George Daniel: Best Selling Author, Champion Fly Angler & Fishing Dad
The Angling Bookstore must have 30 different nymphing technique books on the shelf, but when I asked the proprietor for a recommendation, he didn’t hesitate.
“There’re lots of great books on the subject, but this guy’s the real deal,” said Ben as he handed me a copy of Dynamic Nymphing. He was right.
George Daniel’s angling credentials speak for themselves: Two-time US Fly-Fishing National Champion, Head Coach of Fly-Fishing Team USA, Associate Coach for the US Youth Fly Fishing Team and the second highest Fly-Fishing World Championships ranking in American history. The book speaks volumes about his writing and education chops. I can’t recall a how-to fishing book as well crafted, informative or applicable as George’s. Simply put, I’m a better fisherman for having read Dynamic Nymphing, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can teach me. When I learned that he’s a father of two young kids and a fellow Penn State alum to boot, I knew we needed to invite him onto STS for some Q & A.
STS : Education has been a big part of your career. Why do you teach?
GD : I’ve been so fortunate to have great people take time out of their lives to tutor me. Everyone from my junior high math teacher to my fly fishing mentor, Joe Humphreys. They made me realize the importance of being a lifelong learner and how that translates into living a full life.
I also remember the many issues I had learning how to fly fish and how only a few minutes under their tutelage quickly mended my mistakes. That’s why I run fly fishing lessons but don’t guide. I enjoy solving problems for fly fishers and more importantly-helping them become better thinkers when fly fishing. Also, for my own selfish reasons, I run lessons to understand common questions/issues fly anglers have. That’s why I ran a number of lessons when writing my book-I discovered a number of common nymphing problems/questions fly fishers had.
I’m doing the same thing while working on my latest book project that focuses on my favorite fly fishing tactic-streamer fishing.
STS: What are the most common mistakes or misunderstandings that you see students and clients make when fishing below the film?
I think one of the more common mistakes is not understanding what the water current is actually doing below the surface. That is, the angler’s ability to look at underwater hydraulics and understand how their drift above the surface (e.g. the drift speed of their indicator or sighter) should look. For example, water speeds often stratify in speed. Normally, you have faster currents near the surface and slower speed currents near the bottom. Often the stream bottom is laced with submerged boulders which can create slower pockets of water. The angler’s job is to attempt to guess the correct speed of the current, where the fish are feeding, and drift their nymph patterns at a natural speed. This is why I believe a good pair of polarized glasses is one of the most underrated nymphing tools – a successful nymph fisher must be able to read the stream bottom.
STS: As a guy known for teaching hardcore anglers complex and nuanced techniques, how do you approach introducing the sport to your two young kids?
You’ve got to keep it simple. That’s why I’ve got my children using tenkara rods. Unlike traditional fly fishing where the angler is using both rod hand (i.e. for casting) and line hand (i.e. for line control), those fishing with tenkara only need to be concerned with one hand. This was a great tip I got while running a clinic for Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Harrisonburg Virginia. The whole Mossy Creek crew are into tenkara big time and actually build it into their beginner’s classes. The reason is because it’s so intuitive. Everyone can quickly grasp the basic concept of fishing with tenkara. Eventually, when they want to expand their fly fishing approach-they can purchase a typical rod and reel outfit. As a result, Mossy Creek is killing when it comes to keeping beginners interested in fly fishing.
So back to your question-I’m starting my kids out fishing tenkara because they can quickly grasp the principals and rarely get frustrated.
STS : Stop me if this sounds familiar… “I wish I could fish 250 days a year too, but (insert excuse here). You’re so lucky!” I’d bet that your lifestyle owes more to the choices you’ve made than to luck though. How did you end up doing what you do?
GD: John Gierach famously wrote “No one under the age of thirty qualifies as a trout bum.” I agree with him. The real fish bum is someone who has a family and a full time job, but still finds time to get out and chase their outdoor pursuits.
I originally wanted to become a college professor like my mentor Joe Humphreys, so I did my undergraduate work at Lock Haven University and started my graduate studies at Penn State shortly thereafter. After completing my coursework though, while I was starting data collection for my thesis, I had a gut feeling that academia wasn’t where I wanted to be.
I was always passionate about fly fishing education and fantasized about how cool it would be to actually travel and get paid to talk fly fishing. With the help of Joe Humphreys and with the support of my wife, Amidea, I began to organize several presentations and offered free programs. I was terrified of public speaking but I knew I had to become a polished presenter before I felt comfortable charging a group for a talk. After dozens of talks, I began to find a groove and really began to enjoy traveling and meeting fly fishers from across the US.
Eventually, I got into competitive fly fishing which dramatically increased my learning curve. However, after 7 years of competitive fly fishing, I fell out of love with it. I enjoyed spending time fishing and competing against some truly great anglers but I never considered myself to be a super competitive person. The day I knew I was done competing was in 2009, when the World Championships were held In Scotland. My daughter was only 4 months old and the first day of practice I was homesick. Never in the six previous years did I get that homesick. I just wanted to be home with my family more than competing overseas. On top of that, I was coaching the US Youth Fly Fishing team as well, which meant that after returning from Scotland, I would spend only two weeks with my family before having to head back over across the pond for another two weeks in Europe. With a little skill and a lot of luck, I again won the Nationals in 2009 and officially retired as a competitor.
While I fell out of love with competitive fly fishing, it was the driving force behind my book deal. The incredible experiences I had travelling throughout Europe provided me with a more all around approach to nymphing tactics. That’s why I came back to coach Fly Fishing Team USA – the ability to surround myself with some top notch anglers along with their vastly different views of fly fishing tactics.
STS: Competition fly-fishing is a paradoxical concept for some folks. What do you love about it?
I enjoy an environment where anglers never accept the status quo and continually look for better/more efficient ways to fly fish. Competitive fly fishing forced me to become more structured in both my approach and equipment organization. This can relate to any angler who has a full time job and family. Actually, these are the folks who can best be served from these lessons. Think about it, these are the anglers who have the least amount of time to prep their equipment before an outing. These are also the folks who have the least amount of time to fish. One of the biggest lessons I took away from competitive fly fishing is to be organized. That is, I know exactly where each fly in my arsenal is located in my box and I know where all my tools are situated within my pack. I refuse to waste minutes of my life trying to locate a particular dry fly when fish are rising all around me.