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Howard Croston’s Drop Back Bung

Read Time: 8 Minutes | Published: 26th October 2023 | Author: Howard Croston

“The indicator,” fly fishing’s sanitized name for what is effectively a float can be a controversial subject and frequently treated with much disdain. However, when you stand back and consider some of the techniques we use and fly patterns we employ as “fly fishers” it’s very difficult to identify where the “line” is anymore. Ultimately if you are enjoying your fishing and not affecting anyone else should there even be a line! It is also true that indicator fishing can be extremely skillful, whilst still being a relatively accessible way for new fly anglers to gain early success. Like all techniques, however, it has its own subtleties and refinements. So, whilst it isn’t my personal favourite way to fish, I say each to their own. Love it or loath it, and irrespective of what you call it, the fact is indicator fishing can be deadly.

But is at as “deadly” as you think it is?

Howard and his new Drop Back Bung.
Image by Patrick Tillard.

Indicator Fishing

Indicator fishing is a broad church. At one end of the spectrum, a lump of synthetic chenille hanging 18” under a foam ball for a recently stocked fish in a small stillwater. At the other, fishing accurate Chironomid imitations for grown on or wild fish in a vast lake. They all have their challenges and quirks but one thing they all have in common is that if the indicator you use is a “standard” indicator. I’m sorry to say it is generally woefully ineffective at the one thing it’s supposed to be good at: indicating.

The Problem

To cut to the chase, most fly-fishing indicator set ups—particularly those used in lakes, i.e. that little round orange ball or lump of foam we all like to stare at—pretty much only indicate one thing. That’s when a fish confidently picks up the fly and tries to swim down / away with it. If the fish has read the “trout’s guide to indicator etiquette” the little ball goes under. Then, the angler strikes and everyone’s happy. But, just how often do the fish behave exactly like they should? Frankly, not as often as you think.

On it’s day, you can detect more than double the takes you normally would by using the Drop Back Bung.
Image by Patrick Tillard.

If you’re a particularly good indicator angler, sometimes you may see the little orange ball “shiver”, and recognize that something’s going on. You may strike and be lucky. Or, you may give the fly a twitch and be rewarded with a more aggressive response from the fish. Most likely though you just strike into thin air. The reason is that “shiver” can be many things. This includes a fish just doing a “drive by.” However, much more likely is that a fish has just ejected your fly after spending longer than you think sitting there chewing on it.

The issues with standard indicators don’t really end there. Unless you know your venue particularly well your fly could be slowly sinking into the mud or sitting on top a weed bed whilst your indicator fails to indicate much at all. And, what if the fly gets eaten as it sinks? if the fish doesn’t immediately swim off, what then? Well, nothing really. It just gets spat out again and you’re none the wiser

The Solution

Now to the solution. Some years ago I was given an actual dressed “indicator fly” by my good friend Chris bassano from Tasmania that was used to overcome a lot of the above-mentioned issues in shallow , heavily weeded lakes. It worked very well for the most part, but as it was dressed to conform to FIPS competition rules it also had some significant limitations, particularly when it came to ease of depth adjustment. This is a key factor to success when indicator fishing.

To maximize the effectiveness of this style of indicator I eliminated the hook and took a leaf out of the coarse fishers book in terms of depth adjustment. To do this I used soft float stops on the leader, drawing the line at adding split shot to the leader (although I doubt that one point will save me condemnation from some quarters). I opted to incorporate the weight required to “Cock” the indicator into the flies.

The Result

The result when I tried it for the first time was nothing short of a revelation. initially I struggled to read all the “feedback” I was getting from the indicator. Rarely, if ever, was it 100% static like a normal indicator but as I used it more, I started to realize the value and the advantages that these relatively simple modifications made. On some days my catch rate compared to other anglers using standard indicators was frankly incredible.

The Drop Back Bung properly cocked.
Image by Patrick Tillard.

How do you use it?

So, let’s chat about how to use it and how to read it to gain maximum benefit.

To get a full tutorial on using the Drop Back Bung, watch this video with Howard Croston:

The indicator is available in two sizes currently, medium and large. At the bottom you will see a line of painted dots in both the yellow & orange sections of the indicator. These dots show the required loading to correctly cock the indicator. Two dots in the orange means you need 2 red dot flies to load it. Three in the yellow means you need three yellow dot flies to load it correctly.

Rotating in circles

With your flies attached, set the indicator shallow and cast out to check you have enough weight to correctly cock the indicator. Now, set your depth that you expect to find fish at and take note how long it takes for the indicator to cock on the first cast. Once the indicator is settled a few things can happen. Firstly, if it rotates in a little circle your flies may have been caught in the wash from an interested fish. Usually I will bump or move the flies slightly if this happens. Often the indicator will pop out of the water or shoot under as normal, both should be met with a strike.

The Slow Draw

Sometimes the indicator will slowly start to draw away. With a normal indicator these are often the “unhittable dips” you get from a wary fish when it feels the resistance. As this indicator has little resistance compared to a normal “bung” these kinds of takes are much more hittable with this system. 

On the drop

After your first cast or two, you should have a feeling for how long it takes for your flies to reach depth and set the indicator. If it feels too long and the indicator hasn’t set, either strip the line with your left hand or strike. It’s probably a fish that’s intercepted one of the flies on the way down, or you’ve found a shallow spot or weed bed.

The “drop back”

Finally, my absolute favourite type of take with this system: the “drop back.” This is when the indicator suddenly “pops” out the water. These takes previously would have been completely invisible and the terrifying thing is I’ve had days where the only type of take I have had all day long is a “drop back.” Some days I have had dozens of “drop backs” and as a result dozens of fish. This is a sobering thought when you realize just how many times a fish has been persistently chewing on your flies only to spit it out and cause your standard indicator to “shiver” at best.

Another fish detected with the “drop back.”
Image by Patrick Tillard.

Other Advantages of the Drop Back Bung

Bite detection aside, the Drop Back Bung has other advantages. During casting it tends to lie “flat,” meaning its less air resistant, more aerodynamic and easier to cast at range. The same advantage becomes even more important when striking at range. It’s also more hydrodynamic. This means it pulls through the water with little resistance, which means less effort is needed to set the hook and less disturbance is created. I noticed a significant increase in my hook up ratio at range as well being able to drop down slightly in tippet strength. The drop back bung also lets you build a mental picture of the depth in front of you. This is particularly true when fishing around drop offs and weed beds.

And that’s just the start. Alternatively, you could just stare at the little orange ball and strike when it goes under…. assuming everyone’s read the handbook that is…

To read more from Howard, check out his Q&A on our blog.

Order your Drop Back Bung here, or ask for it at your local fly shop.

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