Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Fly Fishing With an Indicator Is Not Fly Fishing...A Rant Revisited

If our father had had his say, nobody who did not know how to catch a fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.
Norman Maclean
"A River Runs Through It"

Probably going to get some flack from some of you on this so I will don my bullet proof undies. Let's get right down to it friends!
Attaching a floating device to your fly line leader in order to see a fish strike your nymph is what I call "Bobber and jig" fishing. Now you must understand that I am somewhat a traditionalist and I feel this type of angling has shortened the learning curve to the point that anybody can go out and slam a bunch of trout or even steelhead.
Before you bring up the argument that if I am such a traditionalist why don't I use bamboo rods, silk fly lines and cat gut leaders I did preface the traditionalist statement with "somewhat" and wonder where in the hell would you get a cat gut leader anyway? Were they really made of cat gut? So I am not a fly fishing fascist in the truest sense of the word and I doubt the Fario Club would invite me to join them in Paris this year! I do however think our style of angling is pretty special and really hate to see it bastardized into what it seems to be morphing into these days.
To put an indicator on your fly leader destroys the cast! Isn't the cast integral in our sport? Isn't also the drag free drift? How can you possibly get any pleasure out fly fishing like that? Oh yes, I forgot! You can catch more fish using your bobber and jig set-up can't you? Well if that is what you seek then you really should just get a spinning rod! It's a hell of a lot easier.
To use an indicator on a two-handed spey rod is even worse! Why would you pack that unwieldy 13 foot rod around if you are going to ruin everything by putting a damn bobber on it? Am I missing something here? I've seen more and more spey rods with indicator on them this year than ever before.
Hey if you want to fish that way then fine! Fish that way but I would be willing to bet that Lee Wulff would never fish with a bobber neither would Roderick Haig-Brown! Yes I know Haig-Brown was an innovator and actually killed trout but do you reality think he would go the "Thingamabobber" route? I kind of doubt it.
I have a good friend who manufactures his own steelhead jigs and I'm sure he can set you up on whatever you need.
Yes this is a rant but when I see a fly angler on the Deschutes go straight to his bobber and jig setup I just shrug.
In the final analysis I have to say to each his own and I am sure there are many conscientious fly anglers who feel the need to attach a bobber to their line. They are no doubt ethical anglers, who care about wild trout and steelhead, that use bobbers on their fly rod and I appreciate their efforts.
Arrogantly and Pompously Yours,
Shane the elitist wannabe and douchebag exposer


  1. Anonymous12:42 AM

    I am also curious... why do you say "no" to Glo-Bugs?

  2. I think the steelhead tend to take them deeper when suspended beneath a bobber/indicator.
    I am curious about why you would hoist a wild and endangered chum salmon out of the water and into your boat for a photo?
    They are not attractive fish at the spawning stage of the one you have pictured and while they do fight extremely well their numbers are depressed to an alarming rate. Why not just leave them alone?
    I am also curious as to why you want to bring even more attention to the already over crowded coastal rivers? Don't you thing Jennie of Ifish does that enough?

  3. I always throw in my two cents on these posts . . . . I'm not sure why.

    1. I believe in fixing my truck's transmission with only a hammer. Sure it takes longer but at least I can say I did it using only a hammer. Sure there is more to fishing than catching fish but that's a big part of it IMO. Otherwise I could have as much fun waving a stick on the river w/out a fly on the end of my leader. Probably not very fun. I've never tried it though.

    2. You are flat out wrong about what Haig-Brown would do because if you read his writings you note him throwing spoons at times. OMG! Also, he states at one point that while he finds fly-fishing the most pleasurable type of fishing there will be a time in his old age that he is only good for trolling. So indeed, Haig-Brown was not exactly a purist and sometimes did what it took to catch fish. Sad but true. As for Lee Wulff? Who cares what he would do. Always so worried about Ifish, I wonder how many people Wulff brought onto the river. Pimping the resource as it were. I guess that is ok though b/c he is a venerated fly angler.

    3. A properly rigged bobber does not destroy the cast. It is almost as effortless to cast. The thingamabobber is easy to cast . . . I never fished under indicators until a couple years ago because I found them so unwieldy. Now I do it quite a bit. What's really the difference between that and a deeply swung/drifted nymph or wet?

    What about fishing a foam bodied stone and a nymph beneath that, heresy as well?

    3. I agree that fishing heavy flies under an indicator for steelhead is like fishing a bober/jig only less efficient. However, some people I know enjoy fighting a fish on a fly rod more than with gear as the connection is different with generally a one to one gear ratio rather than what you see with a gear rod. So while they are similar, they are not the same. Why tell others what they should enjoy . . 'Go fish a damn gear rod. . . because I said so. lol.'

    4. I love fishing dries for trout, and nymphs for trout, under bobbers or without. I love to fish spinners for steelhead and salmon . . . kinda like a wet fly swing. Man is that fun. You know what else is fun? Fishing. Fishing without inhibition, like no one is watching or something like that. As long as you aren't killing a bunch of fish needlessly, why worry so much about what is or isn't flyfishing?

    You know how ex-smokers are always the ones to talk most about how nasty smoking is . . . . yeah.

  4. I have to call BS on the Haig-Brown statement.
    Sure he used spoons and spinners and he even killed a few fish BUT he kept his fly fishing separate and IMHO would not have embraced the bastardization of the sport.
    I dabble briefly with indicators and even caught a fish or two but it was not much fun. Like I said rig up the spinning rod if you need to use an indicator because it is a hell of a lot more efficient

  5. If a fly is cast and the weight of the flyline in combination with the rod is what provides the energy to cast, it is fly fishing, imo, bobber or not.

    Regarding Haig-Brown, you can't exactly cast a salmon/ steelhead sized spinner on a fly rod even if you wanted to so by necessity they are kept separate.

    Who knows what he would have done? Haig-Brown seems more of a pragmatist than purist and I'd take that bet as at heart he was an innovator but alas he is long since dead. If he would fish spinners and spoons don't think it is a huge logical stretch to think he would have also fished under an indicator sometimes if given the opportunity. Perhaps not a preferred method but his writings suggest a willingness to experiment.

    Now, regarding trout flies and efficiency, it is no less or only marginally so to use a thingamabobber/ fly combo than a spinning reel to cast. Besides, catching a fish on a spinnning reel and a fly reel/ rod are not the same.

    I don't need a bobber. I only started using them last year when I found they did not adversely affect my enjoyment of the sport.

    BTW, I saw your article in the NFS newsletter. It was pretty good.

  6. Thanks for the compliment on my article.
    I have just one question. You say you don't need a bobber and I surmise you have caught your fair share of fish during your angling life, correct?
    If all that is true then why use a bobber?
    Certainly catching fish is one of the main purposes of angling but if you have gotten to the point to where you are a successful angler then do you really need a gimmick to be even more successful?

  7. Not to be cocky but I have caught my share of trout and probably those of several other people as well . . . living near some good trout fisheries affords me that opportunity as much as any talent I may have.

    Now, when fishing nymphs w/out an indicator there is someting almost imperceptible, something that you feel in your index finger, something that makes you set the hook when you don't even know exactly why and without even thinking. In my view that is when you have really arrived as a nymph fisherman and I noticed myself doing that many years ago. This is a little more difficult with an upstream drift but still possible. I don't need to not use a bobber to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I know what I can do. Like I said, I didn't ever use them until a bit back after I had been fly fishing many years.

    Here are some other things to keep in mind. Money is TIGHT! TIGHT, TIGHT. I get to fish once a week having a full time job, limited resources and not being a retiree. If I am really lucky I fish twice. I am always the oarsman when I float with my friends. So I spend fifty bucks a trip of my very tight funds to watch someone else fish and pull on the oars (which is fun). I get first shot on a typical Willamette trip at two holes. Two. All day. All week. Two chances. I'm going to make the most of those.

    One of my favorite holes produces MUCH better without an indicator. I have observed this time and time again. There I fish without an indicator.

    The other hole produces much better fished under an indicator. There, I fish an indicator or a hopper/dropper type rig.

    I don't think that it is a gimmick if there is a demonstrable difference in the success rate using one technique over another.

    You may think it shortcuts the learning curve and it may to an extent. But it isn't just the tool, it is how it is used and what is learned. I have LEARNED the rivers I fish most well enough to know where to use an indicator and where not to.

    It isn't as if using indicators always helps, in fact there are times it is a hindrance particularly in really deep holes and deep swirling holes. But sometimes also in sweeping holes.

    I don't know if I've directly answered your question but yes, I like being successful. Especially when I get to fish once a week. On those days I want success.

    I think they are a tool that helps make you a more complete angler because over time you learn where to use them and where not to use them.

    If you are using a fly and that fly is cast using the weight of the line and the loading of the rod, that is flyfishing to me, plain and simple.


  8. Well I fish dries and soft hackles. Nymphing never interested me much so while I might pass up hooking a bunch of fish I don't mind. My bobber/jig were done when I put away my spinning rod for good.
    I have no problem with people fishing the way they are happy with except for using bait on native steelhead that is. I still won't agree that fishing with an indicator/bobber attached to your fly line is fly fishing.
    It's a shortcut for the beginner I guess and that is why I don't get an experienced fly fisherman needs to increase his hook ups with a beginners tool.

  9. I think I adequately articulated why AT CERTAIN times I would choose to use an indicator and not in other situations.

    I also explained why I would consider it fly fishing. Besides emotional appeals, I haven't heard you state why it isn't fly fishing except to call it a bastardization of the sport. I'm interested in REASONS why it isn't fly fishing. I have stated why I think it is, namely the mechanics of the cast are the same.

    Convince me. But I think it is likely that we will have to agree to disagree. Cheers.

  10. Simple! It effects the cast and you cannot convince me it does not.
    Can you efficiently roll cast with? I doubt it! So basically you are just kind of heaving it out there. I've seen it and in my brief flirtation with this bobber/jig style of fishing I experienced it.
    Let's look at the aesthetics of fly fishing and how bobbers pretty much destroy that.
    I would go so far as saying the use of indicators should not be allowed in fly fishing only areas but that probably will not happen. Not many seem to want to learn the intricacies of the sport but would rather go straight for the blood...too bad