The Dorsey Yarn Indicator — Everything you need to know and a little more

March 30, 2017

When tight line nymphing doesn’t get the job done, it’s time to hang the nymphs below a suspender. A dry fly, Thingamabobber or cork style indicator all have their moments. But my first choice of suspender is usually Pat Dorsey’s yarn indicator, a.k.a. The Dorsey.

The Dorsey is lighter, more sensitive, more subtle and more adjustable than anything else you can attach to the line. The smallest Dorsey weighs less than a dry fly and suspends more weight. Even the largest Dorsey touches down on the water like a feather. It doesn’t kink or damage the line and doesn’t move until you want it to, whereby it easily slides on any diameter of line. The crinkled, polypropylene macrame yarn traps more air than cork or styrofoam, so it floats better. The Dorsey also costs next to nothing, and you can fish it in any color you like.

Here’s everything you need to know …


I like to fish suspenders as an extension of tight line nymphing on a Mono Rig. Without fly line on the water I can deliver more subtle presentations, staying tight to the suspender or placing only a bit of leader on the water. That delicacy and refinement of presentation is maximized by using the Dorsey. In the clearest waters over the wariest trout, I’ve never seen the yarn spook fish. The splash of the nymph scares a trout before the Dorsey ever does. There’s virtually no disturbance on the water when the yarn lands (it weighs nothing and holds no water). Experienced trout that move from the path of a drifting Thingamabobber are not alarmed by the Dorsey.

My friend, Pat Burke, wrote about the Dorsey on Troutbitten a while back, and I fish it very much the same way.


A good suspender can tell you a lot about the drifting nymphs below. The Dorsey takes a sort of upright, alert stance when it’s in contact with the nymphs and takes a resting position when there’s slack.

Some trout grab a nymph and quickly turn back to their position, making any type of suspender dunk under the surface. But trout often hold their position and simply inhale the fly, causing very little motion in the tippet and suspender. The Dorsey excels at signaling these slight takes. The nimble Dorsey jiggles, dips, twitches or twists at even the slightest motion.

Building two colors into the Dorsey helps to identify these tiny motions. I usually use two contrasting colors of yarn.

Photo by Chase Howard

Size Matters

To make the most of the Dorsey, it’s best to carry them in a few different sizes. I pre-build my Dorseys at the tying bench, but you can just take chunks of yarn out on the water and slip them into the small rubber band. I think of my Dorseys as 2, 5, and 7 strand versions, and I always use the smallest that’s needed to float the nymphs.

Smaller Dorseys are the most sensitive. More importantly, because they have less wind resistance, they’re easier to cast with lighter flies. And that matters a lot when using the Mono rig.

The ability to go extremely small with a Dorsey is one of its greatest assets. At times when I know my local trout aren’t coming up for a dry fly, I choose a two strand Dorsey for the suspender. It floats better than a dry, with less maintenance, and it adjusts for depth by easily sliding up or down the leader.

The Stuff

Fly fisherman are an innovative lot, taking pride in a creative, DIY ingenuity. That’s a character trait that’ll take you far through most of this life, but sometimes … it’ll get you in trouble.

Don’t substitute materials for the Dorsey. The magic of this little puff of yarn is in two simple materials. Change either of them, just a little, and you’ll have something different — and less effective.

Polypropylene Macrame Yarn. That’s the stuff. 6mm Bonnie Braid, to be specific. It sheds water and doesn’t mat together like some Hi-Vis yarns and other things you might find in your favorite fly shop.

Don’t walk into your local JoAnn Fabrics or Michael’s craft store and ask for the Bonnie Braid isle either.. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you probably won’t find what you want. The internet, the postal service and I will make this real easy …

Go HERE and buy a yard of whatever colors you want for $1 each. Pay a few bucks to the postman, and in couple days you’ll have enough macrame yarn to last a lifetime, even if you  start using the yarn for parachute posts on dry flies too. (I do.)

The rubber bands are orthodontic elastics. Use 5/16” in either medium or heavy. I like medium bands because they work better with small Dorseys. I fish light nymphs a lot, and I don’t need much yarn to hold them up. Medium bands work with any size Dorsey, but heavy bands are a little too thick for the smallest ones.

Again, I urge you not to substitute whatever elastics bands you have laying around from the time your daughter wore braces. Try to rein in the Macgyver tendencies this time.

Photo by Austin Dando

What About NZ?

The New Zealand Strike Indicator system is very similar, and it’s a good solution, but I prefer the Dorsey. Macrame yarn is more buoyant than wool, and I like that I can fish a wider range of sizes with the Dorsey than I can with the NZ system. No tools other than your hands are required for the Dorsey, and the materials are dirt cheap.

On and Off

Some pieces of water just beg for a suspender, and with how easily the Dorsey attaches and slides to adjust for depth, it’s a very efficient solution. Often, I only use it for a handful of casts and then remove the Dorsey to get back to tight lining.

Most often, I fish the Dorsey on the Mono Rig. I attach it just below my sighter on a piece of 4x fluorocarbon. But the Dorsey will mount wherever you want it on the leader.

Grab the line in a loop. Open the rubber band. Then pass the loop through the hole of the band and wrap it around the top side of the rubber band 5-6 times. Let go of the band, and it clings tight to the loop in the line. Before inserting the yarn, release the loop and allow and twists below the band to unravel. Then pass the yarn through the loop, and slide the band up to the yarn (It helps to wet the band before sliding). Pull both sides of the line snug to seat the rubber band.

It helps to fluff the Dorsey with a piece of Velcro, bringing both sides together into one piece, but it’s not necessary.

To remove the Dorsey, grab the yarn and slide the rubber band down. Take the yarn out and pull the band off the leader.

Treat ’em right

The macrame yarn sheds water very well, but a little extra help doesn’t hurt. I apply a drop of Rain-X to the yarn after making the Dorseys at my tying desk (I do the same with my dry flies). Once I’m on the water, I usually work a bit of green Musclin into the yarn. It stays on the fibers for a very long time.

It can also help to touch the rubber band with a bit of floatant too, making sliding even easier.

Don’t force it

If the Dorsey doesn’t slide easily, then something is twisted. Just take it off and reattach. Forcing it against any tension will burn the line and cause damage (especially in fine tippets). With just a bit of practice, attaching the Dorsey becomes second nature — like tying a knot.


I make the Dorseys at my tying bench. I find it easier to carry them pre-bunched and combed out, ready to go. They don’t really wear out — they just get more crinkly and float even better. So building a half dozen Dorseys goes a long way.

Cut the cord into three-inch strips and separate the strands. Comb out the strands for each color, then stack them. Compress the bunch tightly in the middle and take three wraps of 8/0 Uni Thread. Move the tag end of thread across the wraps and bind it down with three more wraps. Break off the tag end. Throw two half hitches over the yarn and seat them at the wraps. Break or cut off the thread.

Keep the thread wraps as thin as possible. Too many wraps (or thread thicker than 8/0), and your Dorsey will always look like a bow tie. With minimal wraps, the bunch stays bound but can still hinge together when attached to the line.

Pinch the Dorsey in the center to bring the two sides together. Use scissors to trim to about a half-inch for small Dorseys and an inch for larger ones.

Now go fish ’em.

The Truth

The dark truth is that upgrading your fly fishing gear rarely catches you more fish. Rods, reels, fly lines, expensive tippet and overpriced hooks hardly improve your catch rate. And the marginal improvement you might see is probably a result of confidence and concentration rather than the performance of new gear.

The Dorsey will catch you more fish.


Photo by Chris Kehres


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky

More Troutbitten articles on nymphing

The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks
Tight Line Nymph Rig
Sighters: Seven Separate Tools
Learn the Nymph
Tags and Trailers
The Backing Barrel
Take Five
The Add-On Line
One Great Nymphing Trick
The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It
It’s a Suspender — Not Just an Indicator
Stop the Split Shot Slide
Trail This — Don’t Trail That
For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?
Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig
Over or Under? Your best bet on weight
Modern Nymphing, the Mono Rig, and Euro Nymphing
Resources for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing
Split Shot vs Weighted Flies
Tight Line Nymphing With an Indicator — A Mono Rig Variant
Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston go fly fishing — The Mono Rig for streamers
Get me back to my fly line — Connecting and disconnecting the Mono Rig
The Dorsey Yarn Indicator — Everything you need to know and a little more


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Hi Domenick,
I guess you knew this questions was coming, which colors are most visible to you? I’m going to give it a go. I like trying new things. that’s part of the fun to me.
Thanks for the article, Bruce

Thank you Domenick for all your insightful articles.
I have been using green balloons as an indy beyond standard dry-dropper. Using a overhand knot over leader to attach, it has most of the attributes you mention, except it is not reusable…. I will give the Dorsey a try.

Alex Argyros

Fantastic post, Dom. As it turns out, I was fishing yesterday on our tailwater (the Guadalupe). The river was flowing at over 400 cfs., so I used a drop shot rig to get the flies down quickly (btw, the drop shot really works well, and, as an added benefit, I only lost one nymph to a snag in a long day of fishing). I was using a thingamabobber, but I decided to experiment with a Dorsey indicator I had with me. To make a long story short, the Dorsey was better in every way. It cast better, floated better, was… Read more »


I’ve seen you write about “dorseys” a few times, so I’ve been patiently waiting this tutorial. I’ve been chasing the right indicator for a while now and I’ve never found one that does everything I need it to. I ordered the materials and made a few of these. While I haven’t fished them yet, I’m a little disappointed after the “water glass test.” Once I finished making them, I dressed one with Rain-X and some green mucilin. I dropped it in the glass of water and it became waterlogged almost immediately. While it still floated, instead of sitting on top… Read more »

Alex Argyros

As I wrote above, I used my Dorsey last time I fished to support a lot of split shot on a drop-shot rig and it floated beautifully all day.

However, I did use 8 strands. Which leads to my question. I’ve been building my Dorseys with 8 strands and just trimming them to size. The logic behind that is a dense Dorsey always floats best and, even with 8 strands, a tiny Dorsey lands light as a feather. Dom, could you explain why you use fewer strands (2, for example) on your smaller Dorseys?

Alex Argyros

Good points, Dom. Thanks.

Actually, I’ve never used a really small Dorsey. I think that an 8 strand small Dorsey wouldn’t work, so I’ll try it your way.

Finally, do you have trout rise to a small Dorsey? I’m beginning to get an idea . . .


Hey Domenick,
I counted 5 strands i the video, is that correct? Would you say that that is the average number for you?

Robert Lockwood

Dom, I too love a Dorsey. I’ve previously used them on tapered leaders and never had a problem attaching them to the thicker diameter butt section. I switched over to the mono rig to give it a try and I’m having a lot of problems with using the Dorsey on the finer tippet below the sighter.. The rubber band does not come up onto the bottom of the Dorsey making it very difficult to adjust without burning the line. I’m using 2 and 3 strand so I didn’t expect to have this problem. I’ve tried any where from 3-5 wraps… Read more »

Scott Larson

I know Rain-X is good for windshields, but is good for for trout streams?

Great help. Can you please clarify how you attach the rig to the leader, I couldn’t follow the instruction about wrapping the leader several times over the top issue f the band, then pulling to tighten. Thanks!


I watched the video but still ended up having a couple questions about attaching the indicator to the leader as well- 1) Is the orthodontic band supposed to be rolled down onto the actual yarn indicator or merely “snugged up” against it? In other words is the band supposed to end up wrapped around the base/stem of the indicator? 2) Is it okay for the indicator to end up looking like 2 separate tufts on the line? Or is it supposed to end up pinched together so the two ends appear as 1 single tuft on the line? Love this… Read more »

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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