Indicator fishing for Steelhead, Pro's and Con's


Active Member
Well, let me start by saying I'm a purist and an elistist, I say that with a wink and a smile. I don't fish for warm water species, which my homie Sparse loves! Salmon, trout, steelhead only. I C&R everything. I don't fish with 2 flies, well, except for a dry and a dropper on the yak. Then and only then. I have NEVER indicator fished for steelhead. But, I'm toying with the idea of it. Swinging flies all winter was not productive for me, but if I thought steelheading was a numbers game, I'd huck bait. that will never happen. Indicator fishing reminds me of the 'ol jig and bobber thing, am I missing something here? :dunno I think I'm going to buck tradition and give it a whirl. Do I need help? ok guys, give it to me strait, I can take it. YT:smokin

Pithy comments needed.

Old Man

Just an Old Man
I forgot what I was supposed to remember.

Well if you ever get up to Fortson Hole you will see the bobber and jig thing. I've seen them use those 1/16 oz jigs with a cheater for a bobber(a cheater is a type of lure used in gear fishing) and some of them are big and they will tell you that they are flyfishing. Yeah sure. They ought to look up in the Regs the Definition of fly fishing. But why would any one want to do that. Most people just act dumb when faced with a game warden.

Using two flies is like that type of fishing, a dry and a dropper. I'll shut up as I don't know what I'm talking about. I do but don't have the time to explain it.



Active Member
let me clarify, I will never do that. I was thinking about a real strike indicator and a real fly. BTW, never been to Fortson(is it worse that Reiter?), sounds like I'm not missing anything. YT:smokin

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Well, it really depends on who you are and how you're fishing. If you're trying to help your game, I can understand using a SI (strike indicator). But depends on the crowd you're with dictates the response you get. Using the small jighead has really caught on thanks to a few articles in some magazines. IMHO, it is jig fishing when it comes to that. But to each their own. Now, a SI with an actual fly drifting below, that's a bit different. Usually the fly will drift a bit. A jig head will pull taut (sp?) quickly. But it's a great tool to get your "groove" on. I know I used a few to help me out a long time ago. I still show people how to make some REALLY easy/cheap SI's that work really well for UNWEIGHTED flies. If you weight them you'll have to use a much bigger SI (which can be done). I make my own lures for fly and gear fishing, and make what they call a "rag". Pretty much same material for dink floats (backer rod). I make a fairly easy SI with them, and cut a small keel in them to help follow current and not float so high. They're actually great for summerruns if you're running small nymph style flies for steelies.

LOL, don't worry. Far from new. Chuck and Duck is very popular back east. Have friends and family in the midwest, and alot seem to use this method. Just be careful, casting these setups is a BEAR!!!!!! Heck, I used to use an oversized okie for a SI back when I was younger. But too troublesome to cast. I'm not the greatest caster anyways,just know how to get fly to fish and mend the line when it gets there. Putting a corkie/okie on it was a living nightmare. Luckily I was using glass rods, much tougher if hit on the cast then a graphite would've. LOL


Active Member

There's a difference between chuck & duck with lead and big float, and indicator fly fishing. Read up on the N Umpqua situation (banned indicators, weighted flies and sinking lines)- mostly a behavior issue not a technique issue- or a combo of both I guess. I'm not sure the indicator offers much advantage generally, but I've used them in the fall to avoid snagging fish. I fish small indicators with a short leader, small split shot and unweighted egg fly, on the dead drift to get the fly down, for dollies and trout hanging behind the salmon. It works. But not my fave technique to cast for sure. The idea is to hang the fly straight down to avoid snagging salmon or fishing certian bucket water etc. If you don't need to hang the fly 90 degrees, I don't see the use. Floating line with short leader- you don't need a bobber.

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Well, I brought up C&D since most of the guys I've seen actually fishing with a SI here were actually using that method. Most where using either true dink floats or small balsa floats with heavily weighted flies. I've mostly used the SI's on weighted flies in snaggy spots myself. Have never used them in traditional wetfly swings. Heck, I still use the swing in snaggy spots too. But, used it when I got frustrated like whitey did. But, I got frustrated about 20 years ago. LOL.

Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
I don't think you are missing anything at all. Strike indicators and weighted flies IS the "ol jig and bobber thing".
You have your jig, you have your bobber. What's missing? Nothing. The type of weight and the type of bobber doesnt change anything nor does the type of rod, line or reel. Nor does it matter who else does it, what their conditions or location is.
Having accepted that, it's up to you to set your own limits to feel "right" about what you are doing and wether it falls within your own acceptable limits.


Active Member
You say you've been swinging flies during the winter with no success. So have I. But I swing flies during the summer with very good success. Winter fish, particularly this past winter with hardly any fish in the rivers, are difficult under the best of times. Swing your flies over summer fish before you give it up for the "dark side." Concentrate on your presentation, water-reading skills, and most importantly, spend time learning one river, a few favorite runs and think about what your flyline and leader are doing to your fly.



Active Member
Leland, twas a hard winter for sure. at least for me. 23 days on the river. Sad, not for me, the fish. I just enjoy my "river meditation" time. My dad tells me about the old days when winter fish were plentiful and the summer fish were in short supply. Not so long ago..........

Anyway, let me clarify(again), throwing dink floats is not flyfishing. I'm thinking more like small nymphs,etc under a small strike indicator, like one whould do on the yak for example. I will always swing flies, but I just want more options. Hell, forget it, I can never be on the "dark side". too damn elistist, I don't even take photos of steelhead. What was I thinking?!! Bad YT :bawling


Active Member
Oh good, I'm glad you caught yourself. For a brief moment, there was a small disturbance in the force. Speaking of the Yak, I swing flies there also – soft hackles like Partridge and Green, Partridge and Orange, Partridge and Yellow, and Black and Black are very effective and, for me, continue the same discipline as steelhead grease-lining.

Try it sometime,


Active Member
leland, off topic, but the beach popper, where can I get your little magic fly? heard good things..... you sell those bad boys? whatever the cost, I must try them. YT:smokin


Active Member
The recipe is posted in the archives of and I will also be selling them soon at Patrick's Fly Shop in Seattle.


PS, they are working awesomely on dollies in the salt also.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
I hate...HATE! indicators...but some people do find them helpful. Mostly they can sometimes distract fish, especially when you are mending, or more often "over mending", which I see a lot and also drives me nuts.

("Over Mending" as in: "Jeez...what the heck are yah
doin'...hauling in a team of oxen?!")

Many fly techniques approximate successful presentation techniques used in other forms of fishing, that is just true. And some fly fishing techniques work very well for presenting gear like spoons and spinners. Some of the best nymph fishermen I ever saw were bait fisherman first-they really understand how fish feed and the importance of presenting the fly at the proper level of depth, speed, etc.

I would say it is up to you to find what works for you and go ahead and enjoy that. Back on the Great Lakes people fish with a "Slinkey" for weight, an Hot Pink Amnesia leader butt and short clear mono tippett off of a very short shooting head backed by a mono running line. They do this on mostly gravel or cobble bottoms and very often in shallow fast water. For them that's fly fishing. Out here I think it could get someone shot.

I bet I miss a few fish by not using an indicator. But I like the feel of being sensory about it, really concentrating on the drift of my fly, a zen like thing. Yes you could hang a big fly down there and float it over a hole, just like the "drift rigs". And that would be up to you and how you liked doing that too. It seems like it begins to get into the ethics thing at some point and I find much of that rather boring.

If you are about catch and release fly fishing, and releasing these fish without avoidable injury, you will opt for subtler methods; smaller hooks, lighter hook sets, and you won't mind missing a few if it means not snagging them because you yanked every time the stupid little tuft of yarn twiggles on the surface.

But that's up to you.
A small story of questionable use but it's about this thread.

Fishing on the Hoh last season, I'd had a bum day (when do I not?)and I was drinking a little whiskey with a guide who gave me some advice and couple of flies in exchange for the booze. Through bleery eyes, partly from the bourbon but partly from too much sun as well), he told of how he loved to swing flies but that you just couldn't do that on the Hoh and expect to catch the numerous 25 lbs. fish he had been taking all week.
The next day, I went over to the "dark side," making sure no one was looking and I put on his rig. It was a big, nasty, articulated number with a tungston head and more plastic than one sees on the main strip in Las Vegas so I named it the LV nymph
I chucked and then ducked like hell as the whole thing came wizzing past my head. I was beginning to wonder whose side I was on but whichever I was soon going to lose. I decided to go sit on a log and think some things through.
I thought about stripping off the shooting head I was using and fishing with just the backing. That way, I could strip a bunch of mono at my feet and sling his "fly" completely across the river. Then a little voice said (let me make it clear that I hate this little voice), "Bob, why don't you just go home, dust off your old 9 ft. casting stick with your fancy Abu Garcia reel, and come back here and do a proper thing of this. If anyone should talk to you, you can just say that your name is Jasper and that you are from Oregon or even California.
So I quit thinking about these damn "nymphs" and "stike indicators" and "increased personal injury insurance" and so forth. If I'm going to use gear, why did I beome a fly fisherman?

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
LOL again Bob

I think we REALLY need to hook up and go fishing when I get healed up. Those are my sentiments exactly. I try to keep my flyfishing to a standard floating/sinktip fly line and flies, and my gear fishing to gear. I try not to mix them up. If I want to run jigs, I have a rod designed for that. I want to pull plugs, have a rod for that too. Spey fishing, you get the idea. I understand some of those who only have the $$ or desire to only have a couple rods. They must do the best they can with what they have. But some go to great links to make a catch on a fly rod.

Oh yeah, great fly on the Hoh. Heavy sink tip flyline with about a 3' leader and a big pink bunny leech. I try to leave leech unweighted to it drifts up in column a bit. Has been a great success for me. If you don't have a heavy sinktip (those big brutes are always in the holes I normally fish kings in, nice deep holes) I slightly weight it with lead unwraps. That way it doesn't drop like a stone that some flies do with cone heads. I assume you're fishing the upper river above Oxbow? Great fly water. Haven't had a chance to fish it since last July. So not sure how river has changed. Heard alot of it changed dramatically. Will find out once I get the "OK" from docs to take the boat out.