My friend Matt, with his forever smile and ponytail, unlocked the over-sized door to the converted barn-to-restaurant from the inside. He propped open the thick wooden slab and gestured to us. “Come on in, guys.”
George Daniel and I were the first customers at Happy Valley Brewing Company, a State College, PA brewpub that I rarely see the inside of so early in the day. I play a Wednesday gig there late night, with two fantastic local musicians, Ted McCloskey and Rene Witzke. It’s a pleasure to sit with guys at the top of their game, men who’ve given their lives to a craft and continue to search for improvement. George Daniel is the same way.
With the publication of his book, Nymph Fishing, George has completed a trio of the most influential fly fishing books of our time. Written with wit, style and modesty, each of Daniel’s books are sure to stand the test of time. The tactics George describes will catch trout fifty years from now just as they do today — and just as they did fifty years ago.
I wanted to sit down with George because I knew he’d have interesting and unusual answers. George says things you don’t expect. I discovered this about him when we first met fifteen years ago, while he managed the TCO fly shop.
When most of us ask questions, we anticipate certain answers. We have a guess about the reply we’ll get back. But George is full of surprises. And over the innumerable conversations we had inside those fly shop walls through the years, George was the perfect resource. He opened me up to new tangents of thinking. He forced me to consider different angles for the tactics I thought I’d already learned.
George is the owner of Livin On the Fly. He’s an author, guide and speaker. Relentlessly crisscrossing the country over the last decade, Daniel has picked the brains of every fishy dude he’s run into. No doubt, those encounters are the source of his unusual answers. With a wide-open mind, George is a repository for all things fly fishing, and I doubt there’s a more knowledgeable angler in our field.
So I caught up with George to have lunch at the brewpub, right before he left for Montana on a six-week binge of fishing, speaking, casting clinics and more fishing. It’s a rough life.
We talked about guiding, about where the fly fishing industry is headed, and about fishing with kids. (George’s children are roughly the same age as my own.) And I wanted to dig deep into a few topics, into a few specific nuances of the tight line nymphing game. George is the mentor who helped me dial in my own understanding of mono rig tactics and all the things the long leader makes possible. And I knew he’d have thoughts that run as deep as we had time to dig. As usual, George’s answers were unexpected.
Keep the nymphs in one current seam — it’s been the guiding principle for me since I learned the concept from Joe Humphreys’ book, Trout Tactics, twenty years ago. It’s still the best tip I give to friends and clients who want to improve their nymphing game, because everything else we do with rigging, casting and drifting is based in an effort to allow it to happen. Keep the nymphs in one current seam. That’s where they look most natural and closest to a dead drift.
I wrote a full article on the concept, a while back.
For me, the best way to keep nymphs in one seam while tight lining is to cast upstream and only as far across currents as I can reach out with my rod tip. But that’s not a universal approach. I’ve seen videos and read a half dozen articles that teach up-and-across as the default presentation, and it always leaves me puzzled.
“George,” I asked, “why do so many good tight line nymphing anglers around the country fish across the river, drifting at angles and crossing currents, even on smaller waters, when they could freely wade into position and cast upstream?”
“Because the fishing is easier in some places,” George replied flatly.
“Oh boy. No one wants to hear that,” I said. “People don’t want to be told their trout are an easier catch than the trout in Central Pennsylvania or anywhere else.”
“Well, but it’s true,” he said.
George explained that in some rivers, trout feed more aggressively. And in fact they demand less from a presentation of nymphs. They’ll accept some cross-stream drag in a nymph. They may even be attracted to it. Trout in regions that experience severe winters have a shorter growing season. They must pack on the pounds in a shorter window of the year, and they know it by instinct. Feed now or die in the cold winter. That’s the reality. While our Central PA trout may only show interest in nymphs drifting naturally down one current seam, trout aren’t always so demanding elsewhere, and they’ll take a nymph gliding (dragging) across the currents below. In turn, the angler learns what succeeds. And he reproduces the technique wherever he goes.
Some trout permit more room for error, George argued.
He then described how some trout have a wider feeding perimeter. They move further for food. They might slide over two or three feet for a nymph and eat with conviction, while trout in other regions will only move a few inches to capture a nymph. In truth, many trout are less selective than the trout I’m used to here at home.
“So do you believe that a tight line presentation at a cross-stream angle incurs more drag than one at an upstream angle?” I asked.
“Sure,” George agreed.
George and I talked about thinner tippets, streamlined flies, and lighter butt sections, all as a way to minimize the current-crossing effect of the up-and-across presentation. And many anglers who employ such rig adjustments probably get close to drifting a fly that holds in one seam. But George agreed that the best way to keep the fly in one current seam is to cast mostly upstream, so the flies can be guided downstream by the rod tip.
But casting further across the stream at greater angles may gain us longer drifts, and with our fly in the water a few moments longer, we might catch more fish — as long as they are the kind of trout willing to take such a presentation.
The key then, is to consider the trout you are fishing for. Ask them what they want. Try a cross stream presentation on a tight line. If it fails, then change something. No matter how drag free and natural you may think the nymphs are drifting, trust the feedback from the trout and adapt. Try throwing more upstream and only slightly across. The drift may be shorter, but it may also awaken a trout that has let everything else just drift on by.
Next Up . . .
George had a lot more to say, and next time I’ll share George Daniel’s unique thoughts on drop shot nymphing and floating the sighter.
You can find George Daniel’s trio of books at TCO Fly Shop.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N