Whether you’re casting across current or trying to drop a nymph through a swirling eddy behind a rock, the angle you approach your target can make all the difference.
[by Jason Randall]
ANY GOOD SALESMAN WILL TELL YOU how much work goes into a business deal before the pitch is ever made to the client. It starts with knowing what your client wants and how he wants it. A successful salesman prepares before the first meeting takes place. The same is true of fly fishing; we need to know what the trout want and how they want it. And just as in salesmanship, the presentation begins before making the first cast or before the fly hits the water.
Obviously, choosing the right fly is important. Having the right product makes it easier to sell. But of equal or even greater importance is the “how they want it” part of the equation. You’ll catch more trout with the wrong fly and a good presentation than you will with the right fly and a poor presentation.
One of the oldest mantras in business is to visualize success; to see the whole process from the start all the way to a successful conclusion. This helps to anticipate potential problems and perhaps avoid them, or at least allow time to formulate solutions. We need to bring that same attitude to fly fishing.
Back to basics
Presentation starts with position. In both dry fly and nymph fishing, the correct position of the angler relative to the casting target allows the best presentation and minimizes casting corrections and mending to avoid drag.
Drag is the archenemy in fly fishing, at least for most dry fly and nymphing situations. Drag is the loss of unrestricted movement characteristic of a natural free floating food item caused by the unnatural influence of the line or leader. It might be subtle—a slight restriction of movement as a fly navigates the currents, or profound, like when a dry fly wakes across the water’s surface. Drag occurs when our fly drifts in a section of current traveling at a different speed than the sections of current our line or leader cross. The greater the speed differential between the fast current crossed and the slower water where the fly drifts (or occasionally vice versa), the quicker and more profound the effect of drag.
Trout favor the soft edges of current seams where they can comfortably peruse food items floating by. That’s where dry flies need to be. Under the surface, trout tend to be near the bottom where the current is slower and food drifts by on a faster line. Thus our flies need to stay closer to the bottom when nymph fishing to be most effective.
In both situations, we want our flies to stay in slow water, but have to cross the fast water to get there. In both situations, if our flies drag, they’re not going to tempt as many trout.
Position Yourself for Success
For nymph fishing, a fly has to drop through all the various layers of current to get to the stream bottom. But for dry-fly fishing, it stands to reason that the fewer zones of competing current our line crosses, the better. So the first principal that needs to be tackled when planning a dry-fly presentation is to minimize the number of different current velocities the fly line must cross.
While you can use many casting and mending corrections to combat drag when dry-fly fishing, one of the most effective countermeasures can be done ahead of time. Before you let loose the first cast, analyze the situation. Visualize the cast you’ll need to get the best presentation and anticipate potential problems you might encounter. Then look around for the best position to approach your target—there may be better alternatives.
Good presentation begins with good angler position, one that places the target zone or rising trout within easy reach. Although you might be able to cast far, it’s worthwhile to get close enough to the target so you can not only reach it, but that you’re also able to control the amount of line on the water to get the best presentation. It does little good for you to reach a rising trout, only to have drag immediately spoil the drift because you’ve set up in a place where you must sacrifice line control. Only cast as much line as you can mend, at least during the time the fly will be in the optimum ‘zone.’