Over the last few years our readers and Instagram followers have asked about which strike indicators to use. There are many indicator companies out there and certain brands work better for different situations. I have used Thingamabobber, New Zealand Strike Indicator and Airlock.
My preferred indicator for fishing rivers in Montana is Airlock. They’re easy to adjust, easy to attach and do not damage your leader as much as other indicators. They float well even with a heavy nymph load and allow you to observe a strike easily. Usually they run between $6 and $7 at your local fly shop for a pack of three in assorted colors. Airlock also comes in different sizes.
Another option is a completely different system that uses clear tubing and colored wool. The New Zealand Strike Indicator has three good applications in my opinion. Stillwater, slow-moving creeks and small river systems like braids. In stronger currents I find that the wool gets pulled under the water quickly and becomes useless unless you are euro nymphing. This indicator is not as easy to apply as Airlock is. This indicator also lasts after an investment of around $15, I’m still using the same kit that I got last year. The starter kit comes with white and green wool, there are multiple other colors like black and red available too. I’ve found the wool doesn’t spook fish as much as a conventional indicator like Airlock or Thingamabobber. This is something to consider when fishing clear and shallow water.
Thingamabobber was the first indicator I ever used. I have not used one since I found Airlock and New Zealand Strike Indicator. Thingamabobber is inexpensive but works at the cost of replacing leader often. It can chew up leader during use and slip down leader after missed hook sets causing you to reel in slack line to adjust your depth setting. This indicator frustrated me a lot in the beginning of my fly-fishing career so I don’t use it anymore.
As with any product, personal preference should be the first choice. When I’m on the water I want to be focused on the fish and not be frustrated with my tackle. Overall, I would suggest Airlock first, New Zealand Strike Indicator second and Thingamabobber last.