Indicator Options for Stillwaters

When fishing stillwaters either in the shallows or weed pockets, in depths over 10 feet and up to 25 feet integrating indicator tactics can pay big dividends. Phil Rowley showed me the many benefits of using indicators at his Stillwater School. Here’s some Stillwater Indicator tips.

By integrating Indicators into your stillwater strategy you will be able to:

Avoids snags and fouling
Work shallow water depths
Work weed pockets and above debris and weeds
Give you the ability to surgically control depth and retrieve speed

Indicator Versatility

Using indicators for fishing stillwaters is not just for chironomid fishing. Of course one of the best uses for “Slip Indicators” is for presenting chironomid larva and pupa patterns near the bottom. It is probably the most effective method.

But you can also use indicators for;

Water boatman, scuds, leeches and smolts

When are he best times to to use indicators

For Fishing on the bottom – For presenting Chironomid patterns close to the bottom

When Fish are holding at a certain level – Use when fish are sensitive to depth and holding at a particular level.

In the shallows – Ideal for fishing shallow water depths above or between the weeds.

Fishing Deep – You can use “Slip” or “Quick Release” indicators to fish to depths of 20 feet.

Above the Weeds – Allows you to surgically fish right above weed beds and into weed pockets.

For Kids – Great for kids or inexperienced anglers.

Fishing with 2 Rods – Good for fishing alone and using two rods when legal.

Types and Uses of Different Types of Indicators for Stillwaters

Yarn Indicators

yarn_indicatorYarn indicators are best when the indicator is set at 12’ or less. A yarn indicator is set in a fixed position, so the 12 foot depth is based upon how far you can reach to land the fish in your landing net standing in a boat, probably not more than 12 feet. If fishing from a pontoon boat or a float tube you must set your yarn indicator shorter. They are good for crystal clear water. In crystal clear water use a white indicator.

Dry Fly as Indicator

Dry_dropper_riggIf you’re a stream fisherman you’re probably well aware of using Dry Dropper techniques. This can also pay off when fishing stillwaters. You can imitate two stages of an insect. Using a dry fly as an indicator is excellent when trout are in the top third of the water column. In the wind the larger the waves the larger the fly. You’ll want to keep the fly spacing in stillwaters 3’ to 5’ apart depending where the fish are feeding.

As a note, I was fishing a crystal clear lake in Montana a few weeks ago and I was sight fishing to big cruising rainbows. They were not interested in my sinking line presentations. I rigged up with a size 16 Parachute Adams and trailed a black and red Chironomid pupa 4 feet below it. I was able to fool a number of finicky rainbows with the dry dropper rigg. It works!

To rigg a Dry Dropper leader, use a 9’ to 12’ tapered leader with an added 2’ to 3’ of tippet. Keep your tippet a minimum of 2’ long. If it get’s shorter clip it off and tie another 3’ tippet on.


Corkies are available in solid or bi-color and are typically held in place by toothpicks. The Bi-color ones are great for signaling tangles. They are an old standard but still effective.

Quick Release Indicators or Slip Indicators

Slip_IndicatorProbably the most versatile and popular indicators for stillwaters are “Slip” or “Quick Release” indicators. They allows the stillwater angler to probe deep water up to 20 and even 25 feet deep. The indicators are available in many sizes and shapes. They use a peg that releases when you have a fish on and when the indicator reaches your rod tip the peg pops loose and the indicator and peg slides towards the fish. You’ll want to use a swivel or tippet ring to make sure you don’t lose the peg if the fly breaks off. A swivel will hold everything safely in place.

Indicator Leaders


Hybrid Leader – Use a standard tapered monofilament leader.

Rio Indicator Leaders – Try a tapered “Rio Indicator Leader”. This is an excellent leader for chironomid fishing or whenever you need the flies to sink fast. The 10 ft tapered leader has a short orange butt section for fishing “Naked”. It’s Level tippet does not slow down the sink rate. The heavy butt section makes casting the indicator easy

How to Rigg an Indicator Leader

(a) Add a 24″ butt section to your fly line using .025 or .030 material with a nail knit. Use a Fast-Tie Tool.

(b) Add a 10 foot Rio tapered Indicator leader using a blood knot, 3x or 4x

(c) Add Fluorocarbon tippet to complete leader with a Triple Surgeon’s knot

General Indicator Notes

Carry all Types – Carry all types in your “Stillwater Kit Bag”.

Carry different colors – People see colors differently

Fish may be sensitive to Color – The mood of the fish may dictate size, type and color

When fish are being sensitive – use a tapered or a small round indicator

Rio Indicator Lines – Use a fly line like a Rio Indicator Line or a WF Rio Grande Line


Add a collection of indicators to your stillwater kit bag and you will take your stillwater game to another level