It’s a Suspender — Not Just an Indicator

by | Feb 1, 2018 | 5 comments

This August, 2016 Troutbitten article is retooled and revisited here.

Bobber, cork, foam, yarn, dry fly. Those are my categories, but who cares? If you’ve been fly fishing and nymphing for a while, you’ve probably tried all of the above. You have your own categories and your own preferences, and that’s great.

I don’t want to argue about which of these tools is better. Instead, let’s talk about what all of these things we attach to a leader really are. They’re suspenders. Does it matter what we call them? Maybe. I’m not trying to change the world here — use whatever words you like — but I do think that defining a simple difference can be helpful.

Dynamic Nymphing by George Daniel is at TCO Fly Shop

“Strike Indicator” is the common term. We buy them in small packages of two or three. We buy them in various sizes and colors. Maybe you even make your own, with water balloons you steal from your favorite toddler, or with macrame yarn and tiny orthodontic rubber bands leftover from  when your daughter wore braces. Everyone calls them indicators. But in his book, Dynamic Nymphing, George Daniel introduces the term “suspender.” It’s a brilliant distinction that eliminates confusion and defines the real purpose of these small things attached to our leader.

Indicator or suspender? They’re really two different things, and using the terms interchangeably creates some confusion. Wait . . . something is confusing in fly fishing? Yeah, all too common, right?

How about this: As the indy rig floated downstream, the bobber slowed, indicating that the nymphs were now suspended.

See what I mean? It’s a complicated world out there.

So let’s break it down

An indicator is anything that signals the strike from a fish. Good indicators also help identify leader angle, leader depth and where your flies are under the water.

A suspender is  anything on the surface used to support/suspend flies and weight underneath the water surface.

So all suspenders are indicators. But not all indicators are suspenders. Digest that for a few seconds, because it’s the crux of my message.

Here’s an example: a sighter is not a good suspender. It’s an indicator though. It shows where the flies are under the water, and it helps signal a strike. It indicates. Pure indicators are things like a backing barrel, a sighter, small visible sleeves pushed over leader knots, and even the visible tip of the fly line. None of them suspend much, if any, weight.

Suspenders do more than indicate

Like an indicator, a suspender can signal a strike, and it can act as a reference for where your flies might be. But a suspender does two more important jobs.

First, the suspender supports flies and weight (it holds them up) at a maximum distance from the surface — if your suspender is 3 feet from the nymph, then your nymph cannot reach more than 3 feet deep.

READ: Depth — Angle — Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig | Troutbitten

Second, a suspender leads the nymphs downstream with the current. That’s an important point, and I wrote about it in the post, One Great Nymphing Trick. Pure indicators, without the ability to suspend (like the Backing Barrel or a monofilament sighter) cannot do this.

#WordsMatter

Plastic, foam, cork, yarn and hackle: all are used to trap air and add buoyancy to a suspender. That buoyancy is what makes something a suspender.

Again, does defining the terms matter? I think it can help. I’m not naive enough to think that the fly fishing industry will start printing “Suspender” on those little packages. These tools will always be listed as indicators. But George will keep calling them suspenders, and so will I, if for no other reason than it helps us remember what the tool is capable of.

Fish hard, friends.

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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5 Comments

  1. Good stuff Domenick. So many people poo-poo suspenders these days, chalking them up as “not real” fly fishing, somehow forgetting what a powerful tool they are in the presentation lineup. (But hopper-droppers are ‘legit!’) Fly fisherman can be some of the most self-incriminating fractionated folks I know, drawing divisions and lines all over the place. Pitching tents in this camp or that camp. Willfully hamstringing themselves. I don’t use suspenders all that often, but when I do, it’s because the tactic is needed, necessary, appropriate, and legitimate. I’m looking forward to learning some stuff on nymphing tactics as your posts roll out!

    Reply
    • Right on, my friend.

      Suspenders are way too useful to write off.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  2. i haven’t been in flyfishing for that long (slow bloomer), but i look fwd to your email every week and fully
    intent to try some of them as soon as it gets a little warmer. very good articles, keep up the good work.

    Reply
  3. Another great article. Thank you, Dom.

    I think a lot about indicators. When I use sighers, I prefer the coiled type, but there is one problem I’ve always had with sighters, no matter what the type. I think that an indicator should give you as much information as possible about what is happening with your flies. Here on the Guadalupe in Texas, most of the fish we catch are right on the bottom. So, it’s imperative to get your flies down. Sighters are great to get relatively drag free drifts, but, at least for me, they do a poor job of indicating when you’re on the bottom of the stream.

    A suspender, on the other hand, conveys that information quite well. Especially when cast upstream, the suspender’s slight tick tick tick indicates that you’re on the bottom. Plus, as you say in your article, a suspender allows one to cast up and across and yet still fish upstream.

    The result, for me, is that I now use sighter in fast water and when I have to fish a long ways off across stream. For most other situations, I use a bobber. But, I think that an aspect of suspender fishing that is ignored is that a suspender should be very adjustable: up and down the leader certainly, but also in terms of size. I move my suspenders a lot and replace them constantly. I basically feel that the smallest bobber that gives you that slight tick tick tick without constantly being pulled under the water is the way to go.

    Reply

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