Choosing a Fly

By Frank Pisciotta

Politicians often have diametrically opposed views on how the country ought to be managed. Strong positions are staked out, voices are raised in shrill debate, and each side points out the weaknesses of the opposition's arguments. Usually neither side has all the answers, and the solution lies somewhere in the middle.

It's not much different when you choose a trout fly.

Opposing Views

On one side are the presentationists. They say that as long as the food item is presented in a life-like manner, that's all that counts. If the prey is dead-drifting, twitching, skating, or swinging, then your fly should mimic the natural insect's movement and the trout will grab it. Attractor, searching, impressionistic, and suggestive flies can be used.

One the other side are the match-the-hatchers. They say it is imperative that your fly be the size, shape, and color of the natural insects that trout are consuming. They're not sure if shape is more important than size, but they are positive that color is the least important factor. Regardless, they are convinced that your fly must be a precise imitation.

What's a practical angler to do? For a start, recognize that--as in politics--truth is usually in the middle.

Go With the Flow

To me, the starting point is the flow and speed of the water. The slower the current (e.g.: placid pool or smooth tailout), the more time a trout has to scrutinize my offering. But in quicker flows, the trout does not have the leisure of unhurried inspection; it has to grab now or the food is gone.

So on slow water, the match-the-hatch school is more right. However, presentation is still important. For example, consider the following situation. It's a cool, overcast day; pale morning duns are hatching; and trout are sipping the duns off the surface. Because of the cool day, it takes longer for the duns' wings to dry. As they attempt to take of, they are twitching on the surface. You would do well to present your exact match (say a size 18 parachute, looped-wing dun) in a natural way by giving it an occasional small twitch.

Fast Water

On the other hand, in a fast water environment trout have to make very quick, instinctive decisions. Otherwise the nymph/dun/pupa passes by and the trout goes hungry. The presentation school says a dead-drift is the tactic of choice. BUT--your chances will be much better if your fly is the same size as whatever bug is been on the trout's current menu. If it's too big, you may get that frustrating chase and refusal, regardless of how well you made the presentation.

Fortunately, the results of making the right fly choice are more satisfying than the compromises made by politicians.