Book Review: Strip-Set by George Daniel

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This review is arriving late.  I actually finished the book several weeks ago but until now, I hadn’t found the time to write it out.  Life, am I right?

I had caught wind of Strip-Set by George Daniel a while back, I think before it was actually released and I had been anxiously awaiting the chance to read it.  A big part of that excitement was not just because Daniel is a respected fly fishing author, but also because the subject matter was something I’ve really wanted to learn more about.  I’ve never been too interested in dry fly fishing and have always been more interested in fishing streamers.  Perhaps this is from my upbringing as a bass fisherman.  Or perhaps it’s the fact that traditional dry fly environments are few and far between in my area.  There are a few, but most of my angling opportunities are more productive (for me at least) by going subsurface.  Now, dead drifting nymphs or egg patterns would fall into that category I suppose, but I tend to only use those tactics when streamers have failed.  For whatever reason, I prefer the constant action of streamer fishing.  Focusing how to work a streamer through a moving current just feels more rewarding to me.

That said, there have been a couple good books on streamer fishing, but I don’t think I’d be incorrect in stating that there are far more books written on dry fly fishing than streamers, with the exception of a bevy of salmon fly books.  Also, a good portion of those streamer books are focused primarily on the patterns and less so on the tactics or practical approaches.  Daniel seems to fill this void with a comprehensive and easy to understand approach to this style and gives it the weight and depth it deserves (no pun intended… OK maybe a little.).

Movement

“As with any major hatch, each baitfish has its own unique features that an angler needs to understand before deciding on tactics.  While a trout’s brain is small, its ability to judge whether a fly’s movement is natural is sharp.”

Movement is the key and Daniel goes into great detail in the subtleties involved in “matching the hatch,” or rather, the wiggle of the natural prey we are attempting to mimic.  

parallel mendThere is an extensive section on Presentation in this book that pretty much made me feel like an idiot for not knowing how many different ways you can present and strip your fly to imitate the prey and keep it in the strike zone of a predatory trout for longer .  In particular, a technique called a Parallel Mend is one of those things I’ve never heard of  but now, having had the chance to try it out, I feel like I was a fool to have not figured this out on my own.  Long story short, it’s a way to work the path of your fly along a bigger section of undercut bank or logs so that the fly remains near the edge for the maximum amount of time possible.  A standard cast towards the bank and letting it swing only keeps the fly close to the bank for a short time.

Daniel also covers a gamut of different retrieves.  Some I have never heard of, like the Roly Poly (which will probably make my wife laugh when she reads this) as well as some that I had heard of but never had the guts to attempt, like the Figure 8.  While I understand how the Figure 8 retrieve works now, I have very little faith in my sausage fingers being able to pull it off.  I accept my limitations.

figure 8

Know your fishery

“One factor to consider when developing your streamer strategy is that you must first understand the biomass and the average size of the fish in the water you are hunting.”

Another tidbit that I found that really inspired me was his stressing that understanding the prey options for the predators in your local waters goes a long way in deciding what patterns to use.  For this, you really can’t do better than your local fisheries biologist to really get a feel for everything the larger predators are keying in on in your specific environment.  When I read this section, I quickly emailed Cleveland Metroparks Fisheries Biologist Michael Durkalec to pick his brain on what the primary baitfish were in the Rocky River and their approximate size.  [Side note: Mike was recently featured in Belt for his unusual expertise as a burbot angler.]  After some back and forth with him, I then started hitting the vise with a renewed sense of purpose.  Before, I would just leaf through tying books and youtube videos just trying out any pattern that I liked the look of.  Now, I am focusing on inventing patterns that mimic the size, color, and movement of baitfish in my system.

Water types

water typesAnother great feature of this book is the Gallery of Water Types where the author provides pictures and tactics describing different water types that an angler may encounter on the river.  This may seem pretty straightforward to some, but I’ve felt that many books essentially describe the riffle, run, pool water types and maybe the hydrology of an eddy or a bend if you’re lucky.  Daniel outlines 16 different situations and how to fish them, which I think is a great resource for novice anglers.  I definitely remember my first few times being on the river and having no idea how to approach waters that didn’t fall into the riffle/run/pool categories.

 

Holy Grail

In addition to explaining even the most minute differences between streamer types (Swimming Streamers, Jigging Streamers, Swinging Streamers, Dead-Drifting Streamers, Floating and Mouse Patterns, Hangers/Suspenders), he also offers a rare look inside the author’s actual fly boxes.  He shows full spread photos of his four major streamer boxes and explains in detail all of the different flies he has in each and his reasoning for them.

fly box

 

Short Strike

short strikeThis is another one of those items where I question my own intelligence for not thinking about this.  Daniel talks a lot about fly design, size, color, etc. but one thing he mentions is how the fly’s design influences how likely you’ll be able to get a hook set depending on how the fish bites.  Obviously, a full on take for feeding purposes will give you the best odds of getting a strong hook set as the fish will take the whole fly in its mouth.  However, while I knew that fish would strike out of aggression or other territorial reasons, I did not realize that these strikes are primarily nips at the tails of baitfish, not necessarily just inhaling them.  For this reason, the location of the hook on the fly can be very important.  A single hook at the front of the fly but with a long tail may trigger an aggression strike, but it’s likely that the fish will only be nipping at the tail material and miss the hook altogether.  This is the reason (aside from motion) many larger articulated patterns have the back hook, as well as other patterns that are intended to provoke aggression strikes, such as a swinging spey style fly like an intruder, where the hook is attached to a trailer wire coming off the back of the fly’s body.

 

I really enjoyed this book and was sad to have to return it to the library from whence it came.  It’s one of those works where even if you’ve read through it once, you know you’re going to want to reference back to it later.  This book is definitely worth a purchase though and I do plan on picking up a permanent copy for my collection at first opportunity.  The section on Night Fishing is worth the price alone, as that’s a topic not too often covered in other books, but Daniel has an entire section dedicated to it.

I would also strongly encourage you to take a listen to an interview of George Daniel conducted by Zach Matthews over at Itinerant Angler.  It’s an excellent interview and will definitely get you thinking about your approach to streamers, plus if you’re not already following that podcast, you need to.

Gabriel

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