Fly Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator: A Beginner’s Guide

If you've thought you'd love to try fly fishing, what are you waiting for? Fly fishing is one of the most challenging and fun ways to fish and is genuinely a sport in every sense. There are few things more rewarding than getting out on the water and catching a monster trout.

Are you interested in trying fly fishing with a bobber or indicator? If you're a beginner looking to get started, check out our comprehensive Q&A guide below to find out more.

Fly Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator

What is a Bobber or Indicator for Fly Fishing?

A bobber or indicator is an angling device tied on fly lines to act as a signal to tell you when a fish has taken your fly. 

Generally speaking, a bobber and an indicator are essentially the same, though you may hear others argue the point. A bobber is usually your basic red-and-white-striped gadget that most beginners use when they start bait fishing. 

An indicator or "strike indicator" is essentially the same thing.  But fly fishermen call them "indicators," not bobbers. They can come in different colors, styles, materials, and shapes depending on what you're hoping to get out of. Most seasoned fishers use a strike indicator as they are more technical and include a variety of options, allowing them to choose a favorite. 

Man Catching Trout using a Bobber and Nymphs

What are the Pros and Cons of Fly Fishing With/Without a Bobber or Indicator?

Your results may vary, but many fly fishers prefer to fish with a bobber or indicator.

When in severe weather conditions, overfished areas, or if the trout just aren't biting, using a bobber and indicator gives you that slight advantage. Sometimes it can mean the difference between catching nothing and catching something.

However, there are plenty of fly fishing purists out there who believe that relying too much on an indicator means that you aren't learning techniques and are relying too much on devices to do the hard work for you. Whether you want to use an indicitator or not is totally up to you, but for our money, we think they're an excellent tool for when starting as it gives you a good sight advantage. 

There's no harm in giving one a try when you're first starting if you choose to go without them later, no harm, no foul. 

Small Brown Trout

Is there a Certain Season that is Best for Fly Fishing with Indicators?

One of the best things about fly fishing is that you can virtually do it any time of year. However, you should be mindful of your surroundings and the areas you choose to fish in and what equipment you should use in said surroundings.  

Many fly fishers do prefer to fish in the summer and autumn months, but it's all about what you prefer. 

Man Fishing in large lake

How Many Types of Bobbers and Indicators are There?

There are many types of indicators on the market, including strike indicators made from a variety of options, including yarn, foam, putty, cork, and more.

Indicators are used to keep track of where your line is underwater. There are many different styles that offer many different functionalities to help you with that successful catch. Here are some varieties of bobbers and indicators that are commonly used today.

Clear Bobber

Thingamabobber

This is extremely popular and easy to use. They come in four different sizes and multiple colors, ready to suit any situation you come across. The size of the thingamabobber depends on what you are trying to catch and the water you are in. For trout streams, typically ½ inch is best. You can graduate up to one inch or one and a half-inch bobbers for higher water and bigger fish.

They have great buoyancy and are super easy to see in the water. Bobbers are suitable for fishing from a drift boat and for faster, broken water, and heavy nymphs. They come in so many different colors besides the standard red or red and white that is commonly associated with these bobbers.

At the same time, bobbers are hard to adjust its placement on the leader, they can slide on thinner sections of tippet, sometimes they kink the leader, in windy weather, they are hard to turn over, they hit the water hard potentially scaring your catch, and they are difficult to lift off the water.

Airlock Strike Indicator

Air-Locks

These take the Thingamabobber to the next level. Air-locks are essentially a plastic nut that attaches itself to the leader, allowing for a quick and easy adjustment of its placement on the leader. If you need to go into more shallow or deeper waters, loosen the nut and slide the air-lock up or down. If you need a 90-degree bend in the leader, you can also thread the leader through the nut. Air-locks are suitable for faster, broken water and bigger fish. If you are fishing from a drift boat, using an air-lock is also ideal for that.

Air-locks have excellent buoyancy, and they are effortless to see. They hold onto the leader regardless of tippet diameter, are easy to adjust their placement, will not tangle the leader, and come in multiple colors and sizes. The bad thing about air-locks is that they are easy to lose the nut or washer that locks it down. They are hard to turn over in windy conditions, hit the water hard, and are difficult to lift off the water.

Palsa Pinch-Ons

These are extremely popular, primarily due to their ability to land softly. They are great for low and slow water as well as nymphing with smaller, lighter flies. Pinch-ons will not kink the leader, are easy to cast, and come in multiple colors and sizes. As an added feature, you can use two of them in tandem, creating a ling in your indicator. This will help you determine the angle and position of your flies.

The bad thing about pinch-ons is they are not environmentally conscious products as they are essentially one-use. It leaves a sticky residue on the leader and can be hard to see in faster-broken water. Its size makes it easy for it to ride lower than the water.

Football Strike Indicator

The Football

Just made of small pieces of slotted colored Styrofoam, these attach to your leader by a rubber band or toothpick. You do not have to go to sporting goods or specialty store to get these. You can pick them up from anywhere. It is very easy to adjust its placement on the leader, and they come in multiple colors and sizes. These are great for fishing from a drift boat in faster, more broken water and more massive fish.

The Football indicator is not all good. They can hit the water too hard, are difficult to pick up off the water, and eventually, the rubber band or toothpick will break or misplaced.

Yarn Indicator

Yarn Indicators

As the name indicates, these are made out of yarn. They are ideal for fishing in crystal clear water. These indicators are super light when thrown into the water, making yarn indicators ideal for catching trout that are easy to scare.

These are best for clear, skinny water and for catching small to medium weighted nymphs and high strung trout, They are easy to see, easy to turn over and pick up, and comes in a variety of colors and sizes.

For them to work efficiently, you have to dress them with floatant, and because they are so light, they can get quickly drug down in quicker currents.

Pinch On Indicator Putty

This is an excellent alternative for those who do not find other indicators or bobbers helpful. This also gives you more control in the way your indicator looks. To get a perfect size, you can add or take away putty. These are also more environmentally friendly because they are biodegradable.

Pinch on putty indicators are suitable for small to medium nymphs in slower currents, riffles, and runs as well as night fishing. They are awesome for night fishing because the putty comes in a variety of colors, including glow-in-the-dark. They are easy to see, easily adjustable for placement on the leader, and it will not kink your leader.

There are some things to keep in mind when using pinch on putty. They can fall off on occasion, they are not very buoyant and can get dragged down in faster currents, are kind of heavy and awkward to turn over large amounts, and can leave a sticky residue on your leader and fingers.

Man Catching Trout

How Many/What Kind of Bobbers and Indicators Do I Need?

Start with just a few - you won't always want to use them, since using indicators depend on the conditions you're fishing in. Try it out with one, see if you like it, and then go from there.

Choose whatever type of indicator you're most comfortable with, though it will take some practice to determine which type is right for you. Don't be afraid to try out more than one, as every fisherman's preferences are different. 

Sometimes you may want to switch things up, as the fish can get used to certain droppers and may become desensitized to them and stop biting. There's nothing wrong with having a few different types in your gear, but there's no need to spend a fortune on dozens of bobbers and indicators. 

Multiple Nymph Rig Setup for Fly Fishing with a Bobber

How do I Fly Fish Using a Bobber or Indicator?

Simply tie the bobber onto your fly line, at the exact position of your set depth. Cast out onto the water using a smooth motion, and leave the fly inside the water. You may want to move the rod slightly to the right while tracking the bobber as it moves along the surface of the water.

There are methods, tips, and tricks for seasoned fly fishers that you may care to learn, but in general, this is the primary method. 

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For more on beginning fly fishing with nymph patterns and an indicator check out our entire beginner fly fishing series here

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What is the Process of Fly Fishing with a Bobber/Inidcator by Steps?

Everyone's process is different, but here's the general method to fly fishing, regardless of whether you use a bobber and indicator or a dropper. Try this method, and you should see results. 

  1. Cast the fly upstream;
  2. Let your flies float downriver/down current where you suspect fish are biting; 
  3. Seek to get a long drift if you can, giving the nymph time to lure the fish. Be patient; it can take a little time.
  4. If the indicator stops or appears tangled, get ready to set your hook. 

How Can I Avoid Tangles with Indicators or Bobbers? What are the Best Methods for Untangling a Line?

Tangles happen to even the most seasoned of fishers, and you won't be able to avoid it. However, you can decrease the chances of it happening and learn a few tricks to untangle your lines easily.

In the event of a significant tangle, sometimes called a "wind knot," you can follow a simple process to get the line untangled. They're a pain in the neck, but not impossible: 

  1. When fishing with a tandem, cut off the bottom fly at the hook bend, to keep the dropper fly from wrapping itself around and around, which will only entangle it further. You will do this with a bushy dry fly or a big streamer as both will get tangled and cause even more knots if you don’t cut it off before trying to untangle the rest of the line.
  2. For smaller tangles, leave the bobber or instigator on the line. So long as they aren't causing tangles further up, there's no need to cut it off.
  3. Is your knot actually a knot? Often they aren't - the tangles are just severe. Don't make the mistake of cutting off a line for no reason if you can untangle it instead. Simply find the endpoint of the tangle and work your way up in reverse, just like you would a tangled shoelace. It's a little time consuming but a much better solution than cutting up your lines.
  4. Try to avoid pulling the dangling end of a tangle, as it will only end up tangling the entire line further and strengthen the knot.
  5. You can try using a nipper, if you have one, to pull out the harder parts of a knot that are too tricky to get using fingers. Safety pins and tiny knives can also pull out the more complex parts of a knot; just be careful not to cut yourself. 

Fly Line on Fly Rod

Are there Other Accessories I Need for Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator?

Rather than tell you everything you need for that fresh new gear bag, let's first discuss what you don't need. 

Many beginners to fly fishing think they have to go out and purchase brand new accessories and equipment that they end up never using. The excitement is real, but don't let it cause you to buy a bunch of unnecessary equipment.

Things like headlamps (for night fishing, which you probably won't do for a long time), landing gloves (unnecessary for trout), specialized wading belts, and stripping baskets are great tools for seasoned fisherman. Still, beginners will not need them whatsoever. Items you do need, however, include:

  • Weights and Fly Floatant
  • Polarized Sunglasses
  • Fishing Hat 
  • Leader and Tippet
  • Fishing Nippers or Clippers
  • Strike Indicators
  • Fly Fishing Line
  • Fly Rod & Reel
  • Flies

Drifthook Fly Fishing Guide Nymphs - 120 Flies in Waterproof Container

These items are basic tools that any fisherman, but especially a fly fisher might need. Some might even tell you these are still too many! But if you equip yourself with these basic items, you'll have everything you need to begin fly fishing and more. The rest of that stuff is entirely optional, and you can collect these individual items as you become more seasoned at fly fishing and have a better idea of what individual accessories and equipment will help you up to your game. 

Make sure you have safety essentials along for every fishing trip, of which we've outlined below.

Are there Certain Times to Avoid Fly Fishing with a Bobber?

As most pro fishermen will tell you, there's on "bad" time to go fly fishing, but there are times when it will be more challenging.

Naturally, you want to avoid going out in nasty weather, dangerous conditions, or areas that may be unsafe. Always use safety precautions when you go out, especially if you go alone. 

You may also care to avoid very crowded areas where lots of other fishers are congregated as they will scare off the fish, and you won't be likely to catch any.

Generally speaking, fly fishing with a bobber and indicator is less successful when trying to fish on open bodies of water, so stick to smaller creeks and streams instead of large lakes and ponds. Learning on these smaller bodies of water is your best bet, trying out larger bodies of water and even sea fishing, later.

Large Rainbow Trout caught on Bobber

Are there any Common Mistakes I Can Avoid Fly Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator?

Every fisher is different, so you'll find various methods that work for you. It's all about trial and error. But there are certainly a few common mistakes that you can avoid to have better success catching those trout.

Some people make the mistake of "false casting" too much, moving the rod backward and forwards without casting it. It's a cool technique, but with overuse can scare the fish away. Don't overdo it. 

Don’t make the mistake of continuing to try casting methods that don’t work for you. There are so many different ones; try them all out and see which one you’re good at and sees real results. Forget about the ones that don’t suit you.

Another thing mentioned above that bears repeating: don't make the mistake of expecting a massive trove of fish if you're fishing in a crowded area. If lots of other fishermen are out on the water, your chances of catching monster trout are very low. Go for more secluded spots where you can cast out on your own. 

Cutthroat Trout

Where are the Best Places to Fly Fish with a Bobber or Indicator?

Well, that's a matter of opinion, honestly! There are all sorts of beautiful, remote little spots worldwide where fly fishing is enjoyed, and amazing fish are caught. It all depends on where you live and where you love to fish. 

No matter if you live in a tropical paradise, up in the mountains, or in the big city, you can find the perfect little creek or stream to do your fly fishing.

Many fly fishing enthusiasts subscribe to magazines and read articles about amazing fly fishing spots. They make their "dream vacation" lists on where to go and catch those behemoth trout one day—some exotic fly fishing destinations, including Canada, Rockie Mountains, and even the Bahamas. 

Matthew Bernhardt Fly Fishing in Colorado

Planning that dream fly fishing vacation can be fun, but even if you never leave your town...there's guaranteed to be a fantastic stream just around the corner. It's all about trying out different spots and seeking out that secluded, undiscovered stream or creek that nobody knew about, and making it your dream destination.

All you need is a nice body of water with a "small pocket" for larger fish, that is remote enough for you to cast upstream in relative privacy. Wait until the summer or autumn for the best amount of fish (and optimal weather conditions), get down to the creek, and cast your line.

Most fishermen have a story about that tiny water hole they found that's "all theirs." Find yours!

To find out our favorite places in the US to fly fish check out this article.

Can you go Fly Fishing (Including with a Bobber or Indicator) in the Ocean?

Yes. Yes you can.

While freshwater fly fishing is far more popular, deep sea fly fishing is definitely a thing. The technique differs, obviously, as the ocean is quite a different animal to freshwater (especially when you're talking about creeks and streams). Still, once you learn how it's done, it's extremely fun and rewarding.

You may need different and special accessories for fly fishing in deep saltwater. These include special rods, different types of lines, and more. 

Fly Fishing Off a Boat

The truth is that most deep-sea fishermen do not use bobbers or indicators; most of the time, they simply are not needed. However, some beginners do find that they are helpful. In short: you can do what you want. If deep-sea fly fishing goes better for you when using a bobber or indicator, go for it! 

When deep-sea fishing, it is best to go out with a seasoned guide for safety. On the open ocean, the stakes are higher, and so are the risks. Always be safe, wear protective gear, and be mindful of your surroundings. 

What Kind of Fies Should I Use when Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator?

Once you become an experienced fisherman, you will decide which flies work best for you, based on your personal preference and success. Here are a few of the popular varieties below: 

Dry Fly

Designed to float easily and look like the adult stage of an insect to attract large fish. Used to cast upstream and remain on the water for long spells. Typically not used with an indicator but if you are fishing very small dry flies some have found it to be helpful.

Dry Fly from Drifthook

Nymph

One of the more popular types of patterns for indicators. Nymph patterns mimick the larva and emerging stages of an insect. They sink like wet flies but can also be used in other areas such as streams and even ice fishing.

Drifthook Guide Nymphs Fly Box

What are Some Casting Methods I Can Try with a Bobber and Indicator?

There are dozens of different casting methods out there, and many of them have different methods within the method! It sounds wild, but it's true. Each technique is nuanced, careful, and sometimes hard to describe, so watching a video tutorial or having someone show you in person is your best bet. However, here's just a small sample of the various types of popular casts out there:

  1. Backhand Cast
  2. Reach Cast
  3. Tuck Cast
  4. Roll Cast
  5. Sidearm Cast
  6. Wind Cast

Do I Need a License to Fly Fish with a Bobber or Indicator?

Yes. You will need a license to do any type of fishing, including fly fishing. Make sure you have an up-to-date fishing license that adheres to the rules, regulations, and laws as laid out by your local city, state, or county governments.

Always ensure that your license is up to date, that you've adhered to any local requirements, laws, or rules, that you've paid any fees or fines, that your safety equipment is up to date and that you're fishing in an area where you're allowed to fish. Breaking the law isn't worth it, as you could lose your license.

Fishing Liscence

Is Fly Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator Dangerous?

As with any type of fishing, it can be dangerous if proper safety precautions aren't met or careless or irresponsible. However, fly fishing can be rewarding and safe if you follow the appropriate protocol.

Avoid the dangers of getting sunburned by wearing sunscreen and a hat and not staying out for prolonged periods in hot weather. Avoid injury by wearing safety glasses, and always carry a first aid kit in your possession.

Two Guys Fly Fishing

Ensure you avoid areas that are likely to have dangerous insects such as poisonous spiders or venomous snakes and know the proper protocols if you do happen to get bitten.

Protective gear such as waders, life jackets, vests, and more, is a good idea. Always use caution when using hooks, pins, and other sharp tools that could cause injury. Avoid excessive drinking as major mistakes can happen when inebriated on an open body of water.

Always have water on hand to avoid dehydration, and respect local wildlife at all times. It’s a good rule of thumb to let someone know where you’ll be fishing if going out alone.

Key things to bring:

  • Water
  • First Aid Kit
  • Safety/Protective Gear
  • Cell Phone
  • ID cards

Man Fly Fishing with Drifthook

Tips for Making Fly Fishing with a Bobber or Indicator a Great Experience?

One of the best tips we can give is to have fun! Too many beginner fishermen are overeager to catch 'the big one' and feel disappointed and give up when it doesn't happen on the first try. One of the keys to becoming great at fly fishing is to be patient; while it's a fun and challenging pastime, it requires a great deal of patience. It's all about using good techniques, learning as you go, careful casting, but the reward is well worth it.

Don't get too caught up in buying all the right gear and worrying about if your casting methods are perfect. Fly fishing is all about trial and error, seeing what works right for you, and learning as you go. That's the fun of the whole thing - the learning. Most avid fly fishermen will tell you that it's less about being perfect and about seeing what methods work for you. Every fisherman has his or her preferred methods, tools, and locales that give them the best result, and no two fishermen will be the same. That's part of what makes it such a challenging and rewarding sport.

Practice makes perfect with fly fishing. Play around with the bobbers and indicators, practice knot tying and casting with different methods, and visit different water holes to see where you get the best results. Half the fun of fly fishing is in practice. Once you catch that big fish, it'll all be worth it, and you'll be a convert for life.

Matthew Bernhardt Releasing Large Rainbow

About the Author

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there. 

 


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