Indicator fishing - dialing in your depth...

Discussion in 'Stillwater' started by kylesw, Oct 22, 2012.

  1. kylesw

    kylesw Member

    To all you vertical presentation enthusiasts -

    I'm in a situation you probably once experienced. I'm very intrigued with stillwater indicator fishing, and know it can be very productive. I've read a fair amount and attempted on several occassions, but after 45 minutes of feeling like "I don't know what the hell I'm doing", I usually switch back to my intermediate line.

    I am using patterns that I am fairly confident in (picked up from local fly shops). My biggest problem comes down to is depth: how do you go about dialing in your depth? From what I understand, it can be critical.

    How do you find the right depth? By observing fish activity? Find the right temp at a given depth?

    Any help for helping me get over this learning curve is appreciated :)

    PS - Going out on Teal this after, hoping to give it another go
  2. zen leecher aka bill w

    zen leecher aka bill w born to work, forced to fish

    Ira and Troutpocket are indicator experts. I've fished next to both of them. The way I fish indicators is if I see fish activity I fish shallow (depth based on the style of rises/swirls I see). If I don't see fish activity but see chironomids hatching I put a weight on the fly to find bottom and then set the indicator so the fly is about a foot off the bottom.

    If I was fishing a west side lake this coming weekend I'd probably pick a full sinking line for my first choice and go with a leech-style pattern first. (unless I saw fish activity)
    Irafly likes this.
  3. troutpocket

    troutpocket Active Member

    The bottom is always a good starting place to hang your bugs . . .and where I'm fishing ~90% of the time (even when i see active fish on the surface). Measure your depth with hemostats or another weight attached to your fly and set your indi to suspend it or them 6-18" off the bottom. Slip indicators make this process real easy. Start somewhere you have confidence in . . .like off that weedbed where you just hooked three fish with your intermediate line. Once you get some confidence in the technique, you'll find that it works when nothing else does. And sometimes you're better off fishing the intermediate.

    In a 45 minute period . . . if you've found a concentration of feeding fish, set the depth right and picked tasty bugs, expect a take every 3-5 minutes.
    robl and Irafly like this.
  4. Nick Clayton

    Nick Clayton Active Member

    For me it's often a matter of trial and error, and watching the signs. As Bill said, if I see active fish near the top I will usually start shallow. If I see nothing going on, I'll usually start just off the bottom and work up from there.

    I was on a lake Saturday and was anchored up fishing various flies under an indicator as well as casting/stripping other flies. (Two rod endorsement). I started doing very well on one particular leach fished real slowly, near the bottom on my intermediate line. Was getting no love on the indi rod. Well three separate times I cast my intermediate line out, then put the rod down to let the fly sink while I recast my indicator rod.... 3 times I caught fish when the line had pretty much sank clear to the bottom and was just sitting there. I'm a bit of a slow learner, but after the third time I rigged up my indicator rod with the same leech pattern tied on a curved hook with a bead head, and hung that about 8" off the bottom. From then on it was game on both on that rod, and my intermediate rod. Bottom line was the fish wanted it right on the bottom and moving very, very slowly. Lesson learned here was that sometimes I have to pay attention to what the fish are telling me. The fact that they were eating my leach as it just sat there on my intermediate line gave me a pretty big clue as to how to approach them.

    Oh, and for sure fish with Irafly or Troutpocket. You will learn TONS.

    FWIW, I fish Teal regularly and personally have never had great success using vertical presentation. It's my favorite local lake, partially because it's pretty close to me, but when I'm itching to fish a bobber I usually go elsewhere.
    Irafly and troutpocket like this.
  5. troutpocket

    troutpocket Active Member

    I've watched Ira catch quite a few fish the same way. Cast out the intermediate line, set that rod down, fish with the indicator rod for a while . . .forget about the intermediate . . .remember it, strip, strip . . oh I got one!

    You 2-rod guys are much better at multitasking than I am.
    Irafly likes this.
  6. Golden Trout

    Golden Trout Active Member

    Is there no faith in Fish Finder echos? I look for the largest of echos and set my depth accordingly.
  7. kylesw

    kylesw Member

    Still working on my biological fish finder... my echo-location isn't perfected yet so until then I'm stuck with more primitive methods of finding fish! ;-)

    Thanks for the suggestions all. Spent about 30 minutes hanging a leech under an indicator. One of these days I'll go out and put some more effort into it!

    Zen - You were spot on, an intermediate with a leech/bugger pattern was highly product... at least for my buddy out there. I could not seem to replicate his success, even with the same pattern! Go figure
  8. Gary Knowels

    Gary Knowels Active Member


    I'm new to the indicator game too, having tried it for short amounts of time with no love. I quized Nick like crazy and hopefully gleaned some useful stuff. If you ever want to get together and have an indicator trial and error day let me know.
  9. troutpocket

    troutpocket Active Member

    A couple more comments on fishing indicators . . .there is no magic involved. It's just another tool in the toolbox. What you are taking advantage of with a vertical presentation is concentrated, feeding fish. It's just a more efficient way to keep your offering in front of the fish in that particular situation. I almost always start with a sinking line and cover water until I find that concentration of feeders. Over the course of a season, I probably catch equal amounts with vertical vs. cast/retrieve presentations.

    The second situation where vertical presentation can tip the odds in your favor is when you've been doing really well stripping bugs and then the bite just dies. You still have confidence in the spot, maybe you are still seeing active fish and hatching bugs, but they don't like what you are doing any more. Throw that indicator out . . .the vertical/static presentation may be just the adjustment you need to make to turn the bite back on.
  10. Stonefish

    Stonefish Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater

    A couple of other things I might add. I don't use a fish finder so I'm essentially fishing blind.
    I always like to start long and then shorten up if I'm not getting action near the bottom. I'll shorten up by a foot or so every few casts. Being near the bottom helps, but it isn't alway the recipe for success. I've had some banner days fishing 10-12' deep in 20 feet of water.

    Depending on the weight of your flies, you can also fish a leader longer then the water you are fishing without them being on the bottom. If your flies aren't really heavy, there can be a blow back effect. What I mean by this is your flies aren't hanging straight or vertical down off your indicator. They''ll be out at an angle rather then straight down. This can be especially true on windy days. So if you say fishing your leader at 19' in 20' of water, the blowback effect may have you really fishing your flies at 15'. I've had good success on certain days fishing a 25' leader in 20' of water.

    I hope this helps,
  11. SteveA

    SteveA Gnu to the board

    Good discussion. I'd like to add a couple questions.

    When vertical fishing in deep water, say over 12', do you just tie on another 5-20 feet of tippet? And if so, once you have a fish on do you just reel in the tippet as you bring the fish in? And if tying on another 20' of tippet what diameter do you use?
  12. Mark Mercer

    Mark Mercer Member

    I usually string up a rod just for indicator fishing if it's a lake I know I will be using it (which is most). I use about 25' of 4x and another 5' to 10' of 5x fluorocarbon depending on the depth of the lake and yes, you just reel it all in.
    I started using a small portable fish finder ($80) a couple of years ago and it makes things much easier, you just look for
    suspended fish that are off the bottom and set your depth at that point. Seems to work great.....if they're hitting chironimids, which is not all the time.
  13. troutpocket

    troutpocket Active Member

    Leader length is a personal comfort level choice. My dedicated indicator rod is a 9' 4wt GLX. I can comfortably work with about 18' of leader. Beyond that, I fish vertical with a type 5 sinker straight down from the boat.

    For my indicator setup, I like maxima UG leader material for the butt (18" of 12lb) and body (10-12 feet of 6 or 8lb). Then I break out the good flouro tippet to complete the leader and reach the depth I need. I like to fish two bugs and space them by about 3 feet. If you are using a slip indicator, it's no problem to reel in the first half of the leader to get the fish into netting territory.
  14. Irafly

    Irafly Active Member

    Each time I'm about to chime in, someone else has already answered the question quite well.

    Once I have found the fish and anchored up, I almost always start about 6" off the bottom first with my bottom fly and then my top fly is anywhere from 18" to 30" up from my bottom fly. Then I pay attention to which fly if either one lands fish. If my bottom fly hits fish, I stay at the depth, if the top fly hits fish I'll move my flies up. If I don't hit fish and I'm confident that the fish are there, I'll keep moving up my flies by about a foot every 5 to 10 minutes until I'm fishing 1 to 2 feet down. After that I'm moving. If I'm into fish on mids and the bite stops and I know the mids are starting to hatch, then I know for certain that the fish have moved up in the water column along with the bugs, and I will follow the fish all the way up to the surface. I have fished mids 2" under an indicator and still caught fish.

    As for longer leaders, I start with a 12 foot tapered leader and then add from there. I always use a slip indicator, because 15' is still shallow as far as I'm concerned. I can comfortably cast up to 22' of leader, indicator and two flies with my GLX 4wt and being a lover of the indicator, even deeper then that but with some trouble.
  15. Nick Clayton

    Nick Clayton Active Member

    Hooked a chum on the indi tonight. Nothing like that little pink ball slightly going under and finding 10 lbs of extremely irritated chum on the other end. Sweeeeet
    mtskibum16, Irafly and troutpocket like this.
  16. mtskibum16

    mtskibum16 Active Member

    That was a good time with the chum. I didn't realize you switched to the indicator.

    Good discussion guys! I'm a lake newb, and I love soaking this stuff up. Once the chum are done, I'll be looking for a seat in that pram Nick. :D
  17. Nick Clayton

    Nick Clayton Active Member

    I was using the indi before you got there. Hooked the one fish but lost it. Switched up after that and didn't use it the rest of the night.

    We will definitely get you out on some stillwatwers after we finish sore lipping as many chum as possible.
  18. SteveA

    SteveA Gnu to the board

    I'm already looking forward to spring lake fishing when I can next use these tactics (not saying you couldn't in the winter, but I won't). Only 5 months to go. Need to get some of those slip indicators.
  19. Nick Clayton

    Nick Clayton Active Member

    Winter lake fishing is one of my favorite activities. One of the many benefits of living in the pnw
  20. Irafly

    Irafly Active Member

    Some of my winter days were better then some of my spring days.
    Jeff Dodd likes this.