Now, most fly fishers will at least be aware of this method of fishing, but agreeing with it may be a different matter. On a personal note, on stillwaters I have very little use for indicators, but if it is within fishery rules and conditions are right, I have no problem using some types. However, for river fishing, especially upstream nymphing, the difference it can make is astounding.

My local water is the River Alyn near Wrexham, North Wales – a small rain fed tributary of the Welsh Dee. Not a deep water, with very few places over three feet deep and, for most of the club’s length (3 – 4 miles), only as wide as a single track road.

There are a lot of folk who class the use of indicators as “float fishing” or de-skilling the art of fly-fishing. If you have perfect eyesight and can watch your line in shade and bright sunshine to see almost microscopic movements, then read no further.

For those less able, it does give some aid. For example, a few seasons ago a new(ish) member of our club water approached me on the banks, to ask how I was getting on, I replied that I had caught several fish on the upstream nymph. Admitting that he was not catching, he asked if I could show him how.

I was fishing a single size 14 weighted PTN spider with a small butterfly indicator (the sticky fold-over ones) set at about three feet (water depth about two feet) – this initially horrified him. I looked at his set up: it was not too dissimilar from mine, with a single size 12 weighted PTN. I asked where he had fished and one pool was not far away, so we went back to it and I used my set up to fish the same pool.

Even though I had a small indicator on, the takes were still hard to see in some cases: just a stop, for the briefest moment. I tried to show these, before attempting a hook up. The first two fish I did catch, he did not see the takes! I passed my rod to him and he tried. I pointed out when he had had takes but his reactions were a bit slow to start with. He eventually connected to about the 5th and 7th fish! This was on a pool he had already fished and we still had 4 fish out of it and at least half a dozen missed takes between us! As he commented after, on his set up he would not have seen any of the takes.

While dry fly is my preferred method of fishing, on a rain-fed river this is not always possible. On a mostly shallow river that is no more than five metres wide, fishing across and down is not effective, so by elimination it has to be the upstream nymph. Most of the time, all that is needed is a single fly tied to a 5 foot section of tippet, the indicator mounted at the appropriate depth.

By setting the maximum depth, it is possible to put the nymph in the “food zone”, but only by knowing your river.

However, to cover high, fast water there is another way. An ideal time to try this method is early season and when the fish refuse to rise, taking only small flies just above the riverbed. In such situations, a second weighted fly is sometimes needed to get to that all-important “feeding zone” – a heavyweight fly on the dropper (leaded B175 size 10ish) with a small (B175 size 16 or Fulling Mill Nugget size 18) on the point, less than 12″ apart. The theory being that the heavy hook gets the smaller fly down into
the feeding zone and the lack of weight on the point fly gives it a more natural movement in the river.

Problems arise when too heavy a fly is used on the dropper – the indicator sinks or you keep snagging the bottom. This can mean several changes of fly to suit the river levels as you move runs.

In a typical river set up, the foam indicator is positioned along the 3 foot to 5 foot section at a position to suit the depth to be fished (all my local river levels fit within this range).

Typical two fly set up: a weighted size 10 pink shrimp and a beaded size 14 PTN(ish)

You can store pre-built two-fly set ups on coarse rig holders. You can then simply tie them onto a 3 foot to 5 foot tippet when you’re fishing, saving time and effort on the bank (or even in the river).

Pre – built and ready to store – connecting line goes around from shrimp (hook bend) to nymph eye ( coarse fish rig holder)

Five coarse rig holders set up with two twin flies in each gives you a total of ten sets: ten of the same set up or various options in terms of colour, weight or even dry and wet flies.

Coarse rig holders – ideal storage for the two fly set up

Typical “Butterfly” indicator pack