Steve’s Explanation of Chuck-N-Duck & Indicator Rigs for Migratory Fish

Steve’s Explanation of Chuck-N-Duck & Indicator Rigs for Migratory Fish


1st Backing: This is used to help fill the spool, get a faster retrieve ratio, a more consistent drag and on occasion, to keep you from losing your line!

2nd Running Line, Shooting line or Amnesia: Attach this to your backing with an Albright knot. This thinner diameter line is pulled thru the guides much easier than a “fat line” or regular fly line. It is thick enough to strip and handle with comfort, it’s color allows you to see it and follow your drift more effectively and it cuts the water much better causing less belly on those rare occasions when it’s actually submerged.

3rd A Butt Section of Heavy Mono (or Leader if you will): Depending on the line you chose in number two, you’ll attach this to it with an Albright, Nail, Blood or double Uni Knot. It should be 10′ to 12′ long and I find that 12 or 15# works fine. (Or tapered to 12 to 15#) This is the line that will actually be in the water with the weight riding at the end. A tapered leader is not actually needed as the weight will carry the rig and a consistent thin diameter works better. It is recommended that you use a good abrasion resistant mono like Maxima. The Butt section is generally much smaller around than the running line and when presented properly, cuts the water extremely well with little or no belly.

4th The Hardware: This is where a lot of folks have their own ideas, and I won’t argue the point. I’ll just tell you how I do it and why… At this point I slide a snap swivel up onto the Butt Section, typically a black #10. After that, I tie on a black #10 barrel swivel to the end of the butt section using an improved clinch knot. (Many anglers will slide a bead up behind the snap to protect the knot and get better rotation out of the snap. I’ve done it both ways and haven’t found much of a difference if you clip the knot tight.)

The reasons for the sliding swivel are many, but here are just a few. Using a snap swivel will allow you to tie off some mono and use shot or hollow lead, but it also gives you the option of using a slinky when stealth is required or your hanging up too much. Attaching the weight directly to the line or a three way creates line twist and forces the fish to actually lift the weight off the bottom of the river before the hit is felt on the rod tip. A sliding system allows the slack to be taken up without that, hits are felt much better and line twist becomes minimal…

5th Leader to fly: I use the improved cinch knot almost exclusively for all connections here. The exception is when I’m fishing a pattern like a Hex Nymph; here I use a Duncan Loop to give the fly more life like action. On a two fly rig (I often still use this in pools) I go about 3′ to each fly, with one I go about 4′. I firmly believe that one fly is preferable on gravel unless you are very accomplished…

Presentation to the fish:

1st Gravel: I’ll start with that, as that’s where I’m seeing the majority of anglers these days. Most gravel beds are shallow and should be fished as follows, but there are some much deeper redds that will be fished as a pool or run would. The biggest mistakes include too much weight, standing too close and standing beside or even behind the redd. Think about it, if you run a weight, a fly or both directly thru the redd, your obviously going to hook some fish somehow and maybe even a couple in or on the outside of the mouth. Most, however, will be foul.

The first thing to me is picking the redd, I won’t even bother to fish one that I can’t approach from about a 45 degree above angle. Anything less and you are forced to run the fly thru the fish… Once you’ve picked your target and gotten into position you’ll want to check your tackle. Very, very little weight is all that is often needed. Just enough to pull the rig out and barely tic the bottom as the fly is swung IN FRONT OF the fish. The cast should be made straight across stream or slightly quartered down. This will allow the current to grab your offering with out creating belly in the line and sweep it in front of the redd fly first. Once the weight has hit the water, the slack line should be lifted from its surface to avoid belly and the drift should be followed with the rod slightly elevated. Try not to lead the drift or follow it with the rod, stay right over top of the line. Allowing for some light refraction, you should be able to tell exactly where your fly is now.

Casting upstream causes the weight to catch bottom and the line to form a large belly. (Bad presentation.) When this happens you have a very hard time telling exactly where your fly is and you stand a good chance of sweeping the whole thing thru the redd and foul hooking fish. Take an angle on your cast so that you know exactly where the rig is and it repeatedly swings in front of (and not thru) the redd and fish. The fish won’t spook nearly as much as they would other wise, and an aggressive fish WILL take it! The non-aggressive ones won’t and you’ll feel a lot better about having not cheated. Some folks would argue that swinging the fly in front of the fish is less natural of a presentation than dead drifting it thru them and they would be correct, but be rest assured that the swing will fool plenty enough fish and as a bonus you won’t have to worry about fould hooking any. I’ll grant you that your going to start hooking a whole lot fewer fish than in the other method, but isn’t it about quality and not quantity?

2nd Pools and Runs (I’ll say pool for both): This is actually quite a bit more technical and requires a certain feel. The amount of weight used is determined by the depth, speed and location of the pool. The deeper or faster the pool, the more you may have to cast upstream or add weight. Many spots require a fly to be dropped off a steep ledge fast and more weight is required for that. The most common mistake is letting the line lay on the waters surface too long after the cast, this again creates the evil belly and forces the angler to use more weight than needed to get down. The depth of the water compounds the belly problem, and the only thing you generally accomplish is spooking fish in all directions with a few occasionally running into the line and getting lined or foul hooked.

When you approach the pool start by making a few cast with very little weight, most of the time it’s all that is needed. Use your best guess as to how far up you need to throw so that the weight only hits the bottom once it’s in front of or just past your position and ticks along at the speed of the current. Lob the line in where possible, you’ll want extra line out for the drop. As soon as your weight hits the mark you’ve picked, then lift the extra line off the water immediately. You don’t want to lift so hard that you pull the rig back toward you, just enough to pick up the slack. Now your standing there with the rod held high most likely, and this is where it gets tricky. You’ll want to lower the line into the water only as fast as the weight is taking it down, not faster because of the belly factor and not slower because you want the rig to drop as soon as possible without drifting back toward you. You will eventually pick up little tricks like stripping line in as you lower the rod to a more comfortable level with out pulling the rig toward you or hindering the drop. Then you can ease that slack back out as needed. Those things will come with practice or even better, observation.

Now you’ve played around enough that you’ve found a good clean drift with minimal drag (belly), and your flies are way out front and being presented first. If you want to really play it safe with salmon, you can wait on the very obvious bites for a while and miss a few until a feel develops and you learn to know the subtle ones. Regardless of who you are or how long you’ve been at it, you’re still going to foul hook a few Salmon and maybe a few Steelhead using this method. With practice, your ratio will fall well within a livable level. Resist the temptation to randomly strike when you’re in the zone that you know the fish are in! Give ’em a chance to take it, switch patterns and angles and use your good sense!

Floating Lines & Indicators, The Way I See It:

Again, as in the chuck-n-duck piece, I certainly can’t write the book that would be required to cover everything from the get go (At least not right now.) so I’ll assume that most of you interested in this already know the basics of dry fly fishing. For those of you that don’t, I invite you to take a guided trip with emphasis on learning, or even better, sign up for one of our fly fishing schools.

Lets start with the rig from the floating line, but first a brief note on the rod. Simple, a longer rod works better. A longer rod will give you more line control for this type of fishing, mending, etc… that is why a lot of folks have gone to spey rods even on the smaller rivers for this method. I find that a nine and a half foot rod is fine for a river like the PM and is a good all around rod for many other applications as well. A stiffer rod is also better for most folks. Experienced fly fishers will find these turn over the rig easier, mend easier, etc… Less experienced anglers may want to stick with a moderate action rod so that they can get a better feel of the rod loading.

The Floating Line: This is where a lot of folks have different ideas; I’ll just give you mine. Attach your floating line to the backing by way of an Albright or nail knot. For “indy” fishing I like to over line my rod by at least one and sometimes two line weights depending on the stiffness of the rod. (Soft action, one line weight. Fast action, two.) If your fishing primarily or exclusively smaller waters like the PM, Little Manistee, etc… You’ll likely want to go with a double taper or the Salmon Steelhead tapered lines mentioned below here. (Something that will roll cast easy and allows you to throw a hard mend.) Those of you that are fishing primarily the bigger waters like the Big M, Muskegon, etc. Will more than likely want to go with a weight forward. I recommend a long belly fly line here so that you can still roll cast and mend hard with relative ease, but have the ability to make long cast as well. SA, Rio, and several other companies make those Steelhead and Salmon taper lines that are just the ticket.

The leader: I attach this to the fly line with a good old nail knot directly, but a loop-to-loop connection will work fine as well. The length of the leader (not tippet) is determined by the depths of water you mostly fish (For most sections of the PM, I run about nine foot.) and while I still prefer a good old-fashioned tapered leader to help in the turning over process, it is not entirely necessary. A straight section of something in the 12lb range will work because a small amount of shot will be applied to the end of the leader and the fly line should roll this out.

The indicator: (Or, bobber if you will… After all, that’s what it is.) I’ve seen everything from a big steelhead Carlisle bobber to the pinch on foam type used here. A member of TSS turned me on to the Thill Ice-n-fly bobbers a good while ago and I haven’t gone back. Whatever bobber you use, you will want to be able to adjust it up and down your leader. Many folks will go with the sliding type (like the thill) and use a toothpick to set the depth. A fellow guide that some of you know by the name of Tommy Lynch taught me a trick with a rubber band some time ago that I love. It holds very well and can be simply slid to the desired depth with some force. This is a little too involved to explain without actually showing, so the best I can do is to promises to share if you run into me, or I’m sure Tommy would be glad to help if you run into him. Ask around a bit also, I’ll bet it’s caught on. The size of the indicator is determined by the amount of shot needed in the location you’re fishing. (Often, a lot less shot than most think…) You’ll want the bobber to go down easy!

The tippet: This is the section of line that will actually present your fly to the fish. I like to attach the tippet to the leader by way of a double surgeons knot if I’m using split shot or I’ll use a small barrel swivel if I’m using hollow lead. The double surgeon is a great knot for tying lines together that sometimes have great differences in diameter. It also creates somewhat of an L shape kink in the line that I like for putting the fly downstream horizontally of the knot and split shot. The length of tippet is determined by the conditions your fishing in, but for one fly three and a half to four feet is a good general rule. I almost never run two flies when indicator fishing, but when I do, I go around three feet to the first and another foot and a half to two feet to the second. As a side note I will mention that anytime your indicator fishing your loops should be exaggerated as much as conditions will allow. (Wider loops not tighter loops.) This will help keep your leader, shot, tippet and fly from getting tangled while casting as they often do when any weight is above the lighter last object. This rule becomes very important when fishing two flies…


This would require another book with lots of illustrations to explain properly, but I’ll sum it up as best I can rather briefly. #1. Fish the indicator just as you would most dry flies! That sounds easy, and it is if you’re a dry fly fisherperson. (Drag free drifts, mending, etc… it’s all done the same.) #2. Adjust the indicator on your leader so that you’re shot rides just above the bottom only touching occasionally or so that your fly is presented to the fishes level when suspended. #3. Often times it is almost impossible to get a drift in close enough to the bank or other structure on the first cast without hitting the bank its self, limbs or other obstructions. Here is a valuable trick to learn and practice. After putting you’re cast in as close as you can to the target area, allow a brief moment for the shot and fly to sink just a bit, then roll cast you’re indicator to the desired drift with just enough force to get it there, but no so much as to pull the fly and shot clear of the water. Mend immediately and the shot will swing under the indicators position giving you the desired current seam.

Indicator fishing is fast becoming the preferred “Big Fish” method among many fly anglers here in the Midwest. It accomplishes the goal in “most” situations of getting the fly down fast enough and yet allows for a more “traditional” style of casting and presentation verses the Chuck-n-duck. It is my contention that in order to be as successful as possible (Success being defined here as catching more fish.) on our rivers, an angler should master both techniques, keep both always available and use the one that suits the situation at hand best!

Tight Lines All!