These Fancy Bobbers We Call Indicators

These Fancy Bobbers We Call Indicators

Many years ago, your dad probably pulled a worm out of a styrofoam cup and slung it below this red and white contraption made of plastic and filled with air. You were bobber fishing. In the fly-fishing industry, we’re better than that. Such fishing is beneath us. Instead, we use little brightly colored plastic contraptions that are filled with air or foam— indicators. You can see the massive difference and why we’re so much better than the bait dunkers.

In all seriousness, we do use fancy bobbers, but we call them indicators. There are just as many indicator variants as there are Copper John variants. So, which one is right for you? “Wait,” you ask, “this is going to be an entire blog post about indicators?! Seriously?” Yup, because why not? Plus, they matter when you go fly fishing, especially nymphing.

Indicators do just what the name says. They indicate what your flies and rig are doing below the surface. In theory, they should help you see takes . . . or rocks . . . mainly rocks. If you’re using a traditional nymph rig that looks like indicator – leader – weights – tippet – flies, the indicator serves another very important purpose, it adds a very essential counterbalance to your rig. If you had no indicator and simply had weight on your rig, the drag on the leader likely wouldn’t be enough to move the weight off the bottom of the river.

I’ve fished “sighter” rigs where the leader was essentially an alternating color material that served as the indicator. You then look for the sighter to do something out of the ordinary. The various rig setups will be for another blog post. Indicators can also suspend your flies when used on a lake or in a dropshot rig. Guys from Utah, you call this a Provo Rig.

These Fancy Bobbers We Call Indicators, hand holding indicators

So, what of these different types of indicators? I see three different types: 1) The stick-on, 2) The sphere, 3) The yarn. Let’s talk about these three and when you might want to use them. First is the stick-on foam indicator. These have been around for quite some time. They literally come in packs and are cut in such a way that you stick them to themselves and your leader at the same time.

The pros of these are that they’re really easy to use and they can be nice if you’re using them on a dry fly rig (yes, an indicator can be used on a dry fly rig, more to come). That’s really where the pros end in my opinion. These stick-on foam indicators can’t hold much weight, are not easily moved or adjusted, and are only intended to be used once. They have their place and I do carry them in my pack, but I use them rarely.

The second is the sphere. This is the most popular. Some people refer to all of these as the Thingamabobber. That’s a brand, not the whole category. Kind of the same as Coke vs. coke or Kleenex vs. kleenex. Thingamabobbers have been around the longest from what I can tell with the exception of the corks. Also in this category are Air Lock and Oros. These two screw on vs. the Thingamabobber has a hole that you loop your line through.

There are cork indicators that function the same way. There are also several other brands out there, but they haven’t seemed to have grabbed hold the way these other brands have. The pros of the sphere are that they are reusable and almost infinitely so. They are also adjustable and come in different sizes so that you can choose the best one for your rig. Smaller indicators are generally more sensitive. The cons are that they are wind-resistant and if you go too big, you will see way fewer takes than you should. I generally use the smallest that I can get away with for whatever rig I’m fishing.

Some more comments on the sphere indicators. Thingamabobbers are great, but they kink your line and are not as easy to adjust as the Air Lock or Oros, although the Thingamabobber is lighter. The latter two have screw tops that allow for a half turn and then it slides up and down with ease. The Air Lock has a nut and a washer whereas the Oros splits in half and unscrews. The Oros is my personal favorite over Air Lock because, when your line eventually runs down on itself, there’s no catch point. I also like that you can have two different colored halves to see those twisting takes during your drift.

The last is the yarn indicator. This category covers wool and synthetic and there are many different varieties. The New Zealand Strike Indicator is probably the most well-known and has a great setup. It has tubes that allow you to install the indicator with relative ease, although a special tool is required. There are other varieties that essentially have two other large rubber bands. Generally, you need to dress these indicators with fly floatant although you don’t have to do it as much with the New Zealand brand.

The pros for these indicators are that they are very sensitive, that you can create whatever size you need for your particular application, and that you can mix and match colors. The cons are that they generally don’t hold a ton of weight and you often can’t fish them all day because they’ll take on water at some point. I’m sure I’ve angered some of the yarn indicator guys here; some swear that theirs never take on water and that they stay dry all day.


So, find your favorite indicator. Find what works best for you. The Oros is my favorite and I use that brand more than anything. Remember to use the lightest indicator for your application. The more sensitive it is, the more takes you’ll see. The more takes you see, the more sets you make. The more sets you make, the more fish you catch. Pretty simple.

Indicator BONUS #1 – “Chris, clearly misspoke when you said that I could use an indicator on a dry fly rig!” Nope. I sure didn’t. If I’m fishing two really tiny flies or flies that are too close to the color of the water, I will sometimes throw on a really light indicator (stick-on can be good). I do this not to watch the indicator for a take, but to rather look for a fish rising within a certain distance of that indicator. I learned this trick from Levi Lambert, one of our lead guides here at Minturn, although he will use a larger fly trailed by a smaller fly.

Indicator BONUS #2 – You know I love Euro Nymphing . . . it’s awesome, but sometimes you just can’t reach far enough or you’re only able to stand in a certain spot on a famous tail water where the water is coming right at you . . . or that other commode-style tailwater where the water tears away from you. Sometimes, I’ll cheat and throw an indicator on my Euro rig and launch that line out there. Again, we’re using it to suspend the bugs.

Congratulations! You just read an entire blog post about fly fishing bobbers . . . I mean indicators. The only next logical thing to do is swing into our shop or pick up some of these fancy bobbers from our online store.

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

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Chris Opfer

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