This is Part One of my conversation with George Daniel, author and guide at Livin’ on the Fly. We had lunch to talk about his new book, Nymph Fishing. Part Two is here. And Part Three is here.
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.
READ: Troutbitten | One Great Nymphing Trick
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.
Feed now or die in the cold winter. That’s the reality.
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. In Part Two, I share George’s unique thoughts about drop shot nymphing, and in Part Three George talks about floating the sighter.
You can buy George Daniel’s trio of books here to support Troutbitten.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
This is going to be really interesting. George Daniel is one of my mentors, even though I’ve never met him. I have corresponded with him, though, and he is, as you say, a bubbling spring of knowledge. He’s also a nice guy. That’s a potent combination.
Now that I think of it, this article does raise a question. I have always assumed that the point of the mono rig is to minimize sag on an across-stream cast. It seems to me that on an upstream cast, unless one casts quite a distance and then strips in the leader as the flies are drifting downstream, the value of the mono rig is diminished. In other words, on short upstream casts where the line is is more vertical than horizontal (describing a nice arc, actually), does it really matter if one is using a mono line or a something like a comp line (or thin running line)? Or, for that matter, does it matter if one fishes like Joe Humphreys used to, with a conventional fly line?
Of course, sometimes you have to fish across stream, like when the fish are really spooky and it doesn’t work to fish close. Perhaps in anticipation of such situations, using a mono rig is a good idea.
I think about this as well, and am interested in Dom’s response. I also think wade-ability and rod length factor in, if you have a short rod and are fishing a pool you may not be able to wade close enough to get a good angle, or have a long enough reach, so an across stream tactic may be the only option.
Agreed, great question, Alex. The mono line would seem its most advantageous (over a conventional rig) when it’s not in straight line, upstream. BTW, I seem to catch plenty of fish when my flies are outside my rod tip, just not farther than say, 5 or 6 feet outside, even in Central PA. Lastly, while I agree that the ideal drift is in a straight line, rivers and streams don’t run in perfect straight lines. Below the surface, there could be a slight cross-current creating drag on one or more of your flies.
So the point of the Mono Rig is to minimize drag. — Full Stop —
It’s not just about drag across stream. The long leader rigs help to eliminate unwanted drag and lend more control at any angle. The Mono Rig helps me when stripping streamers, for example — when I’m using drag to my advantage. And yet, without the fly line, I have more control over how MUCH drag I put into the streamer.
Regarding nymphs, you certainly make a good point about fishing upstream. A presentation directly upstream can work well, even if you lay fly line on the water, as long as everything is in the same current. In the rivers I fish, it’s hard to find currents that cooperate with that approach. Whatever you lay on the water is at the mercy of the current it is in. And if you lay eight feet of leader or line on the water, that’s eight feet that may be subjected to different currents, however small.
I think we’ve all seen that effect when fishing dries. Even on a wide, calm flat our fly drags way before we might expect it. The more of your rig that touches the surface, the more trouble it can cause. And when fishing nymphs the problem is compounded by the depth of the water and the currents underneath.
Of course, whatever rig we’re using, the best bet is to get as close as possible to the target and have more control over what line we must have out of the rod tip.
Those are my thought, anyway.
Thanks for reading
Thanks for the reply, Dom.
Actually, I was thinking of something a bit different, but I failed to explain it.
I, and my experience, agree that nymphing upstream allows for the most natural presentation and, as a result, the most success. But, like you, I’ve seen a lot of videos in which rather successful fishermen–Lance Egan comes to mind–often nymph across stream.
So, iff, for whatever reason, one needs to fish across stream, wouldn’t the best approach be to use a bobber? That way, as you’ve often written, you can fish across from you but still fish upstream. The sacrifice is loss of contact with your nymphs and perhaps downstream drag from the bobber, but the gain is, as you put it so well, fishing one (more or less) current seam.
Thanks Dom have been trying off and on up-n-across for almost 2 years now, this clears up some of the theory. I caught my first up-n-across brown last outing in a fast water seam. Leader was very thin 10#, small dia. tippet with 2.0 and 3.0 stone. Brown hit stone quickly in a high-pressure tail water river.
I seemed it this circumstance the tippet/weights/current/cast created much ‘sticking power’ for the tippet/flies to ‘carry’ the outstretched leader and reduce seam crossing … or maybe it was just a matter of brown had little time to witness cross seams … one sample size doesn’t mean much. Such is fishing.
Can’t wait to try this again with George’s views on opportunist fish. Maybe this will apply to lake fish running in rivers this fall. Or during mimicking swimming(emerging) nymphs(pupa).
As always Dom/George great thought provoking article, thanks again.
Interesting stuff. I ordered the book yesterday thanks, looks good. I think the main developments in river fishing in general will come from the more cross pollination with other forms of fishing especially still water fly and fixed line. With still water there has been money up for grabs for a few decades now driving innovation and fixed line methods have unbroken development stretching 1000’s of years. Both of which have more varied presentations for varying water types.
“George explained that in some rivers…..They must pack on the pounds in a shorter window of the year, and they know it by instinct”
That’s good stuff! By “instinct” I read genetic selection. Probably yet another reason why stocking, of any kind, is showing to be a less effective medium to long term benefit to fish populations
I met him once at the Fly Fishing show in Winston Salem. He had just given a presentation on streamer fishing and plugging his book. I wanted to talk to him about a theory I had with streamer flies and their fall rate. How I felt there was a direct correlation to the fall rate of the fly and how a fish reacts to it. He seemed intrigued but kept referencing back to his book which I didn’t mind because I get it at the end of the day you only have so much time and traveling to fly shows isn’t cheap. I just wish I could have had a real discussion and picked his brain.