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.

A while back, 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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6 thoughts on “What is more important, presentation or fly choice?

  1. As a relative newcomer to fishing on the fly (2-3 yrs), this is one of those questions that I feel like if you ask 5 people you get 10 opinions, all of them extremely absolute in their conviction. Hmmmmm… it’s funny… I seem to recall a certain someone saying a big F-you to the conventional wisdom/dogma, and hooking up with a big trout on a car key/stray feather/wire special. I think you might have to take the 50% fly, 50% presentation idea and Yogi Berra-ify it to say 50% fly, 50% presentation, 50% confidence, because if you just aren’t feeling it that day, you could have a telepathic link with the fish and it probably still wouldn’t happen.

  2. Kent you hit the nail on the head. You’re really defining fly fishing in general. On the tough days the formula need to be presentation and fly together. But even on days when you think you’ve unraveled the mystery you can still be skunked.

  3. Another nuance is that it probably depends on where you’re fishing and species you’re targeting whether fly or presentation is more important. Presentation probably more important in small, infertile WNC streams the majority of the time and with opportunistic species like black bass (small and largemouth). I was about to say the same thing with stripers but they often could care less how you fish a pattern that’s the right size and shape.

  4. Brian Leadbetter two time world fly fishing champion once said ” that the wrong fly at the right feeding zone will catch more trout than the right fly at the wrong feeding zone ” . . . . . here in New Zealand getting your fly down to the feeding zone is critical . . I was fishing the worlds number trout river The Tongariro on the Hydro Pool every time i went down following another angler he hooked up and I blanked . . eventually I asked to see his set up and he had one of those Rio floating lines with a depth charge tip . . . . so I tore off about 8 foot of my Di7 tied it to my floating line and went down the same swim again I nailed two bows on my cream caddis while the other angler still caught on his lure pattern . . . . like most angers I have also had the right fly at the right depth and the trout have just laughed 🙂

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