by Steven Neely


The Bung, Bobber, Stillwater Indicator, call it what you will, is a perfectly legitimate and often lethal method on stillwaters large and small across the UK. Sadly, some anglers seem to loathe Indicator Fishing. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because of ethics, casting aerodynamics, the fact that it’s far too close to coarse fishing for comfort? Whatever the reasons, some people just really don’t like fishing The Bung and those opinions may be tough to change. But I will try!

The Bung, in my humble opinion, should be part of your fly-fishing armoury, it’s as simple as that. Ask anyone who uses this method, either for pleasure or while competing, and they’ll be sure to tell you about its effectiveness. This is because it offers near perfect static presentation which cannot be achieved any other way.

Stillwater Indicator Fishing – A Little History

The Bung has come a long way since its introduction. I think  it was Steve Schweitzer who brought the sight indicator to the fly fishing community. His original tactic, targeting fish feeding on the riverbed with various heavy nymphs suspended under some yarn or a bobber (little plastic float), was quickly and easily adapted for stillwater fishing. It’s still a lethal and popular method for river fishing, particularly in the US. Moreover, our own UK stillwater fraternity have taken this method and honed it to within an inch of its life to make it what it is today.

A Stillwater Indicator fly floating on a lake

Stillwater Indicator Fishing – The Design

The original indicator was just a piece of sheep’s wool tied on to the leader. But with the onset of competition fishing it has been adapted for use on our stillwaters.

The type of Bungs we use today are shaped foam (ball, bullet or cone) and usually made from ethafoam, which is super buoyant foam basically. 

So here are some things to consider to get the most from the Bung:

  • The size needs to correlate to the fly or flies that you’re fishing below it. This is because it needs to be big enough to hold them up, no more – so have them in various sizes.
  • Colour is crucial. On those bright days with glare on the water there’s no better colour than black for a contrast. On dull days yellow will be the stand out colour. And in changeable weather, one minute sunny, the next cloudy, use orange.

Stillwater Indicator Fishing – Easy To Use

There are many indicators on the market but I create your own, by carving a lump of ethafoam to shape and lashing it to a hook. Then I  coat it with Loon Hard Head in either yellow, black or orange. It couldn’t be simpler.

Of course these days there are perfectly shaped Bungs on the market, painted in a variety of colours to suit all the different light conditions. Fast, simple and fuss-free fishing for those that want it.

A Bung with a hook in it is what the majority want so that’s what they use and it’s amazing how often a fish will take the actual Bung.

However there are other alternatives. I love good old-fashioned yarn, for example. The thickness used depends on your eyesight and just whatever it is fly-wise you’re looking to suspend underneath it.

I make my own adjustable indicators too. For this I go back to the block of ethafoam to shape the appropriate size. I then trim down a cotton bud, superglue it on the outside and slide it through the ethafoam. Next, I heat and melt the ends so they butt up against the foam. This allows you to then thread your tippet through the cotton bud and secure by inserting a cocktail stick. Not all of it just a small end, in the hole facing the fly line to lock everything in place.

I also use coarse fishing ‘line stops’ on my tippet so I can slide my Bung up or down should I need to.

A Stillwater Indicator fly and Stillmaniac Fly Rod

Stillwater Indicator Fishing – Too Good!

The Bung’s effectiveness can be measured by the amount of anglers who now use it – thousands! And of course, the results too speak for themselves – get it right and it’s a game-changer.

I remember fishing an international match on Rutland water in May. It was to blow a gale so everyone, it seemed, had set up for pulling. However, the Scots put two or three of their team out on the Bung right at the very start of the match. Although it was windy there were one or two areas that were less ‘blowy’. As a result, in that one hour window before the wind had gotten up properly, all of them, on the Bung, had bagged up. And that was it, game over for everyone else. So those boys won it for the Scotland team in the first hour or so of the match.

On small waters too, it’s devastatingly good in the right hands. For instance, there are a handful of competition anglers who will sit on the Bung all day long. And nine times out of ten they will be there or thereabouts in the results. So by making subtle changes in Bung size, fly weight, pattern and depth at which they’re fished, these anglers will follow the trout up and down the water column all day long.

Stillwater Indicator Fishing – The Good, The Bad (But Not So Ugly)

There are some negatives with this method such as spooking wary fish cruising just below the surface, or trying to cast into a stiffish wind, and turn over with a long leader (the Bung is as aerodynamic as a wellington boot). However, they are far outweighed by the positives.  

For every trout that you scare by the Bung landing on the water, you will hook twice as many . This is because the Bung, unlike other static presentation methods, allows us to detect even very soft takes. Normally we miss the gentle takes that happen when fishing nymphs or indeed lures like Blobs or Snakes ‘on the drop’, as they are often not registered at your hand.

We can also use the Bung whatever the weather (as long as it’s not too windy and even then you can fish it in the margins where it can be lethal on the downwind shore). I find it is at its deadliest when conditions are overcast and there’s a nice ripple on the water. In conditions like this you can have complete control of the Bung, the floating line and most importantly of all, the fly you choose to fish below it.

The Bung – Conventional

When fishing the conventional Bung fishing we use a floating line and anything from one, two or three Buzzers. We suspend these below the buoyant indicator, attached at the top dropper placed close to the fly line.

 I space the flies evenly, usually at three or four feet intervals – so 12ft from the Bung on the top dropper to the point fly so you can land fish. Anything longer (deeper) than that and you’ll struggle.

Fishing the Bung in this way allows you to cover various depths from top to bottom in 10 to 14 feet of water – and this is ideal buzzer water early doors.

A sizeable indicator can also hold up a couple of lures or fry patterns which can be just as deadly as the usual small flies, given the correct conditions and the time of year. The whole aim of the exercise is to present your flies, whatever you choose to use, static in the water column.

A trout swims along, likes the look of the tasty morsel hanging there and it inhales it. The take is registered on the Bung at the water’s surface, as it will either dip under the water or move in an unnatural way.

When this happens, try not to strike as you normally would when fishing conventional methods. Lift into the fish gently, just pull the line and lift the rod tip and you should increase your hook up rate no end. I like to use a rod with a softer action but a fly line with no stretch as they tend to work well together with this method.

The Bung – Adjustable

The Adjustable Bung is ideal for finding the depth the trout are feeding at as it can be moved (slid up or down on the leader) without changing droppers or re-tying. This allows you to cover various depths quickly and efficiently. We see this style of Bung fishing a lot more on smaller waters – because we don’t tend to fish as deep and we prefer to use a single fly rather than a team.

It’s worth noting that more and more these days we tend to use larger flies, lures instead of nymphs, and weirdly they probably catch far more than the natural looking offerings.

A whole host of flies have been developed for use with the Bung. For example, patterns like Blobs, Eggs with beads, Puddlebugs, Okidokies, the Shammy and a plethora of other weird and wonderful creations. None of these really work with other, more conventional fishing techniques – nope, it’s Bung or bust for these flies! There aren’t many fishing techniques where the flies only really serve one purpose and that’s to be fished in conjunction with a Bung.

The Bung – Reverse Indicator

You can fish the reverse indicator on a variety of fly lines from a floater down to fast sinkers. However, it will probably work best on a sink-tip or a slow-sinking intermediate.

You can suspend a few nymphs, on the droppers, as you would with the washing line but as the Bung is more buoyant it will keep the flies up for far longer than a Booby or FAB. As a result you can control the depth at which they fish even more accurately, and for longer.

When it comes to faster sinking lines, the nymphs will fish from the lakebed up. Using this method with a fly line that sinks at seven inches a second, the flies will hover above the lakebed all the way to the bottom and during the length of the retrieve. A figure-of-eight retrieve is ideal. Because the sink rate of the line is reduced as it’s retrieved the  flies will start to rise up, the Bung pulling them up to the surface.

This can be a fantastic way of finding the depth the trout are holding at early season and in the heat of the summer.

So, in conclusion, there is far more to fishing the Indicator or Bung than many would have believe. And of course, as with any method, there are subtle nuances that can make all the difference.

Give it a try and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

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