish. But a fly under an indicator, cast outside the spawn circle then worked through it, would let you get to the shellcracker bed first.  It’s something I’m going to try, although a small indicator (fingernail size) would be more suitable than the big water floats commonly used on tailwaters.

By the way . . . if you’re fortunate enough to fish where shellcracker swim and your state’s regulating agency hasn’t placed a daily creel on this fine fish; self impose a limit. Creel 20. Return the rest.