I’ll be honest with you, some of the so-called best strike indicators being recommended on other websites are crap and if you are using them you are not catching as many fish as you should be.
As a fly angler of 38 years and a guide for 22 years, I think I have tried just about every indicator ever made, and in my opinion, 85% of strike indicators on the market I wouldn’t use even if the company that makes them gave them to me for free. The sad thing is that some of these not-so-good indicators are top sellers.
I have taught thousands of anglers how to fish, and the truth is that with the wrong indicator, anglers struggle to catch fish! Even I would struggle to catch as many fish as I should if I use the wrong indicators.
I mean why or you use something that’s going to make it harder to catch fish?
What most fly fishermen don’t realize is that the best strike indicators can and should do a lot more than just detect a strike! But few indicators are capable of doing more than just strike detection.
When I’m teaching guys how to use a strike indicator, I teach them all the things that a truly good strike indicator can do for them. I’ll teach you too. if you keep reading.
There are a few types of indicators you should know about, some are good multi-purpose indicators that work in all types of water, while others are better when stealth is required or when fishing gin-clear water or flat water.
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So What Is A Great Strike Indicator For Trout
Fly fishing strike indicators are used when nymph fishing in rivers. The best indicators for fly fishing will cast well, float high, be the right size and shape, be highly visible, and be sensitive enough to detect a subtle bite. The best indicators for fly fishing should also help you catch more fish.
But other than strike detection, how does an indicator help you catch more fish?
I have been using indicators to help me catch trout, steelhead, and salmon for over 38 years so I guarantee that using the right indicator can help you catch TEN TIMES MORE FISH!!
Fly Fishing Strike Indicators
Before indicators, anglers used high stick nymphing methods, or the dry dropper method to detect strikes.
River guides started using strike indicators over 30 years ago because it was easier for their clients to detect a strike.
Some guides, myself included started to realize that some indicators actually spook fish and they prevent you from catching the bigger smarter fish.
Indicators have come a long way since they first became available and now there are lots of types, colors, sizes, and shapes which can make it confusing for anglers.
Best Strike Indicators Quick Picks
- Raven Float -BEST OVER-ALL: Best for advanced anglers and guys that want to learn how to use an indicator for more than just strike detection.
- Oval Bi-Color Indicators – Best Traditional Strike Indicator – Best traditional strike indicator for advanced anglers and guys that want to learn how to use an indicator for more than just strike detection. My Recommendation is the Lightning Strike Bi-Color Football Indicator
- Yarn And Wool Indicators – Best For Subtle Presentation: These land softly for a more subtle presentation, they are good when casting in the wind, and they don’t spook fish, they are also good for subtle takes, and very good for smaller streams. My favorite is the New Zealand Indicator.
- Putty Indicators – Easy On and Off: Easily adjustable, easy to put on and take off, good for lighter subsurface flies, and it can be adjusted and used better, this is my go-to indicator for teaching effective indicator fishing. The best is the Loon Outdoors BioStrike Putty.
- Round Indicators – Most Popular/Best Sellers: These indicators ride high on the water’s surface even in rough water, they are good for fishing small streams, good for beginner anglers, good for heavier flies, and they won’t get pulled underwater even with extra split shot. However, I’m not a huge fan… The best is the Oros Strike Indicator.
- Foam indicator: Used by many anglers, easily visible, good indicator size selection, most anglers have tried these. Check out Carlisle Foam Strike Indicators
5 Things Using The Best Strike Indicators Will Do For You
I learned a long time ago that when my client’s nymphs moved too fast they caught very few trout, steelhead, and salmon.
I had to figure out how to fix this so they could catch more fish. I determined then that some indicators really help improve your speed and your presentation, while other strike indicators don’t.
I believe that the best fly fishing strike indicators need to be functional and will not only help you detect bites, but they will also improve your presentation.
- A really good strike indicator will help you control your speed and your depth which will help you get more bites.
- I use a strike indicator to help me detect the bottom so I can have my fly in the right spot without dragging my fly along the rocks, and only the best indicators for fly fishing will do this well.
- The best strike indicator for fly fishing will also help me control my leader angles below the indicator which will also improve my speed control and my strike detection.
- The right strike indicator for fly fishing will also help me gauge where my fly is at all times. Knowing where your fly is during the drift is something that 8 out of 10 fly anglers don’t know but should know.
- The best strike indicator will detect the most subtle strikes and help with catching fish.
Guide Tip: try not to use indicators in clear water less than 3 feet deep, it will spook fish. Especially the brightly colored ones and the big ones. There are some indicators that are more suitable for shallow water and nervous fish.
I get into more detail about how to fish with each of these strike indicators, as well as how and why I use indicators for speed control and depth adjustments for being in the strike zone more often, and even how to set your indicator on my page Nymphing with Indicators.
Speed Control Really Matters
I’m going, to be frank. I guarantee you that if you put any of the top “strike indicator anglers and indicator guides” up against the best competition fly anglers in riffles or pools under 4 feet deep, the competition angler will outfish the strike indicators guys by a lot… maybe 10 times more…. See my Euro nymph methods and Competition Nymphing Methods
Most of the reason for this is speed control.
The simple fact of the matter is the competition anglers DO NOT use indicators, so their flies sink deeper, sink faster, and the flies don’t get dragged unnaturally fast by an indicator on the surface.
I know this because I consider myself an expert at both indicator fishing and non-indicator fishing known as tight line nymphing or Euro nymphing, and I believe there is no comparison in certain types of water, Non-indicator fishing is far more effective.
However, using better indicators can make indicator fishing more effective, and for this reason, you will see that my choice of strike indicators will be different from others.
The Raven Floats are The Best Indicators For Fly Fishing
There will be a lot of fly anglers, fly guides, and fly shops that might think I’m crazy for saying this, but the best indicators for fly fishing are these Raven floats. Let me explain!
This type of strike indicator is a far cry from the most popular indicators on the market, but if you want an indicator that can actually help you catch more fish, and not just float high, cast well, and detect bites then this truly is the best indicator for fly fishing.
After all, an indicator is nothing more than a “bobber” regardless of what it looks like or what it’s made from so if you are going to use a “bobber” you might as well use one that will help you catch more fish.
I have used dozens of different indicators, and they all work for detecting strikes with a few pros and cons to each one.
But the Raven float can’t be beaten in certain situations when it comes to improving your presentation and your ability to catch more fish.
The difference between the Raven Floats over all the other indicators is how it sits on the water and its pointed top.
The pointed top helps you judge your depths better by detecting the bottom better, it helps you determine any drag in your drift, it helps you control your speed and it helps to control your angles which enables you to better gauge where your fly is.
All the very popular round indicators, single color indicators, and the yarn indicators that I have used can NOT do this as well.
This indicator is best when used on bigger rivers of 15 to 60+ feet wide and in spots of 3 to 10 feet deep.
- Highly visible
- Stands upright with a pointed top for functionality
- Floats well
- Easily to adjust the depth
- Easy to put on and to replace with larger or smaller sizes
- Best indicator for improving your presentation
- Sensitive bite detection
- Only comes in orange
- A bit bulky
- not good on spooky fish in clear water (most indicators aren’t)
- Not wind resistant or good for long delicate casts
- Doesn’t look like a standard indicator
- Not good in water depths of 3 feet or less
Best Sizes – For small trout rivers, with not much weight on the leader and small nymphs, I like to use the Raven FS, 1.0g float.
For smaller steelhead rivers or bigger trout rives where not a lot of weight is required, I prefer the Raven FS 2.2g float or the FS 3.8g float.
For larger steelhead and trout rivers where a lot more weight is required, I will use the Raven FS 3.8g float. This is often my go-to size for Great Lake’s steelhead.
Where To Get It – Look for the “Fast Current – Shallow Depth” model which is also known and the FS float. You can get the Raven FS Floats at FishUSA.com – HERE
You will also need to get these Drennan float caps to secure the float to the line and so you have extra.
Oval Bi-Color Indicators – THILL Floats
I like oval-shaped bi-color strike indicators like the ones from THILL.
I think these are some of the best indicators for fly fishing because they can add function to your presentation and can help you catch more fish, especially if you know how to fish them properly, see my Indicator Nymph Fishing page for that.
The THILL Brand strike indicator floats have been around for a long time, and they are my second choice behind the Raven floats for the best indicators for fly fishing in most river conditions.
Even though they do not have the pointed tip like the Raven floats, I use them to teach anglers how to nymph fish better using the two colors.
Because of their football shape and the two colors, the THILL floats can also help you with your speed, your angles, fly placement, and bite detection better than some other indicators.
The Bi-color lets you know approximately where your fly should be and it’s not difficult to figure out if you check out my page on Indicator Nymphing.
These THILL indicators are good in small to large rivers and in spots from 2 feet to 10+ feet deep.
Sizes: I use the 1.5-inch size for steelhead and the 7/8 size for trout. If you like to use a lot of weight, go with the 1.5-inch size.
- Bi-color and shape give you more control
- Cast well
- Float high
- Easy to adjust the depth
- Good in fast water
- Only one color option
- Pegs get lost easily, so have lots of toothpicks handy
- You have to cut the line to put it on and take it off.
- It can land hard on the water and spook fish
NOTE: Recently, the Thill Ice N Fly indicators have been hard to get. I’m not sure if this is a supply issue or if they have been discontinued. Two similar indicators that I like and use are:
- Lightning Strike Bi-Color Football Indicator: Another good indicator similar to the Thill indicators.
- CorQs Tactical Strike Indicators are another bi-color indicator that I like, however, it has a different shape it still works great.
- Carlisle Foam Strike Indicators – The Thill indicators are hard to find, but these come in larger sizes and work similarly. However, these can also be hard to find and they are a different shape.
Yarn And Wool Indicators: The Best Indicators For Stealth
One of the best indicators for fly fishing when you need a subtle presentation and stealth is the yarn indicators from the New Zealand Strike Indicator Wool and tool system. The New Zealand indicator is made from new Zealand lambs wool.
The New Zealand indicator system was designed to fish the gin-clear waters of New Zealand for its nervous trout, and they are meant for casting longer distances so they have less wind resistance than other indicators.
I like to use wool or a yarn indicator as a strike indicator when fishing low clear water or when fishing slow clear water and one of the best systems for rigging is the New Zealand strike indicators.
The downside to using wool is that it will not help you control your speed or help you determine where your fly is below the surface, but in low and slow water that is not as important.
These wool indicators cast as well as a large dry fly and are good for long cast in rivers and in lakes, and it lands gently on the water when compared to other types of strike indicators.
You can make these wool indicators smaller or larger depending on how much wool you use and how you trim it.
A small amount of wool is a great indicator when fishing dry flies smaller than a size 18 when you need an indicator to see the area that your fly is in.
- Lands gently on the water
- Comes in white which looks like a bubble to weary fish
- Floats well in slow water and light ripple water
- Makes many different sizes
- Casts well, even with long dry fly type of casts.
- Not good with heavy flies
- Need to dress it with a floatant
- Not good is fast rapids
- This yarn indicator attaches with a rubber tube, so the tube and applicator are required
You will need to dress most yarn and wool indicators with a floatant to keep them from absorbing water and to keep it buoyant longer. The green can Mucilin is popular and you can get it at FishUSA.com-HERE. The red can Mucilin also works, and so does Loon’s Payette Paste which is available in many stores.
Wool and yarn indicators are the best fly fishing indicators when stealth is required but I think other yarn indicators are not as good as the NZ strike indicator.
I like the white the best when I’m trying to be as stealthy as possible because it looks like the many bubbles the fish see and it won’t spook them.
You can get the New Zealand strike indicator combo pack which includes all the tools at Amazon – HERE. You can also buy the wool separately at Amazon.
Buy the New Zealand Strike Indicator Kit at Trident Fly Fishing,
Buy the replacement wool at FishUSA.com – HERE
To see how this works and how to attach it go to the official New Zealand Strike Indicator website.
I don’t consider this to be one of the best indicators for fly fishing but I use the putty indicator a lot, but not in the same way that other anglers use them or the way they are intended to be used.
I sometimes add a small piece of putty above the main indicator and then run two indicators at a time. This is one way I could teach anglers about the proper angles and teach them how to determine where their fly is.
I also use the putty on my sighter indicator when euro nymphing. This helps see the sighter better in tough light conditions
Lastly, I may use a very small piece of putty about 24 inches up the line when using super small size 20 or smaller dry flies so my clients can get an idea of where to look for the take of the dry fly.
You can also use the putty indicators in the traditional way which is to pull a small amount out and roll it into a ball or a football shape around the leader where you need it.
It does leave a bit of residue on the line which I just rub off with my shirt but it always comes off in the wash, but do so at your own risk.
The putty comes in a few colors.
For indicator putty, I use the Loon Outdoors BioStrike Putty Strike Indicator which you can get at HERE
- Goes on easy
- Make it any size you want
- Floats pretty good
- Is reusable
- Comes in a few good colors
- Has a glow in the dark color
- Can be sticky on your hands and line
- Falls off eventually
- Gets really hard so it can’t be used in the winter in very cold weather
Round Indicators: Good For Bite Detection But That’s All
Despite being the most popular strike indicators on the market and the ones that are most recommended by other websites, and also by stores, they are not the best strike indicator and I’m not a fan of any of the round single-color indicators.
Round indicators can come in balloon-style filled with air or they can be made from cork or balsa wood.
There is a lot to like about these indicators which is why they are so popular.
They do float high, they can cast pretty well, they are easy to put on and take off, they work well with split shot, and are decent if you are constantly adjusting, and they do detect a strike well, so why don’t I think they are the best indicator?
Simple, this type of indicator won’t help you control your speed very well, and they don’t work well for detecting the bottom or to tell you that you are dragging your fly, and they are definitely not good for determining your angles or help you determine where your fly is.
If you want to be an average fly angler that just wants to cast out and watch your indicator go, these indicators are great for that purpose but don’t expect them to help you catch more fish.
The only time I will use a round indicator is if I’m fishing very shallow and fast water or water that’s so slow it’s almost still.
If you want to give these a shot and to see what all the hype is about, the three best and most popular strike indicators are:
Most Other Indicators Kinda Suck
There are tons of indicators on the market with all kinds of different shapes, sizes, and colors and they can be made from many different materials.
They don’t really suck, they’re just not my preferred indicators for various reasons.
Some strike indicators pinch on, some are teardrop-shaped, some have rubber tubbing in the middle, some have a rubber or metal ring, some twist on, some are yarn with little rings on them, some are foam, and some are even disposable twist-on.
Yes, they all work to indicate that you might have a bite, and most of them can suspend your fly too, some land softly, some are better in windy conditions, and some are float higher.
If you want to check these out, here they are:
- CorQ Cork Strike Indicator – I do like the fact these are bi-color, it’s just too bad they are round, but over-all they do float like a cork.
- ETRE Sports Yarn Strike indicators – A decent yarn strike indicator, not a huge fan of the colors though.
- Dongyue Stick-On Indicators – These are really old-school, I think I’ve used these over 30 years ago, they are disposable and are not adjustable, and won’t hold heavier nymphs, I’m not really sure why other websites would recommend these, and for those reasons, I would never recommend them or use them.
- Sunshine Fishing Foam Oval Slip On Strike Indicators – I used to use these a lot when I was younger, they’re not bad, however, they pop off and float down the river too much for my liking.
- Andux 12 Piece Foam Strike Indicators – A foam indicator version of yarn indicators.
Guide Tip: Some new anglers use the end of the fly line as their indicator, I do not recommend this unless you are well versed in the Czech nymphing version of this.
Got A Question About The Best Fly Fishing Indicators
Remember, strike indicators will be a matter of opinion and in my opinion, an indicator should do more than just tell you you have a bite.
If you have a question about the best fly fishing indicators let me know in the comments below. But, before you ask, don’t forget to read the page on how to fish with indicators and you will see more in-depth why I like these indicators.