Versions of this little article have floated around various magazines and Web sites over the years. Not the most glamorous of fly-fishing topics, I know, but an approach that can be of real help when conditions warrant.
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When fishing the small stuff, a strike indicator of average proportions may be serious overkill, making presentation less delicate and more inaccurate. Micro-indicators are the answer. Micro-indicators are just what their name implies—tiny indicators that cause little or no interference with casting and make for minimal touchdown splash.
Strike-putty really comes into its own in the micro-indicator world. Rubbing putty into the interstices of the knots of your leader creates a dot-to-dot connection to your fly. In addition, the putty dots illuminate your drift. If the dots are dragging, what do you think your fly is doing? This is a modern update to the old practice of painting the knots in a leader. To get maximum visibility in varied light conditions, try using a different color of putty for each knot. This system works well for small dries and emergers, as well as submerged flies (especially in slightly rougher water).
A greased-leader is another form of micro-indicator and is best in slack-water conditions where you don’t want anything extra attached to the leader. The idea is to grease (coat) the leader with a paste-type fly floatant. Grease the leader down as close to the fly as is necessary for what you want to do. The track of the leader on the surface is quite visible and, in essence, creates a very long monofilament “bobber” that can hold a small emerger or nymph at a pre-determined depth. This old technique is a personal favorite when fishing midge pupae in slow or still waters, since the slightest change in leader position (such as when a fish subtly samples the fly) is immediately visible. Drag issues also become very obvious.
Another style of micro indicator, and one that can be incorporated directly into the leader, is a piece (or furl, as the case may be) of brightly-hued monofilament. The idea is to tie a short segment of the material in at one or more places in the leader (preferably in butt or mid-sections). Best in places of slower water, this set-up is related to, and can be used with, the greased leader tactic.
When using any of these micro-indicators, remember that you are really fishing the indicator(s) more than the fly. If you can’t see your fly, you can’t tell what it’s doing. But if you can see your indicator, you know what your leader, and thus likely your fly, is doing. With this comes one caveat: Don’t become solely dependent upon your indicator(s) to tell you everything. There are times, especially when using long leaders and slack-line presentations, that a fish may take your fly and your indicator(s) may not relay the message for a relatively lengthy period of time. Just be sure to watch the area where you think your fly is residing and be ready to act if you sense that a fish has accepted your offering.