strike indicator fly

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria

It was the third time a fish took my float indicator that Saturday morning. This time it was a 15-16” brown that held on for several seconds before letting go! I promptly coated an old fly with floating putty and caught several fish. That’s when I vowed it was time to develop a Strike Indicator Fly.

It took a season or two to refine the pattern. Initially, I tied a fluorescent orange spun deer hair fly and shaped it like a football. It worked, but after a couple of fish, it got waterlogged and was barely visible in the water film. Addition of a high-vis tail helped to see the fly and improved floatation, but it was still pretty low in the water film after catching a few fish.

Later that same season I found green beetles in the stomach of a nice trout (what can I say, I like to eat trout every now and then). So I tried green deer hair and added rubber legs. It worked great too, but the rubber legs added weight and the fly became difficult to see even faster. This led to the addition of a 2 mm foam cap over the deer hair. Voila, now the fly remained visible even after catching several fish (which of course is the whole point of this exercise). Eventually I added a contrasting foam stripe on the top. Now the fly was easily visible even in riffles and rapids.

The Strike Indicator Fly excels when nothing is rising and the water is slightly hazy from the end of run off. I find fish hold near shallower cover and feed voraciously under these conditions. That’s when I like to use the Strike Indicator Fly with a small unweighted girdle bug on a 15-24” dropper. This fishes well in 1-3 feet of water.

Last year I was fishing one of my favorite stretches. It has a rocky bottom, punctuated by periodic small holes that are slightly deeper. The fish tend to sit at the head or tail of the mini-holes or tight to larger rocks. I was working the stretch carefully as it is necessary to get the flies right over the head of the fish. One nicer fish had already charged the Strike Indicator Fly, looked at it for a couple of seconds, and turned off (this is where a stick of dynamite is mighty tempting). A few minutes later the flies were passing by a particularly “fishy looking” spot. Just as they passed the downstream edge of a large rock, the water exploded and the Strike Indicator Fly suddenly disappeared. It was a very determined fish as it wrapped around several snags. Fortunately, the leader held and eventually a very thick 14” brown came to net. Ah, success is so sweet. That is a typical Strike Indicator Fly story.

Fishing the Strike Indicator Fly

So how do you know when to use the Strike Indicator Fly? In my experience, this technique excels in the early season when the water is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But, whenever you want is also okay – it works all season long with some modifications. It always seems to enrage a fish or two as long as fish are not rising to a dominant hatch.

Given the fish are not rising, I usually like to start with a strike indicator and two appropriate nymphs. I usually start with a weighted lead fly and an unweighted fly on an 18-24” dropper. After three or more fish take the strike indicator, I switch to the Strike Indicator Fly and an unweighted dropper fly (usually a nymph, girdle bug, or wooly bugger).

Occasionally the Strike Indicator Fly will land upside down. You can tell since the yellow contrasting stripe does not show. When this happens, tighten your line slightly and jostle the top of your fly rod until the fly rolls over. It usually takes one or two tries.

Last year I caught 16 trout in just over 2 hours while fishing less than a half-mile stretch of river. The fish split evenly between the Strike Indicator Fly and the girdle bug dropper. All the fish were 14-17” browns. The takes on the Strike Indicator Fly are often like a bass smashing a surface lure. It’s a great way to get your adrenaline going. Then the game begins. After catching a fish or two on the Strike Indicator Fly, the natural tendency is to focus on it in anticipation of the next explosion. That’s when a fish will take the girdle bug and the Strike Indicator Fly slowly slips under the water. Many times, I find myself thinking “Hmm how does the Strike Indicator Fly slowly slip under the water?” After a slight pause, my lightning fast mind reminds me, “Hey dummy, the fish took the girdle bug. Set the hook, NOW!” Then you start waiting for the Strike Indicator Fly to slowly slip under the water and an explosion occurs as the fish takes the Strike Indicator Fly. Eventually you will find the balance where either take is recognized. When it is working, it is an addicting style of fishing.

I have experimented and found many different combinations seem to work well. Here’s the recipe and how I tie the fly.

How to Tie the Strike Indicator Fly


  Material Used Comments
Hook #8 Mustad R50 Equivalent hooks: Daiichi 1170 or 1180, Tiemco 100
Thread Black UTC Ultra 280 Fish don’t seem to mind contrasting thread. It saves me time by not changing thread for each deer hair color (As long as the fish don’t care, which they don’t, I don’t care). If you are fashion conscious, feel free to match the thread and deer hair color.
Tail calf tail fluorescent orange and white are my favorites for high visibility
Body spun deer hair Red or fluorescent orange are best for visibility, the fish don’t seem to care.
Over Body 2 mm foam Red or fluorescent orange; if you are partial to another color, give it a try, it will probably work
Hi-Vis Strip 2×2 mm foam strip Yellow or red seem to improve visibility most; make sure it contrasts the foam over body to maximize visibility

Tying Steps

strike indicator fly step 1
Step 1

Step 1: Crush the barb down, Wrap the shaft of the hook with thread. Stop just before the hook bend, and Tie in about 1/8” diameter of fluorescent orange calf tail. Be careful not to over wrap as it will create a bulge.

Step 2: Shape a piece (about 1 1/4” long x 1/2” wide) of 2 mm closed cell orange foam as shown to the right. Tail end is shown left; eye end is right side and is slightly longer.

Step 3: Tie it on top of the tail near the bend of the hook where the tail first exits. Wrap thread over the foam up to where the tail is tied in. Trim off any excess foam and cover with thread.

strike indicator fly step 3
Step 3
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Step 4
strike indicator fly step 5
Step 5

Step 4: Spin a 2-3 pencil thick clump of orange deer hair. Stroke hair to the rear of the hook, and make several wraps at the leading edge of the spun deer hair (this locks the spun hair). For an excellent video demonstrating how to spin deer hair, see Chris Helm demonstrating the basics of spinning deer hair. Repeat spinning the deer hair to about ¼” from the eye of the hook after using your preferred hair-packing device. Make 2-3 half hitches, or whip finish, and cut the thread.

Step 5: Remove the fly from the vice. Trim the deer hair to the basic shape of a flat football. Start by trimming the bottom flat and as close to the hook as possible without hitting the thread. The wider the bottom the better the fly will float with the bottom down. Also, it is a good idea to apply cement to the bottom at this point. Continue trimming the deer hair to shape the hair above the hook bend into a football shape. Replace the fly in the vice and reattach the thread.

Step 6: Pull the foam snugly over the deer hair and tie it down close to the deer hair at the front of the fly.

strike indicator fly step 6
Step 6
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Step 7
strike indicator fly step 8
Step 8

Step 7: Cut a roughly 2 x2 mm strand of a contrasting foam a little longer than the length of the body. I usually use a yellow strip with an orange body. Tie the foam stripe in at the same point where the foam body is tied down. Make 2-3 wraps of thread on the hook and under both pieces of foam after lifting up the foam. Place a light coat of super glue on the underside of the yellow strip and gently roll the strip down the foam body covering to near the tail. Hold it until the glue dries (10-15 seconds).

Step 8: You can use the fly at this point. However, I like to add another piece of foam on the front that makes the fly skate on the surface. To do so, cut a ¾”x3/8” piece of black 2 mm foam. Use a bodkin or any pointy object to poke a hole in the center of the foam at 2/3 of the length. Push the eye of the hook through the hole you just made. Snug the new piece of foam up to the other two pieces of foam.

Step 9: Make one light wrap of thread around the black foam and between the orange foam. Slowly tighten the loose wrap down to the hook shank and make 2-3 more turns. Make 3-4 wraps in front of the black foam and whip finish. Remove the fly from the vise. Trim the skater foam on top so it is even with ends of the cap and stripe foam. Trim the bottom of the skater foam so it is roughly flush with the bottom of the deer hair bottom. Then trim stray deer hair and the sides of the cap foam so it is flush with the deer hair.

You are done – time to go catch some fish!

strike indicator fly step 9
Step 9 - Done!

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