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.
“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.
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.
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.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N