One Cast, Two Presentations

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Each time you cast a fly, you’re actually making two presentations.

I had a conversation recently, with my buddy Bruce Chard, that got me thinking. Bruce is extremely precise when he talks about fly fishing and he religiously uses two terms I’ve only heard from very skilled anglers, and which I believe are not in the common lexicon of the sport. In spite of these terms being somewhat uncommon, after our conversation I agreed with Bruce that they hold real value to the average angler.

The terms are “primary presentation” and “secondary presentation.”

We very commonly speak of our presentation as the cast or delivery of the fly to the fish. We also refer to different types of presentations, like “dead drift” or “swing.” The terms primary and secondary presentation acknowledge that both the cast and the way we fish the fly are each a type of presentation. Whether we recognize it or not, each time we present the fly, both of those things are happening and each must be executed properly to catch a fish.

At first this struck me as a semantic argument, but after thinking about it, I believe the terms are helpful. Not only in letting us talk more specifically about our technique, but also in the way it forces us to think about it. I think our non-specific language serves as shorthand for skills we take for granted. Thinking of primary and secondary presentation as separate things helps us communicate finer points of presentation and helps us understand how the two work together.

For example, let’s say I am presenting the fly to a trout which is down and across stream from me. 

Scenario one: I am fishing a dry fly. Primary presentation: I would drop the fly directly upstream of the fish, far enough to be outside of his cone of vision. Secondary presentation: I would make an immediate upstream mend, keep as much of my fly line off of the water as possible, and if necessary feed out line so that I get a drag-free drift to the fish.

Scenario two: I am fishing a streamer. Primary presentation: I would drop the fly upstream of the fish, far enough that I can retrieve the fly in the current and it pass a foot or two in front of the fish, and cross him with the better part of my leader. Secondary presentation: I would drop my rod tip and let my line belly in the current as I retrieve.

In each of these scenarios both the fish and I are in the same position but my cast and the manner in which I fish the fly are very different. It’s important to note that if I combined the primary presentation from scenario one with the secondary presentation from scenario two, or visa-versa, things will not end well. My point being that the way we intend to fish our fly affects the cast and thinking of the two as separate presentations insures that we are making a plan and not just letting things happen.

If you are like me, breaking things down in your mind leads to a deeper understanding, and a deeper understanding always helps make good technique automatic. Next time you are on the water, stop and think about your primary and secondary presentations. You may find yourself fishing better with a plan.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “One Cast, Two Presentations

  1. I’m not liking the word, “secondary.” I think “follow-up” or “continuing” makes the point more smoothly. I like the discussion though.

    • I agree. I feal like it’s all one presentation in a few parts. I may just worrying about semantics but when all parts cast, mend , retrieve all have to work together it’s one thing. But the point is valid you have to have a plan after the cast lands

  2. Nice. This resonates with me.

    From the title I thought that the primary would be your presentation to a particular fish/patch of habitat and the secondary would be continuing to fish after your fly drifted through your target zone.

    In any case, I need to go to a creek soon or I’m gonna freak out.

  3. This all makes sense. Sounds like there could be three or possibly even four parts to each presentation. When does a presentation end? As Alan suggested, two separate regions of the stream can be fished on one cast and possibly each of them would be part of the same cast but an angular might mend and adjust more than once to keep the option open for catching a fish way beyond the first target. I read it that your comments about the two presentations relates to one specific spot or fish. Beyond that you really are on a different “cast” that started without a formal back cast but rather as the continuation of the first cast.

  4. While I appreciate the importance of the cerebral approach to pursuing Salmonidae. I feel ‘breaking down’ into two ‘presentations’ is adding complexity to the otherwise straightforward act of casting your fly and then fishing or, if you prefer, ‘presenting’ it.

    Most fly fishers are familiar with the concept that there is a ‘cast’ involved, whether it be an overhead, roll, reach, double-haul, ‘bow & arrow’ etc that is used to get the fly into the correct position on the water. Most also understand that there are different ways to ‘fish’ the fly once it is in position. Dead-drift, swing, strip, on the surface, below the surface, etc.

    So I have to disagree that referring to these acts as Presentation 1 and Presentation 2 enhances our understanding. I think it may have the unintended consequence of creating more mystique around fly fishing which could intimidate some from trying the sport to begin with, which I think we can all agree would be a bad thing.


  5. Casting is separate and distict from presentation. Though plenty of thought goes into the Presentation aspect within microseconds prior to casting, the cast choice itself and the delivery of the fly or flies to the water is not presentation. Presentation starts when the fly hits the water. Beyond that point in time, there could be multiple adjustments including fly orientation, sink rate, taking into account leader drag, mending (or mends), and the speed of the fly (or flies) that comprise actual presentation. As Jose Wejebe once said: “Fly Fishing begins when the fly hits the water.”

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