When it comes to trout fishing ... there's more than one way to drift a nymph
February 5, 2012 10:00 AM
Nymphing on Spring Creek, U.S. national fly fishing champion George Daniel casts toward the shoreline on a January morning near Bellefonte. In his first book, Daniel urges fly anglers to match techniques with conditions.
George Daniel "Dynamic Nymphing" (Stackpole) $39.95
By John Hayes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- The limestone streams of central Pennsylvania famously pour from the ground at precisely the cool temperatures favorable to trout. But on a chilly January mountain morning on Spring Creek, the brown trout waited for some warming sunlight to break through the clouds.
Fingers frozen, breathing steam, I roll casted my line upstream from a pocket and drifted the nymph and its dropper past a tangled shoreline stump. Drift after drift through the icy current, and I couldn't get a pick up. My only consolation was that my fishing partner, a U.S. national fly fishing champion, wasn't catching anything, either.
In 2009, George Daniel of Lock Haven, Pa., won individual and team gold medals in the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championship. In 2008 and 2009, while serving as head coach of U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Teams competing in the Czech Republic and Portugal, he spent a lot of time with European competition anglers who fly fish differently than Americans.
Daniel realized that while most of a trout's diet is picked off the bottom, there are many ways to get nymphs to where they need to be. Three years in the making, his first book, "Dynamic Nymphing" (Stackpole), matches universal conditions with techniques from around the world.
"I was like a lot of anglers who have one technique that they go to all the time," said Daniel, standing on the bank of Spring Creek waiting for the sun to warm the water. "I learned to fish nymphs without indicators. Later, I came to like the European nymphing techniques -- the French nymphing, the Czech nymphing. Those are all great techniques, I have a lot of fun with them. However, those techniques alone will not catch fish in all conditions. There are times when you need suspension nymphing -- strike indicators. Sometimes wet fly techniques are a little more productive. Sometimes fishing a nymph off a dry is better."
Daniel said he titled his book "Dynamic Nymphing" to drive home the idea that there's more than one way to drift a nymph.
"It's all about creating a whole tool set -- an arsenal of techniques," he said, "so an angler can walk up to any stream at any time on any part of the globe, find the technique that works best for the given conditions and be able to catch fish. The book is about applying the right technique to the right piece of water at the right time."
Illustrated with instructive photos and line drawings, the book is a hefty 240 pages covering nymphing lines and tackle, weight, tight-line drifting, suspension tactics, hot patterns, reading the water; fishing in high, low, muddy and small-stream conditions; and includes a dust jacket blurb by Daniel's mentor, Joe Humphreys.
With a little sun on the water, we tried again, relying on nymphing techniques championed in the book.
"In the winter, I like moving into slower sections of water, places where I know the fish are going to hold," said Daniel. "Even on spring creeks like this where the temperature is regulated, the temperature will fluctuate a little. The trout's metabolism slows down in cold water and they don't want to work as hard to obtain energy. When I'm fishing in slow moving sections where there's very little current, I prefer to use indicators -- I call them suspension tools -- so I can hold the fly at a fixed point for a prolonged period of time to maintain control."
A strike indicator, like a flat-water bobber, can let an angler know when there's a hit, but its primary function is to position the fly at a fixed depth.
"When you need to hold the fly at a specific depth, suspension tools work great," he said. "When you don't need that, there are any number of things anglers can use for strike indication that don't impact the fly's depth. The tip of the fly line where it meets the leader can be an indicator. Sighters -- colored monofilament actually built into your leader -- can be the indicator. So can a dry fly rigged above the nymph."
A common nymphing mistake, on European and American waters, is failure to properly lead the drift. In order to get a natural drift, the angler advances the rod tip ahead of the nymph. In water with a changing flow rate or depth, the movement of the rod tip is altered.
"One of the things I like to do is make sure my sighter is angled, pointing upstream," he said, "That's telling me that my flies are upstream of the sighter, that there's tension. If I see my sighter begin to move downstream, that's telling me my flies are downstream of my sighter and there's slack in that system. What I'm looking for is the rod tip just ahead of the flies, a little bit of slack in my sighter [and] it's moving a little back and forth. That's telling me my flies are bouncing on the bottom naturally, I'm not dragging my flies, I'm leading them through the drift without creating any tension."