Presentation Versus Pattern
MIKE KIRKPATRICK EXPLORES THE PRESENTATION VERSUS PATTERN DEBATE AND EXPLAINS WHY HE MELDS THE TWO TOGETHER AT TIMES ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS.
OFTEN IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT FLY CHOICE
GO AGAIN…YEP…AND AGAIN.” “Keep hitting him until you find his rhythm.” We were at least 20 casts into a picky fish just under a foam line beneath a willow tree and the 4lb brown continued to slurp from the insect-congested surface with almost metronomic regularity. My client was starting to glance sideways at me as he knew my penchant for changing flies at times bordered on obsessive. But with this particular fish, I felt it was more about finding of his feeding rhythm than fly selection. He was in all likelihood feeding on willow grubs (tiny green caterpillar-like larvae of the adult sawfly) and, as I was happy with the chosen pattern, felt we just needed to match the time it took for him to take from the surface, drop back down, settle, and look again for the next target.
All of this happened while I’m sure multiple food items went by, but these fish often feed only when ready after each visit to the top. Sure enough, our patience was rewarded with the fly disappearing shortly after in a soft, confident take. We had matched that rhythm and a fine chunky brown trout lay bankside as a gleaming reward for getting the approach right -- in this case combining a close enough imitation of the insect and the right pres- entation and approach.
There is no doubt that the presentation verses pattern debate has long been the central figure in a lot of flyfishing discussion over the years and also no doubt that each argument has plenty of merit.
There are those who believe in very realistic flies being the most important tool in their arsenal -- others, that presentation of a ‘close enough’ fly presented well is more important. I sit a little on the fence with this as I have a lot of very realistic flies, but only use these when times get tough and picky fish dictate exact imitation.
It would be very simple to say “why not”, then use
exact patterns and learn to present them very well? I guess the answer to that would be that often very well presented basic flies (Hare and Copper, Pheasant Tail, Royal Wulff, etc.) work as well as anything and coverr a much broader range of food items. Going for exactt realistic imitations can mean a lot of fly changes needed as these often subtle flies lack real fish stimulating fea- tures like flash, colour, rubber legs, etc. The excessive casting needed to exactly ‘match the hatch’ as you go through the flybox greatly increases the risk of a spooked fish. For this reason, I tend to use the ultrareal flies sparingly and more often go for those that cover more bases.
Most people fall into one camp or the other and will go with what they have built up confidence in, whether that be exact patterns (of which they may have multiple boxes full), or by using a small selection of flies that they use to cover most situations. A good example of this came recently while fishing to very large mouse feeding browns late season. My angling buddy Jack, who had the fishing in this place really dialed in, was down to one small box of patterns to cover all bases. Me, I had my usual dozen or so flyboxes full. We both shared equal success by presenting well ahead of these deep-lying fish, with added weight to get the flies down deep enough to fish not willing to move much at all. The winning formula here? The presentation of small, drab, and lightly weighted flies. Presentation was easily the main influence on success. This brings me to a major point of interest in presentation -weight versus extended drift.
It’s often the case that deep nymphing trout will simply not lift to take a fly and the angler, upon realising this, has one of two methods to lean towards. One is to load up nymphs very heavily with lead and tungsten beads (sometimes multiple tungsten) to aid in getting the fly right down in the zone quickly, or very long leaders upwards of 18-20ft to get a less weighted fly or flies down to the desired level using a greater lead ahead of the fish and longer drift. I have always favoured the latter as the less loaded a fly is in terms of weight, the more naturally it will drift in the subtle micro currents that are the mini ‘conveyer belts’ within the main drift itself. The more natural it looks to a trout, the more likely a take. Period.
Having access to underwater footage like Ralph and Lisa Cutter’s “Bugs of the Underworld’ dvd will help you understand just how much almost all invertebrates move in the drift. They twitch, curl, and straighten, dart, and move their legs about, so with this in mind imagine how ‘dead’ looking a very heavy fly can look to trout. There is no argument that very heavy flies catch trout, but how often does a very light trailing nymph get taken in preference? Disproportionately so in my experience.
A different feeding behavior that adds spice to the debate is the ‘locked in’ fish.
THIS IS CAUSED BY A n number of things, b but often simply it’s what httd today’s’ ‘ ‘programming’i ’i is, to use a computer term. I often use the computer analogy to try to explain to a client why a particular fish is causing my knuckles to whiten and teeth to grind as I tie on the 14th different fly! These fish target one specific food item even when there are a plethora of insects within easy reach. My theory on this is that trout aren’t capable at times of identifying anything else as food as they are so tunnel-visioned in their approach they’re almost robotic. The often used ‘smart fish’ description is probably fairly wide of the mark as I believe they are hard to catch not because they are smart, but because they are dumb. Not a romantic notion, but fairly accurate in this case as, although they have super-tuned senses and survival instincts, they still have a brain the size of a pea. They are using all of their available focus on a particular insect and there is simply no computing power left for anything else. Exact imitation here suddenly becomes very key and it is here where having multiple flies in various sizes, weights, profiles, and colours can be the ally of the patient angler. Exact imitation wins here.
To look at trout feeding levels further, I often use a simple equation to describe their behaviour. I add up two behaviours to complete a score of 10 -- one is level of alertness, the other level of feeding. If they are feeding at a three, then a seven will be the level of alertness; if they appear at about an eight level of feeding then only two is left for its level of alertness. Of course, those feeding at an eight will on average be much easier to catch as most of their available focus is away from defense and put into eating. It’s an obvious over-simplification, but gives an insight into maybe how to plan our approach, given this method of situation appraisal.
The last South Island this season was a goldmine for the observant angler. The mouse plague that ran rife through some of our backcountry, threw up some very interesting trends. One of these being some anglers learning to catch seemingly uncatchable trout by using very subtle and non-threatening flies under very heavy ones to trout in deep, fast water, which aren’t moving (sounds charming doesn’t it?). These large fish had been dining out on mice at night and were seldom interested in feeding during daylight hours. Whether it’s instinct or annoyance making them take, persistence and accuracy in presentation were king here and only the very best anglers at this were consistently successful on these brutes, as the fly needed to be right on their noses. These trout were relentlessly targeted and learned to avoid flies in almost all sizes, bar light-weighted #16s and under, unless on the rare occasion they chose to visibly feed. Pattern here was very important along with presentation, as added weight was needed to get a very small light fly down -- a tie.
An example of this came from me joining the crowd on a rare day off chasing a big fish for myself.
I often use the computer analogy to try to explain to a client why a particular fish is causing my knuckles
I HAD COVERED A LARGE TROPHY FISH s several times that looked very still and on about t the tenth drift saw the big brown’s gills flare slightly when I thought my fly would be in the zone. I lifted gently and the fish shook its head and exploded from the water, perfectly hooked in the top jaw. A short intense battle saw my trophy itch scratched.
A good mate filmed some fish recently on a wellknown (and heavily fished) hatch driven fishery and observed some key points of interest. He saw fish completely ignore good-sized hatching duns and spinners for the occasional cripple and take all very small caddis within reach. He noted these trout almost ‘wincing’ as they took the larger crippled mayflies, often taking twigs and tiny leaves in preference. It seemed the fish were locked in on size as if anything larger suggested danger -- legacy maybe of recent angler encounters and I’ll certainly keep an eye on it in the future. In this case, maybe going with a size unlikely to have been used much by previous anglers (in this case smaller) might give a decided edge. Pattern would be very important here.
The use of Indicators adds another interesting facet when it comes to presentation. There’s no doubt that they can be invaluable in detecting takes while sight-fishing, and essential for most anglers fishing blind. The issue with indicators is that they often negatively influence the drift of the nymphs below, as the speed and current angles on the surface seldom match that of the water beneath it. I have seen many times while using indicators or dry/dropper rigs, a fish take a long way from where I thought the flies would be based on the surface marker. The amount of drag on the flies being produced by the indica- tor system at times is the sole reason for rejections or spooked fish. The solution is learning to fish predominantly without an indicator and becoming better at timing your strike on seeing the fish move, and often the white flash of the mouth, when you ‘judge’ your flies to be in the strike zone. A lift or subtle tightening is all that is needed to feel for any resistance signaling the fish has indeed taken your nymph. This technique will always produce a much better drift and more rewards for those willing to put the time into perfecting it.
Most of the focus here has been aimed mainly at nymph fishing and it would be remiss of me not to mention the humble dry fly. I have found it slightly less important over the years to be as exact in pattern with dries as nymphs, as my rationale has been that fish see nymphs more three dimensionally than they do a dry on the surface where they see more a ‘profile’ of the fly. With this mind, presentation of dries takes on a large part in fooling trout. Anglers fishing large cicada patterns to sighted fish, for instance, often feel like they just need to land the fly in the general area and that this is good enough. My take differs as, although fish often take a cicada slapped down near them, this often spooks them as well. Trout generally don’t like their space being ‘invaded’ -- it can unsettle them to the extent that they will refuse and often spook. My tactic is to put the big dry well off to the side, maybe a metre
I have found it slightly less important over the years to be as exact in pattern with dries as nymphs.
or two, and about level with or just above the fish, to first let them ‘key in’ via their lateral line, and then find what they expected to see within the rings on the surface. You have, in fact, rung a more distant dinner bell that has given the trout time to ease in and confirm what he expected to find. With small dries a good rule is to present them ahead of the trout a distance only equal to the depth of water it is in. If it is in one foot of water, place the fly one foot ahead of his nose. Overly long drifts of dries are seldom needed and often give fish too much of a look. Drag is also more likely to set in on longer drifts. The viewing window of trout is very small if close to the surface, so get it close to their nose is my advice.
In summary, having an open mind as to what’s actually happening on the water and the options available in both approach and fly selection, will give a decided edge in getting more hookups. A most important facet to becoming a ‘10 percenter’ (you know, the annoying top 10 percent who seem to catch all the fish) is situational awareness. Treat each new opportunity with a clean slate, both in terms of approach and chosen fly, and blend these carefully for what lies in front of you. As always, time on the water is irreplaceable as the best method of learning how to combine approach and fly selection, as is taking chances with new techniques.
Not a horrible cure though is it -- having to spend more time on the water… ”Honey, I’m off to my ‘angler management’ classes” If you‘re lacking success out there, such classes maybe much needed!
LEARN TO FISH PREDOMINANTLY WITHOUT AN INDICATOR AND BECOME BETTER AT TIMING YOUR STRIKE ON SEEING THE FISH MOVE
A FINE CHUNKY BROWN WAS A GLEAMING REWARD FOR GETTING THE APPROACH RIGHT
THE MOUSE PLAGUE RAN RIFE THROUGH SOME OF OUR BACKCOUNTRY TREAT EACH NEW OPPORTUNITY WITH A CLEAN SLATE,
BOTH IN TERMS OF APPROACH AND CHOSEN FLY PERSISTENCE AND ACCURACY IN PRESENTATION ARE KING AND ONLY THE VERY BEST ANGLERS AT THIS ARE
CONSISTENTLY SUCCESSFUL ON BIG FISH
SOME ANGLERS LEARN TO CATCH SEEMINGLY UNCATCHABLE TROUT BY USING VERY SUBTLE AND NON-THREATENING FLIES UNDER VERY HEAVY ONES
IT’S OFTEN THE CASE THAT DEEP NYMPHING TROUT WILL SIMPLY NOT LIFT TO TAKE A FLY
THE VIEWING WINDOW OF TROUT IS VERY SMALL IF CLOSE TO THE SURFACE, SO GET IT CLOSE TO THEIR NOSE IS MY ADVICE SOMETIMES TO CATCH BRUTES LIKE THIS THE FLY HAS TO BE RIGHT ON THEIR NOSE