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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16 thoughts on “What is more important, presentation or fly choice?

  1. My wife, fly fishing expert and interior decorator extraordinaire, has debated the issue with me, underpaid executive fruit cutter and coffee bean grinder, for the past decade. She says no matter what- Presentation is rule #1. Any dolt can accidentally flog the proper #18 BWO or #14 parachute Adams in the seam of a few feeding trout, but if the angler slaps the fly down right on top of the feeding frenzy and totally line the frenzy they will all hunker down for cover until the next proper chalk-stream presentation entices them to re-engage in their debauchery….

  2. While both are important, I would have to argue strongly that presentation trumps fly selection 99 times out of 100. I can have the “it” fly tied on, but if I make a crappy presentation what are the chances I’m going to catch anything? This especially rings true with dry flies in my opinion. Factors such as drag, where the fly is in the water column, speed, location… all the way down to how the fly lands on the water. These are just a few things you have to get right in order to get that fly to the fish, while not shying them away from your pattern, or spooking them alltogether. I feel that if you can’t get any of these right, you can forget that “perfect fly” you have tied on. Just my 2 cents.

    • Justin and Brian,

      Thank you to both of you for responding to this post today. I agree that presentation is very important. However, I have caught a lot of trout over the years on bad casts :), even drifts with lots of drag :), and there have been times when the correct pattern was the only way to bend my rod. The whole point of the post whether I did a good job or not of explaining was that you really need to do both of them correctly to have the most success fly fishing. Some days one or other really is the key to getting fish in the net and it’s up to us to figure that out. Both of you are experienced fisherman and I appreciate you chiming in on the post. Have a great day guys.


  3. Hey Kent, great post. I always fight with a fishing buddy of mine about garbage or blown casts. He always pulls them out of the water as soon as possible, stirring up the water and splashing around, because he wants a perfect drag free drift. I fish the full swing or drift for every cast that hits the water, as as long as everything straightens out relatively well.
    What is your advice, fish it? or re-cast it?

    • Billy,

      Great question man. I personally feel and tell my clients to let the cast drift out before making a follow up cast. Even if you don’t think you’ll catch a fish on it. Myself as well as my clients have landed fish on poor presentations, particularly when you let it drift down and swing at the end. And this way, you don’t have to worry about making any noise and spooking the fish by quickly trying to recast.


  4. Persistence. Right fly or wrong fly. Have confidence in it and put it where the fish are. And believe you are higher on the food chain and smarter than the fish. When they win, make up an excuse.

    Have fun and think less.

  5. Good one, and a question that will be argued till the end of time. I think belief and persistence matter, and the more time the fly is on the water, the more chance you have to catch fish! It also really depends on the fish you are after. Hungry mountain creek brookies don’t really give two shakes about presentation or fly choice, while those highly pressured “well educated” fish, it all matters….

  6. Cast a well presented fly with confidence. Remember the fly is not the trouts choice, it’s yours !
    If you were offered food you didn’t want and refused to eat it, would you eat it if it was taken away and re-presented?
    Change the fly and continue to present well.

    Spook it !
    Move on

    • dryflytam,

      “spook it! Move on” love it man. Sometimes that’s all you can, try to catch them and if they spook, move on to another spot. Your view on presentation is very true, but I still stand firm, there are times when even the best presenters will get nada if they have the wrong fly tied on. Thanks for your comment and the laugh.


  7. I’ve fished the same river in a 1-2 week span and had one day be all about fly choice (Alaskan dollies didn’t care how it was presented, anything orangish and they were hitting it. Even the indicator!) A few days later they didn’t want anything orange but wanted wet flies swung or moving. Just have to get dialed in every day!

    • Nate,

      Finally, someone that agrees fly choice can be a major factor in success. Yes, its all about getting dialed in, some days its our first choice, other times its our twelve. I know one thing, if you’re not catching fish with a pattern there’s no reason to stick with fishing it in most cases. Thanks for your input.


  8. It’s both! I don’t consider myself a great caster. Most of the time I can deliver the fly where and how I want it. Most of the time, but not always. Regardless, if the fly isn’t what the fish are targeting that day or than hour it isn’t going to work.

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  10. One way to think of it is: There are streams where no matter what fly you tie on, if you present it correctly, you will catch lots of fish. There aren’t any streams to my knowledge where a carefully selected fly pattern that is presented horribly will catch much of anything. I’m thinking of mountain pocket water, wilderness rivers with lightly pressured fish, etc. Of course, the more pressured fish are, the slower and clearer the water is, the more selective fish are going to be—but still, presentation seems to be the egg that comes before the chicken even in that case, no?

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