The Indicator vs. the Hopper/Dropper


Indicator vs. the Hopper

I have always been told to never say never, so I will say instead that I rarely use an indicator when fly fishing small streams. Two main reasons keep me from threading my line through a bobber or a polypropylene indicator and neither of them are because I am an elitist. I generally reach for a hopper or buoyant dry fly instead for a couple of key reasons.

1. The “indicator” has a hook – After the first time I saw a 16 inch brown trout take a nip at my yarn indicator, all bets were off. Why waste an opportunity on an indicator when you can use an “indicator” with a hook. A big foam hopper is a great choice and has enough buoyancy to drift some of the large nymphs or streamer

Brown takes the hopper

2. Locating fish –Tandem fishing a hopper (or buoyant dry fly) and a nymph together can greatly increase your chances of finding where those fish are located in the water column. You can get extra fancy and throw a 2nd dropper on your line in especially deep water.

3. Finding out what fish are eating – When fishing a new stretch of water, it can be tricky to figure out what fish are keyed in on. By increasing the number of flies you have on the water, you are exponentially increasing your chances of figuring out exactly what those trout are interested in. Often times a stimulator or a heavily hackled parachute can do the trick especially in an area not known for its terrestrial fishing.

At the end of the day, a Dry/Dropper setup is an extremely nice way to fish and something every fly fisherman should have in his bag of tricks. Although traditionally seen as a western style of fishing, this tactic can be productive in any moving water.


Some things to remember when getting ready to rig up your Dry/Dropper setup:

Bright Foam Flies
Beefy, Bright, Buoyant Bugs

** Foam flies – Big bright foam hoppers are a great choice when looking for a buoyant indicator fly. Foam floats all day and you can use neon colors to keep track of your fly in fast water.

** Extra hackle or hair – Don’t be afraid to add a few more wraps of hack to your Parachute Adams or a few more strands of hair to your Elk Hair Caddis. In some instances, less is not always more. I like to tie a few with a normal amount of material to be fished alone and a few with a little bit more for those days when I use a dry/dropper setup.

** “Hi-Vis” Posts – Sometimes tying in a “Hi-Vis” (High Visibility) post on a hopper or dry fly can make all the difference when trying to follow your fly on the drift.

** Fly Floatant – Don’t forget the fly floatant. Whether you use a goo or a dust, it is imperative that your hopper or dry fly be properly dressed so that it rides high on the water. An indicator fly does not do much good when you cannot see it.

Brook Trout
Brookie falls for the dropper

6 Responses to “The Indicator vs. the Hopper/Dropper”

  1. Bruce

    Nice post I remember the day I gave up indicators, and it was the same situation. Last year I discovered the Goddard Caddis, and they are some of the best indicators I’ve used in years.

  2. Mike McLaughlin

    Agree with you here Ben.

    Dry dropper is the ticket for small streams or anywhere the water is relatively shallow and the drifts are short. If you just want to nymph, just lose the dry and use good line management.

    Indicators are great for heavy nymphing where you are adding a lot of weight or performing extended deep drifts.

  3. azwanderings

    Thanks Mike.

    Yeah, ironic that I just got back from the San Juan and used an indicator the whole time. MOST of the time I opt for the hopper…
    Good stuff. Thank you.


  4. Jesse

    Ben,I really enjoy your articles and want to purchase some hoppers and a T-shirt. I think it’s great that you have a better half that supports your interest and goes with you and I whish you success and adventure as you explore this great state and take in God’s country.I am a member of azflyandtie(lineshooter)and started fly fishing about 2 yrs ago and a lot of the members refer people to your site(like me). Is there a AZwanderings hat somewhere in the works?

    • azwanderings

      Wow. Thanks Jesse. I really appreciate the kind words and the support. Feel free to check out the AZWanderings shop and put your order in there. I’ve been thinking about the hats and maybe some stickers but I’m going to have to foot a pretty heavy bill to get the hats done up right. I will definitely let you know once I get those made up. I sure am lucky to have an understanding wife. That truly makes all the difference. AZFAT is a great site and I know I have learned quite a bit just perusing those old articles. Thanks for sending guys to my site. It really means alot when I get nice comments like this. Thanks again.



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