Tuesday, September 1, 2015

George Daniel: Strip-Set

Photo Courtesy of George Daniel
 In the winter of 2011, George Daniel's book, Dynamic Nymphing, changed the game for most of us when it comes to fishing subsurface insect imitations. Fast forward four years and the same thing is about to happen to streamer fishing with the upcoming release of his latest book, Strip-Set!

Strip Set
So much has happened in the streamer fishing world in the last 10 years. Strip Set, undoubtedly, will expose all of us to the latest techniques, ideas, gear, and big fish hunting strategies that have been developed by the foremost anglers and guides who are continually pushing the limits of fly fishing and making us drool over pictures of monstrous trout.

If you haven't purchased or read George's Dynamic Nymphing, what I can tell you to expect from Strip-Set is a book loaded with so much information that you will be continually going back and re-reading page after page and learning something new every time. In addition, the photography alone will likely be worth the purchase just to experience the beautiful aesthetics of trout and the gorgeous places we pursue them.

In anticipation of Strip-Set's release, I reached out to George with a few questions to hold us over until we get notification that our pre-orders have shipped! A huge thank you to George for taking the time to answer the following questions!

CH: With your extensive background in competitive fly fishing and expertise on nymphing tactics, streamer fishing is kind of a different direction. What prompted the change?
GD: I’ve always loved streamer fishing. My addiction came in 2002 when I met and fished with Russ Madden. Russ was the first to show me articulated streamers and introduced me to the Kraken-a Russ Madden original that was a favorite of mine for over 5 years.  However, the name of the game with comp fishing is to catch numbers of fish, which meant often looking at nymphing as a primary tool. In all honesty, nymphing is my least favorite tactic but one I do the most since I do like to catch fish. If I had it my way, I would chuck streamers from a drift all day-everyday!

CHWhat’s your favorite species to fish for?  Do you have a bucket list species? 
GD: Without hesitation - TROUT. Trout live in beautiful places all over the world, including near my home in Central PA.   I do have a bucket list of fish but not in any particular order.  I would like to catch everything from a Golden Dorado to a Taimen.

CH: What are your top 5 go to streamer patterns?  
GD: Sparkle Minnow, Lynch’s Drunk and Disorderly, Strolis Head Banger, Sculp Snack (Bugger Variation), and Schmidt’s Grumpy Muppet.

CH: If readers take only one thing from the new book (I highly doubt that’ll be the case), what would you like it to be? 
GD: Match the approach to the conditions. I know this sounds like common sense but that means looking at floating lines, sink tips, full sinkers, un-weighted and weighted flies options.  This is no different than choosing when to tight line versus indicator fish when nymphing. My hope is for readers to learn to adapt their approach to the conditions they face. 

CH: You traveled all over the country doing research for this book. What destination did you most enjoy? Why? 
GD: The northern location of the lower peninsula, MI. The AuSable, Manistee, PM along with many others. Those rivers are designed for the streamer angler, chocked full of fallen timber and deep undercuts. The lighter colored stream bottoms make it easier for the angler to see a trout chasing a streamer, which heightens the sensation of streamer fishing.

CH: Guide’s day off streamer float. Where are you fishing and what two anglers are in the boat with you? Who’s on the sticks? 
GD: White River, AR in February with Lance Wilt and Brian Wilt (no relation) while taking turns on the sticks.

CH: Is there a place you have not yet fished but would like to? 
GD: Yes, I would like to spend some time fishing the tropics in Mexico, along with several countries in Eastern Europe, including Slovenia and Austria.

CH: How does Pennsylvania rate in comparison to other destinations? 
GD: While Central PA doesn’t have the trout populations as say the Green River, WY, it has such a diverse number of fisheries all within several hours.  I enjoy the seasons, the green, the mix between freestone and limestone, along with the challenge our fisheries offer anglers. While it’s great to travel, I enjoy coming back home.

CH: What affects, positive or negative, do you see social media having on the fly fishing industry over the last few years and going forward? 
GD: Both. The great thing about social media is that everyone has a voice, so there are some great anglers/tiers/writers who would never have been discovered if it wasn’t for social media. There are so many talented people out there who have no interest in writing books or articles, but who simply enjoy sharing their experiences along with their thoughts on certain subject matters. 

The downside I see is that many lesser known streams or sections of rivers are located through social media. Everyone has the same right as I do to fish any of these rivers, but some people feel the need to post every big fish photo of themselves and in doing so they generate a lot of buzz about their secret fishery. Many of my friends who are recreational anglers or guides do not post many big fish photos for the reason that it often attracts too much attention. There are some private sections of water that are now closed because of sudden pressure brought on by social media.

CH: What’s in your CD player or on your iPod for your drive to and from the river? 
GD: I like a little bit of everyone. On my Pandora station I have the following artists: Johnny Cash, Mumford and Sons, Lumineers, U2, Eddie Vedder, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, all the way to the Dallas String Quartet. Odd, I know.

CH: What’s your beer of choice?  
GD: Troegg’s Perpetual IPA.

CH: You’ve written THE book on contemporary nymphing techniques, we’re all drooling over Strip Set, and you recently mentioned that you spent an impressive 75 consecutive days guiding. What’s next? 
GD: There’s always something. I hope to have my nymphing DVD available by Christmas, I’m still working another 20 days on the water guiding, I have a full line of clinics/shows lining up from now till the end of 2016. I’m about to begin work on a third book project, but most importantly spending more time with my family. For the first time in 5 years, I was able to spend multiple weekends with my family. I also got to spend 24 days on the road with my daughter during a western trip. My hope is to continue to write, create additional DVD’s, expand my business in other areas, and to incorporate my family more into the business model.

CH: Is there a current topic or issue (conservation, ethics, etc.) you’d like to take a few lines to talk about?
GD: Recently when traveling to the Driftless Area of WI, I was amazed by the sheer number of public accesses the state has acquired over the years through easements. The state had the foresight to put much of their time and money to acquire easements that now offer any license holder the right to fish these waters. The work the state of WI has done over the years will guarantee access to many generations of anglers. I truly hope our state, along with others, will follow WI’s example. 

Thanks again to George for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions. If you can't tell, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book and I'm sure most of you feel the same way. No doubt, we're all in for a treat!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Not Another Fish Story

With all the rain we had early this summer, construction season at work got off to a very slow start. Since the beginning of July, it seems like everyone has been making up for lost time. Extended work hours and elevated stress levels have really cut into time spent writing up outings. Don't worry though, I wouldn't let anything hinder fishing opportunities.

Generally speaking, a rare occurrence this summer.
A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to sneak out for a couple hours to explore a tiny stream I had never been to.  It's located in the center of my fishing-world and has been surprisingly overlooked. As much exploring as I have done this year, I have run into very few brown trout in streams I would consider "Brook trout streams.' It's been a pleasant surprise that PA's state fish is holding strong in the Northcentral region.

On this particular outing, I took a little higher quality camera (a borrowed DSLR) than my phone. Let's just say, I need some practice with it. Haha. Most of the pictures ended up blurry, but hey, you never know till you try, right?

As usual, when expecting smallish brook trout to be the typical quarry, I was traveling fairly light. Wet wading, with a lanyard, a dip can of flies, and NO NET. Usually this is not an issue but then I worked my way up to the first spot where you say, "Oh yeah, there's a good fish here." It was an undercut bank that was deeper than any of the brushy pocket water I'd encountered thus far. On the second drift over the tail of the pool, I was rewarded with a splashy rise to my bushy dry fly.

It only took a few seconds after I set the hook for the scrawny water to explode as a heavy (well... heavier than what I was expecting anyway!) trout thrashed to free itself from the sting of the fly. The fish flashed and darted for the undercut bank and there was little I could do with 5x and my 3 wt. While he was doing his best to wrap my tippet in the hanging roots, which he did, I thought for sure "I'm going to lose this fish. What a shame." Somehow, I was able to work free and steer the fish into less treacherous water.

As things were winding down, I crouched in the chilly mountain water, sliding a beautiful brown trout toward me. The rod was continuing to flex as I reached out when suddenly, tension released and the fly popped free. Uhh.... Another fish story culminating with the finned foe as the victor. If only I'd had a net. No shaking hands, no admiring the natural beauty of the spotted Potter County butter belly fish. Do not pass go, do not collect $200!

Just then, he started swimming downstream, away from the safe haven of his lair! Headed to an extremely shallow gravel bar that nearly separated us from the pool below, he left himself unprotected. I thought fast, followed him down, and as he struggled to snake-ishly swim to safety, his back completely out of the water, I gently (but hurriedly!) reached down and cradled the fish out of water.

Unfamiliar with the high-powered camera, I fumbled for the safety and certainty of my phone. I snapped a few quick shots before he decided he still had some fight left and wiggled free. Back to that undercut, where I bet he is still sulking.


Just as a heads up, my next post will be a little different than anything I've done here. One of the greatest aspects of fly fishing is interacting with like-minded folks. An often overlooked joy is the great conversation that can spring up on the drive to the river, shuttling the boat, or simply anchored up in an eddy for a quick lunch break. As the cool autumnal temperatures creep in and the trout in our small streams get closer to spawning season, my mind drifts to bigger waters and throwing big flies to big fish.

It just so happens that a new book that will likely change the way many of us approach the streamer game is going to be released in a few short weeks. The author of that book was gracious enough to answer a handful of questions ranging from what to look for in the new book and general interview type questions to random topics similar to how conversations go while anchored up in a riffle. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I love vacations. Even if I'm not the one on vacation!

This past week, my buddy that I ride to work with every day went on vacation. Which meant I could be on the river every day after work! I have to say, this is some of the very best fishing I can ever remember having in the middle of July.

Weeks like this remind me of a great blog post from the Troutbitten guys. A recent post of their's talked about people telling them how lucky they are to live in Central PA near great fishing. They explained that luck had nothing to do with it. It's a choice to factor fly fishing into major life decisions. The truth is, it's not luck, coincidence, or any of that. I live where I live because of great fishing, great friends, and the proximity to family.

Loon finger... The only thing I don't LOVE about Loon's Deep Soft Weight
Flows are finally beginning to get back to their normal summertime levels, but the fish I've been seeing have been fat, healthy, and happy. Should make for a pretty good fall season! For now, watch the water temperatures and try to get some good Trico and terrestrial fishing in. It's time!

Don't forget to goof off a little.

Public Service Announcement

I'll be putting in another order of hats (see below).  Camo front, with a screenprinted logo, black mesh, and snapback. $18 each (plus shipping) If you're interested, let me know chaserhoward@gmail.com.
Screenprinted locally at Canoe Place Shirt Shack.

Deadline is Friday August 14.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

No Big Deal

A week or so ago, during an after-work tying session, my buddy Kris dropped a pretty incredible bit of knowledge on me like it was no big deal. Of the hours I've spent looking at topo maps and Google Earth for wild, secluded, undiscovered trout streams, I always keep my eye open for remote lakes or ponds in North Central Pennsylvania that might contain wild brook trout. Scratch that - I've looked for them in North West, North Central, and North East PA. I've found the odd beaver pond with a few tiny trout here or there and I've found some pretty good bass and panfish ponds. More often than not, when I follow up on good leads, I end up in swampy mosquito infested areas that are home to nothing but chubs.

So, we're twisting up bugs, I think we started talking about my pond or something ( I don't know, the information I was about to get pretty much wiped my memory). And then the conversation took an interesting turn...

"Have you ever fish Nunya Pond? It's got brook trout in it." (Like it's no big deal)

"What the..WHAT?!"

"Oh yeah, I used to go there all the time. We should check it out sometime."

Best. Invitation. Ever.

Pond name may or may not be legitimate. Reader discretion is advised.

When we both were free, we decided to try to get there after work. Getting there and having time to fish in a few short, post-billable hours before dark wasn't the easiest thing to achieve, but man was it worth it. Countless beautiful native brookies were caught on blue foam damselflies and quickly sent back to the frigid waters of the spring-fed, meadow pond.

There really are fantastic secrets left to be discovered here in the East. Sometimes a little help from your friends is all it takes. Kris, I owe you one brother.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Precious Time

Lately, my free time has been consumed mostly by parties, weddings, family gatherings, etc. It's been so great to catch up with people I haven't seen. My fishing time has been mostly short, after work trips. Short enough that I haven't even bothered with a camera (and what's a good trip report without pictures!)

With a hectic work and social schedule and keeping up on yard work, I was really craving some easy, relaxing, just plain fun fishing. Jess and I decided to take a day and fish a nearby PA State Park Lake. (Damn I love lakes!) She really is hell on the bluegill and largemouth bass! They have a terrible time refusing to eat little foam poppers and dragonflies.

Dragonfly Nymph
The Foam Dragon
Fish Food
Had The Lake All To Ourselves...

It was a pretty rare warm, sunny day for Pennsylvania this summer. I was glad to see that, when it was my turn to fish, there were a few willing trout in 15' to 20' of water. I hooked into a couple fish I fought all the way to the surface. They were camera shy and we decided long distance releases would be better for us both! :)

Pretty Much how I Felt, Too.
As summer settles in, it looks like I'll have more time in the weeks to come. Thankfully this rain has kept our drainages in good shape to be fished hard in the coming days! Trout beware...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Flat Water Clinic Part 2 - No Rules, No Problem

Evan with an absolute toad. Wonder why the Hungry Trout Facebook posts caught my eye!
I was sitting in frosty Pennsylvania a few winters ago, when I stumbled across some pictures on facebook of some of the most gorgeous brook trout I'd ever seen. They were caught by the folks at The Hungry Trout Fly Shop on a brook trout preserve in the Adirondacks called "Twin Ponds." I remember showing Jess and saying, "Someday... someday, I'm going to do this!"

I kept following the Hungry Trout via social media and in the winter of 2014, they announced that they would be hosting a 2-day clinic with Loren Williams on fishing stillwaters. The testing grounds for the skills being taught would be... Twin Ponds, the Jurassic Park of Brook Trout. There was no chance I was going to miss it. It was a fantastic trip and I learned more about targeting trout in lakes than I could have learned in years from reading books and trying on my own. Read more on that here.

Twin Ponds Map. Yes, everything I have that is paper has a coffee stain.
Twin Ponds is located within a 2,000 acre wildlife preserve. Brook trout were reintroduced to this lake through stocking of heritage strains of hatchery raised fish. As the story goes for brook trout populations in many other areas, development (habitat loss), acid rain, increasing temperatures, over harvest, and invasive species spelled major trouble for brook trout populations. In many lakes, they were completely wiped out. The state of New York has worked to reintroduce fish through stocking programs, but more in the "put-and-take" mentality; whereas the Hungry Trout stocked fish to develop a self sustaining population of wild brook trout.

I would say that in general, I'm NOT a fan of private "pay-to-play" water. For the most part, these waters are overstocked with obnoxiously sized trout that the particular stream they are in could not produce, nor can they healthily sustain. Twin Ponds on the other hand, is managed as a catch and release preserve with access limited to only anglers guided by the Hungry Trout. When it was observed that the lakes could sustain a healthy, reproducing population of these fantastic fish, stocking was ceased and Mother Nature was allowed to take over. Without excellent stewards like those that manage Twin Ponds, places where wild trout can live in peace are continuing to disappear.

I imagine Twin Ponds is what the Adirondacks looked like before the influence of man was so prevalent. Clean, clear lakes with shores covered in dense green woods, mountains jutting into blue skies, waters teeming with brook trout, eagles soaring overhead looking for their next meal, and the eerie laughter of loons reminding you that you are only a small part of the natural order of the wild environment.

I had such an amazing time at last year's clinic with Loren that I told my dad, "If we can get you a spot in this year's flat water clinic, you HAVE to go. You HAVE to see this place!" The clinic is restricted to only 6 people and, respectfully, was open first to those who attended last year. Fortunately, a few spots were still open and the two of us booked our spots. Due to a scheduling conflict, Loren was not able to make it this time. We definitely missed out on learning his style and observing his expertise on Loch-style fly fishing.

This time around, the class was taught by Evan and Jeff of the Hungry Trout. Though they may not have the experience of fly fishing stillwater all over the world for countless species, they have spent more time than anyone fishing this particular water for these particular fish. Also, Loch-style fishing adheres to competitive fly fishing rules. To me, fishing is purely meant to be fun. No rules, no problem.

In fly fishing competitions, trolling or casting your fly behind the boat is illegal. I don't think you'll ever hear me say, "Man, I can't wait to get to the lake AND TROLL SOME FLIES." It's certainly not the preferred way, but damn is it effective. Of the 6 fish I caught on the 3 different ponds, half of them were caught trolling flies while en route to where I was going to target structure. It's a great way to locate fish and see how they are behaving. In my mind, trolling is the stillwater version of nymphing. It's not the most fun, but it puts fish in the net when nothing else seems to be working.

The first morning, my dad, Evan, and I started on Little Duck Pond (See map), a short portage from the main pond. Prior to this trip my dad and I each bought FishCat Scout inflatable float tubes to use on stillwaters. The FishCat Scout boats are so easy to portage at only ~35 lbs, they slide over land with ease. I started on this pond last year and watched guys boat the two largest brook trout I had ever seen. I fished hard, but to no avail. So, this year it was my turn. I got into position and started casting my multi-fly rig on my type 6 sinking line toward the sunken deadfalls and counting down. I was covering water and varying my retrieve. It's going to happen...

It was about that time... my dad out in no man's land, not in position yet, yells "fish on!" (What! we just got here! You're not even fishing yet!) Bam! +20" Brook Trout. What an unbelievable fish - photographed, admired, and safely released. It's on!

I continued to bust it. Repeated casts, staying tight with my flies while the sinking line plunged them into the depths, starting my retrieve once I'd counted down to varying depths. I had a nice drift in the float tube, 60' from shore, dredging along drop-offs, freaking workin' it. Evan hooked up twice - another two brutes! The fish are here!

After many fly changes, it was getting closer to time to head back for dinner. Evan instructed my dad to go try a few casts under a large dead pine close to where we put in. First cast, BANG! My dad was into another trophy brook trout. After a solid battle, Evan nets the fish and says, "Uh, Chase, you're going to want to reel up and come see this one..."

Pardonnez mon Francais, but HOLY SHIT. I happened to have a tape measure in my boat bag for just such an occasion. 21 inches long, by 11 inches around. Three guys, floating on a pond, grinning from ear to ear, admiring first hand a truly beautiful animal. As my dad started to drift away, I had the pleasure (the best part, really) of releasing the fish. Wow.

I think by that time, the other two were feeling sorry for me a little bit. With a little time left before dinner we switched over to the main pond and rowed off in the drift boat. More casting, more working the water, and more nothing for me. Then finally, it happened. Trolling a couple flies near the Division, I picked up my first fish of the trip. A small foot long brook trout (only at Twin ponds have I ever thought that sentence made sense). It was time to call it a day, set up camp, and have some dinner.

After dinner, a few beers, and some apple turnovers warmed on the fire, there was time to reflect on an awesome day. So, I hadn't caught the fish I was after. I think it was even better seeing my dad catch those fish. Honestly, seeing Evan, who has probably caught dozens of fish like this, still get so excited speaks pretty highly for these big, wild, speckled trout. This truly is a special place. It wasn't easy to sleep that night with all the snoring and loons wailing, but that hardly matters on cloud nine.

The next morning, we were off to fish Big Duck Pond. I had never seen this pond and I remembered the year before, no one caught a fish there all weekend. The fact that I'd never fished it bothered me though. I love the challenge of new water. On the way over, I was trolling (of course), and picked up two smaller sized fish, but it certainly got my hopes up.

Three of us made the portage over to Big Duck and started searching for feeding fish. "Damn, this water looks good," is all I could think about. One shore is steeply sloped into a deep drop off, the other is more of a gradual drop, but covered in downed lumber (which I repeatedly had some of my best strip sets directly into). After one pass, I trolled back up and started the drift again. Same approach, and bang! Fish on. It's pretty hard to beat aggressive fish scarfing up flies on the strip. After a lengthy battle full of violent head shakes, I slipped the healthy char into my net. The fishing at Twin Ponds is not overly easy - these fish make you work for it. The rewards though, are SO worth the struggle.

With only a couple hours left in the trip, we all chatted over lunch about who would go where to finish the day. As plans unfolded, Evan looked at my dad and I and said, "Are you guys ok going back to Little Duck?" Dude, I thought you'd never ask!

We set off to the portage for our last session. At this point, the long drive, the few nights of sleeping in tents, rowing miles around the lakes, and two days in full sun and wind was starting to catch up with us. Fatigue overwhelmingly pales in comparison to the opportunity to catch giant brookies. As we dropped in, I noticed my dad was a little less giddy than I to catch a last chance toad. "Why don't you go ahead. I'm going to take my time and take a few pictures of the pond," says the guy with over 40 inches of brook trout after two fish.

Back at it, I notice my casts dropping a few feet shorter. My double haul is starting to lose some of its pop. "Fish!" I hear in my dad's voice. I couldn't help but shake my head and laugh as I rowed over to once again play photographer for another spectacular trout. Sometimes, you're just meant to be the guy behind the camera, not in front of it.

 Just for kicks, I put it on the measuring tape in the stripping basket in the float tube. It's amazing how perfect these boat are for this type of fishing, they're just not designed for Little Duck Pond because the tape only goes to 18". Yet again the fish was past the end. A solid 19" I'd say. (He CAN catch trout under 20 inches!!)

I love the types of fishing that can be almost zen-like. As much as I wanted to boat a trophy trout, I was beginning to feel content, thinking about a weekend full of floating around, shooting casts, and breathing in the fresh air. Stillwater fly fishing, to me, is damn fun. It's just totally different than what I've always done.

So, on what was nearly the last cast of the trip, I continued stripping into what I figured must have been another branch. Except this branch was doing the brookie head shake! "Fish on!" This felt like a heavy fish. As they seemed to do, the fish was coming right at me. Just as I got a glimpse, he must have seen me too. He surged toward the depths, peeling line and making my drag scream! A few powerful runs and he rounded out the battle with a series of death rolls at the surface before being scooped into the net. Dang...

We always dream that a fishing trip will fully live up to all the excitement you have during the planning phase. It's rare that the trip actually exceeds your expectations (flyfisherman are an overly optimistic bunch, haha). Twin Ponds sets the bar higher every year. Great destination, great people, and the fish we spend lifetimes dreaming about. I really need to get my stillwater fishing system dialed in for next year. Who knows what could happen!

A few more highlights... Who doesn't love great brook trout pictures?

***Huge thank you to Evan Bottcher for sharing his photos for this post***

Ted with a solid fish 
Chris with a healthy double!

Ted using his kayak to get at the fish
2015 Twin Ponds Crew