Are You Actually Presenting The Fly?

12 comments / Posted on / by

Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

There is nothing more important, in fly fishing, than presentation. How’s yours?

The word presentation has been woven into the fabric of fly fishing lingo since the first fly fluttered to the surface of the water. We use it so often, and without thinking, that it’s dangerously close to losing it’s meaning.

I remember trying to explain fly fishing to a civilian neighbor once, at a party. “You have to present the fly to the fish in a way the fish can appreciate,” I told her. That got a laugh, and to the uninitiated I can see how that comes off. I still believe, however, that this idea is central to fly fishing.

There are a thousand different ways to fly fish, and as many species to pursue and some of them bear very little resemblance to the mainstream but they all have this one thing in common. It all comes down to presentation.

I think too many anglers forget that at some point. We focus way too much on the hot fly, or the holy water and at some point, at least for some portion of the day, our presentation gets put on auto pilot. We fall into the rhythm of cast, drift, repeat, or chock, duck, strip, or what ever it is we are doing and forget to think about the fish. I know I’ve done it plenty of times. Especially when I get to talking.

I’ll tell you a story that sticks out in my mind as a lesson on presentation.

Gunter Seeger photo Louis Cahill

Gunter Seeger photo Louis Cahill

In the 90s I was fortunate to photograph, and later become friends with, Chef Gunter Seeger, one of only eighteen five-star chefs at the time. I would take photos for Gunter and occasionally bring him a wild rainbow which had found it’s way into a protected brook trout stream. In turn, Gunter would have my wife and me to the restaurant for dinner.

Seeger’s was by far the finest dining in Atlanta. Gunter is known for his radical and artistic approach. Starting at $300 a plate, you were almost guaranteed to be dining with celebrities. It’s not the kind of place I usually get to eat, but there we were and usually at the chef’s table, where we could watch the action in the kitchen and no doubt Gunter could keep an eye on our reactions.

My wife is a vegetarian. That’s often an issue in nice restaurants with limited menus. Never at Seeger’s. Gunter loves cooking for vegetarians and will talk at length about how their chewing habits are different and how it effects the way they taste food. He always made something special for Kathy.

One night we were seated at the table with a view of the kitchen with a couple of friends when the first of twelve courses came to the table. Plates appeared in choreographed fashion with twice the number of servers as guests. While the rest of us were presented with a beautifully prepared foie gras, a slender woman dressed in black present my wife with a shallow bowl containing two mint leaves.

She beamed proudly at my wife for several awkward seconds. The look on Kathy’s face was priceless. I wasn’t sure if she was going to laugh or cry.

“Even Chef is not that extreme,” said the server, eventually, and a hand appeared from behind Kathy’s chair with a silver ladle. The bowl filled with a rich bisque, and the room filled with a wonderful aroma. From the kitchen I could see Gunter smiling.

We all laughed but everyone at the table wanted to taste that dish. A little clever humor had turned a substitution from second best to something special. That’s presentation. Learn to do that with a fly, and you have something. The barely perceivable twitch of a caddis fly as it drifts over a drop off, or the sudden mend and change in a streamer’s direction as it nears structure can be just the thing to make it irresistible.

Take the time before each cast to think through the presentation. The target, how the fly will land, the drift or retrieve, the management of the line and what will happen when the fish eats. All of this is part of the presentation and should be thought through before it begins. Stay sharp and stay engaged and you will catch more fish, bigger fish and you’ll feel more rewarded doing it.

I’ll be in New York next month and I’ll be eating at Gunter’s new restaurant, at the kitchen table and this time I’m afraid I’ll be paying. Damn it, hooked again.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

12 thoughts on “Are You Actually Presenting The Fly?

  1. As a foodie as well as a fly fisherman, I love the story and get the message. Its why a catskill style caddis (these words shouldn’t work together) works when it is skittered over the water.

  2. Trout are simple creatures with brains no different than a frog.

    They pretty much do only three things: rest, eat, and procreate.

    When they are hungry, they really want to eat your fly.

    The key to presentation is to avoid anything that makes your fly look and act like something other than a prey item.

    Eliciting reflex strikes with gaudy, unnatural flies can of course work too.

  3. Wait, ……….wait………..I’m more interested in hearing about a vegetarian, who can’t eat this, can’t eat that………but eats bisque? Whole cream with butter is better for you than meat or fish or chicken? Ok! I love the story anyway! I think when we fish sometimes, we need to slow down, enjoy it, stop beating the water, and pay attention………..get it together.
    When I go to dinner, I want wine, steak, salad………on a size 14 fork. Great story!

  4. I wish I had read this before spending my last two Saturdays on the Henry’s Fork. When those fish start eating, it’s hard to keep it together.

  5. Great story and an excellent definition of presentation! As I prepare to head up to the Grand River this weekend to go Steelheading, I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind!

  6. Timely and excellent write up, Louis. My wife and I are in NY this weekend, and we were able to have our anniversary dinner at Gunter Seeger last night. What an amazing dinner experience. Presentation was on point and I’ll have to remember that when we go fishing in Elijay next weekend. Any recommendations for restaurants or streams up there?

  7. Great story. It’s definitely a good reminder of what we should be focused on, especially when on the water. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all of the other details of the sport.

  8. Louis, Outstanding story and one I will share this weekend in a presentation at the Tenkara Jam. True words for fly-fishing, for guiding and perhaps even for life. Thanks amigo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...