Regarding Strike Indicators

Dave Whitlock is often considered the father of the “strike indicator” for nymph fishing. And while he certainly did a lot to popularize them as far back as the 1970s, the existence and use of indicators—and the ethics behind them—date much earlier than his contributions. As just one example, here’s a quote from Fishing the Nymph, written by Jim Quick, published in 1960.   

Using an Indicator”

“You have read or will read much relative to the old, out-moded scheme of “indicator” nymph fishing. This is where the operator hooks a visible accessory to his leader for the purpose of telling him when the traveling lure has paused in its journey. Some actually used another fly, a dry one, on a short snell a few feet up on their leader as the indicator and as a “plus” just in case some crazy trout decided in favor of a floating fly. Wasn’t very fair, was it? I have seen others who were just a bit purer, who used a fly similar to a small tournament fly, just a plain shank of the hook carrying a visible clump of hackle. Others use a small knot of white string or floss; some use a plastic bubble and some even affix a small bottle cork. These indicators, perhaps, might help a novice or a beginner in nymph fishing to sense the pause that signals something doing down there. The nymph angler, with just a few hours of experience under his creel harness, has no need of these crank practices.

“A suggestion to you is that if you are just getting underway in nymphing, the way it should be done and the way that will lead, surely, to more satisfying action is not to handicap yourself by developing “outside help” habits. Heaven knows, with our modern tackle, the ultra-light sensitive rods, lines which require no diligent greasing to float on the surface, synthetic leaders we can depend upon, and the knowledge of many experienced anglers exposed for us in books and articles on the structure of artificial nymphs, and the method of securing the most productive results from them—in these we have the big edge on our trout fishing quarry. Let’s not take all the advantage; let’s give the fish a break. You’ll feel better for it. Let’s do it right as long as we are doing it.”

So indicator fishing was an “old, out-moded scheme” back in 1960? Interesting. Whether that truly was the prevailing attitude or whether Quick was simply offering up his own judgment on the method, it’s hard to say. But sixty-plus years on, indicator fishing could hardly be more popular. Quick’s message to consider the fish’s interests ahead of our own success—and to modify how we fish as a result of that thinking—is refreshing. With infinitely more anglers on the water today, many of them fishing nymphs, it’s an attitude that seems especially apropos right now.  

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