River guides started using strike indicators over 20 years ago because it was easier for their clients to detect a strike, indicators have come a long way since they first become available so in this article, I will discuss the best indicators for fly fishing.
As a fly fishing guide, I teach thousands of anglers how to fly fish with strike indicators, but I know that not all indicators are good.
Fly fishing 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 will even help you catch more fish.
The Best Indicators For Fly Fishing Do More
I believe that the best indicators for fly fishing need to be functional and will not only help you detect bites, but they will also improve your presentation, help you control your speed and your depth which will help you get more bites.
As a guide, I need a strike indicator that I can teach proper techniques with. I’d be a crappy guide if I only teach my clients to use the strike indicator for bite detection because there is a lot more that an indicator can do for them.
Anyone using a strike indicator for only bite detection is missing a lot of fish without even knowing it.
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.
More importantly, the best indicators for fly fishing will help me control the speed of my drift and the speed of my fly. If I do this well I will catch 10 times more fish and so will you.
The best indicators for fly fishing will also help me control my leader angles below the indicator which will also improve my speed control.
The best indicators 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.
This page is all about which strike indicators are the best and what I use and recommend to my clients and why.
I get into more details about how to fish with 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 Indicator Nymphing.
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.
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.
The truth of the matter is that 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 of the Raven Floats over all the other indicators is how it sits in the water and its pointed top.
The pointed top helps you judge your depths better, it helps you determine any drag in your drift, it helps you control your speed and it helps to control your angles. It also helps you gauge where your fly is. No other fly fishing indicators that I have used or read about can do this as well.
This indicator is best 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 the best for casting in high wind or for long delicate casts
- Doesn’t look like a standard indicator
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 from FishUSA.com 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 Nymphing 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 2 colors.
Because of their football shape and the 2 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 1 color option
- Peg gets 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
Wool Indicators: The best Indicators For Stealth
One of the best indicators for fly fishing is the yarn indicators from the New Zealand Strike Indicator Wool and tool system. This wool indicator system was designed to fish the gin-clear waters of New Zealand for its nervous trout.
I like to use wool or yarn as a strike indicator when fishing low clear water or when fishing slow clear water.
The downside to using wool is that it will not help you control your speed or help you determine where your fly is, 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 small or large 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 gentle 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
You will need to dress most yarn and wool indicators with a floatant to keep it from absorbing water and to keep it buoyant longer. The green can Mucilin is popular and you can get it at Amazon-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
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 separate at Amazon.
You can buy the wool and the tools 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 indicators 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.
- 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 indicators on the market and the ones that are most recommended by other websites, 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.
They do float well, and they can cast pretty good, and they are easy to put on and take off, and they do detect a strike well, but that’s it.
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.
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 definetly not good for determining your angles or help you determine where your fly is.
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.
Most Other Indicators Kinda Suck
There are tons of indicators on the market with all kinds of different shapes, sizes, colors and they can be made from many different materials.
Some strike indicators pinch on, some are teardrop-shaped, some have rubber tubbing in the middle, some twist on, some are yarn with little rings on them, some are foam.
Yes, they all work to indicate that you might have a bite, and most of them can suspend your fly too, but to be honest with you if I was given any of these for free I would say no thanks because they do not do a good job at improving my presentation.
Therefore, I would not use them or recommend them to my clients or my friends, or to you either, simply because there are better options available.
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.