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Indicator Fishing
by Matt Barthels
Schmidt Outfitters

November is probably my favorite time of year to target steelhead. Yes, the weather can be a bit unpredictable, but with the correct layering, any day can be comfortable. My favorite thing about November is that there are a variety of techniques that can effectively be used to target steelhead. Of course, drift fishing will always take fish, but fishing with a floating line and indicator will start to shine as fall moves into winter.

As the last of the salmon die off, the steelhead will start moving away from their shallow, faster feeding lanes behind the gravel and start tucking into slower and woodier lies. Fishing with indicators is the ideal method to target these fish. The Manistee has a ton of runs where the bottoms are a tangle of wood. These are impossible to fish with a standard drift rig without snagging up. By utilizing an indicator or float, we are able to drift flies drag-free just above the snags.

Later in the month, when the water temperature crashes, the fish will move into deep, very slow-moving holes. These are again tough to target using a drift rig as the bottom current is usually too slow to keep the weight ticking along. Indicators really do shine in slow-moving water as they slowly present flies drag-free through the preferred winter lies.

I also greatly prefer to fish indicators on smaller streams like the Little Manistee and Bear Creek. This method is perfect to probe the smaller, shallower, and woodier lies that are commonplace on these smaller river systems. It is also great when there is a lot of traffic on the river, and the fish really tuck deep into the wood and are unapproachable when bottom bouncing.

The presentation is fairly simple. A roll cast is used to deliver the rig. As soon as it hits the water, line control is the biggest key. With the thicker floating line, the current will grab the line and pull it, creating drag on the presentation. A drag-free presentation is a must and manipulating the line to achieve this is the big secret to success with this method. Carefully watch the indicator, and if it goes down, strike quick and hard. More often than not, you will have extra line out. Get the fish on the reel as soon as you can, and let them rip into your drag.

For equipment, any single hand 7 or 8 weight rod matched with the appropriate weight forward floating line will do the job. I greatly prefer the switch rods. The longer length really helps with line control and setting the hook on longer drifts. There are some great choices for lines for these rods. My two favorites are RIO's Switch Line and Airflo's Speydicator. Both of these lines make turning over an indicator rig a piece of cake and mending as easy as flicking your wrist. For indicators, I really like the Blackbird Phantom floats and Drennon Pikers. A tapered leader should work just fine. The pre-made ones work well, although I prefer to make my own. As far as weight goes, I really like to set mine up like a centerpin with a tapered weight system. I will place split shot at intervals down my leader starting with the heaviest up by the indicator and tapering down in size as I move down the leader.

My fly selection varies a bit by time of year, but one that remains constant is an egg. I will always fish a two fly rig and one fly will always be an egg. Other top flies include buggers, small minnows, stones, hexes, and caddis. I highly recommend letting your presentation swing out a bit at the end when fishing buggers, minnows, and hex patterns.

Please call the shop if you have any questions regarding rigging or technique. We also have guides available to get you out on the water and go through any and all techniques that may interest you.