What is more important, presentation or fly choice?

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What is more important, presentation or fly choice? Photos Louis Cahill

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to have the honor to participate in a podcast interview for askaboutflyfishing.com. It was an hour long conversation over the phone, with me spending most of that time talking about trout tactics on my home waters. Just as we were wrapping up the interview, the host Roger Maves, hit me with the mother of all fly fishing questions…..

What’s more important Kent, presentation or fly pattern choice?

I pondered for a few moments, before I gave a him a reply to the question that covered my butt. If I remember correctly, it was something along the lines of,  “well, you have to get the fly to the fish no matter what to have a chance at catching fish, but there are many times, when I’ve seen fly pattern choice the true deciding factor in whether you find success on the water.”

Since that podcast, I’ve been asked that same question by clients more times than I can remember. It’s kind of a joke to me at this point, and that’s because I feel the question is really a loaded question. In my opinion, presentation and fly choice are equally important. And in total honesty, you need both to consistently catch fish regularly. That being said, there are times when one can be more important over the other, but that all depends on the day and where you happen to find yourself on the water fly fishing.

For example, if there’s a strong hatch in progress or for that matter just a specific food source the trout are keying in on, it can be critical you have the proper fly pattern tied on that will imitate it accurately. In this situation, even perfect presentations may yield no strikes if you’re fishing the wrong fly pattern. Yes, you may get lucky and catch a couple with the wrong fly pattern, but an experienced fly angler, that is competent in entomology, can come in right behind you with the correct fly for the situation and humble you quickly. On the contrary, find yourself on the saltwater flats fly fishing and even if you have the perfect fly pattern tied on, you can stand damn near a zero chance for success if you fail to make a well executed presentation to the fish you’re targeting. In this case, pattern choice can be completely thrown out the window.

This past weekend, I volunteered my time to guide a trout tournament. Fishing was extremely tough due to high and stained water from heavy rains the night before. The fishing was ugly, with many of the anglers finding themselves skunked, after the first four hour morning session. I can tell you that there were a crap load of worthy presentations during the morning session that should have ended with hook ups, but instead, failed to get the fish to eat. In the end, success was only found by being persistent in fishing prime trout habitat, focusing on consistently making good presentations and constantly changing out fly patterns until one was found that would strike the interest of the trout. There were no clear food sources that the trout were keying in on during the tournament. Furthermore, there were no clear fly patterns in any of our fly boxes that seemed to provide us with more success over the rest. One fly pattern would catch a trout in a section of water, and then, that same pattern would get refused by the trout in the next spot. It was clearly a day with most of us pulling our hair out. Even clearer, it was a day of fly fishing that proved that neither presentation or fly choice alone will always get the job done. The winners of the tournament pulled out a victory because they managed to accomplish both together a little more frequently than the rest of the crew.

When you’re out fly fishing remember that both presentation and fly choice are important for success. Some days, one will stand out more important than the other, but fly fishers should always pay attention to what the fish are telling them and then focus their efforts accordingly.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “What is more important, presentation or fly choice?

  1. It’s all important and even the relatively “unimportant” things in on situation can be important in another situation.

    The question is “loaded” as you correctly state because it presumes that all fish will behave identically. Fish are a population and population vary in behavior. So what may work in on situation will no work in another.

    When we are fishing, we are sampling the population for the fish that are susceptible to our methodology. Our goat is to use the methodology that targets the largest proportion of that population, whether it be fly choice, presentation, where we stand, etc.

    Norm Albinson of the University of Utah in a podcast many years ago said there are 5 major decisions in fly fishing. They are the time of day you will fish, the location on the river you will fish, the water column you will fish, the fly you will use, and the action you will impart. Each is equally important. For example, the time of day and location will often determine fly choice; so by extension, the time of day and location are determine fly choice and are more important in this methodology. The water column also predetermines the type of fly we will choose.

    Yet fly choice is the most important choice in most fly fisher’s minds.

    My friend, Gary Borger, wrote a book called presentation in which he took this holistic view of presentation. His view is that everything from where you stand to cast the fly effects “presentation.” Even the choice of rod, the line, and the design of the leader determine “presentation” because they determine the accuracy of the cast, the drift of the fly, the ability to mend line, the reaction of the rod to the strike, and ultimately the ability to fight the fish.

    So fly or presentation is a false dichotomy. It causes the angler to concentrate on fly choice or cast, when the choice of the best place to to cast from and staying low and moving slow to get closer to the fish, given the skill of the angler, will also determine success or failure.

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