I’ve been fishing most of my life and since my 20’ies, I’ve had the good luck to fish with many experienced fly fishers, willing to share. Paul’s motto stuck with me early: Never do the same thing once… When I’ve chosen where to go, it’s very important to me to be able to something different, quickly and if there’s something I take great care in preparing for, it’s being able to do something different. For me, that involves making sure you have the right tackle, flies and lines. Because before I give up on one spot to go to the next, I rarely do it before fishing it through in at least two different ways.
Fishing through a spot in different ways can be done in many ways, but my in my head, I have a hierarchy, which is always where I begin when deciding what to do from the beginning and then that gives me the platform from which to change. When at the chosen spot, I’ll make a more or less conscious choice, often just a gut feeling, sometimes from an experience that lets me know particular methods that often result in a fish and sometimes I just begin, somewhere, somehow.
In the order in which I find is the most important, here’s how I think through when I decide to change. Elaborations will follow below.
1. When I think what “Presentation” involves, I consider everything that has to do when the presentation of any fly.
Speed, depth, angle (both on swing and cast, which are of course linked closely), drag free, striping or skating, hitching, bulging and probably a few more I can’t think of right now. And - leader thickness is closely linked to this as well.
Presentation does of course involve 2 and 3. Let’s say I’ve fished through a stretch with a palmer fly on an intermediate line, and I decide to go through it again with a sinking line and a much faster retrieve. In that case I’ll choose a fly more suited to the style of presentation. Even though I think presentation is king, in my experience a level of imitation is also important. So on a fast retrieve, I’ll tie on a fly that looks somewhat like prey that usually swims fast. Similarly if I choose a slow retrieve, I’ll tie on a fly that represents something that usually swims slowly.
2. “Size” of course is obvious. Silhouette, long/slender, bulky, floating. And as mentioned above, some coherence between 1 and 2 makes sense. In my fishing there’s a close link between water temperature and size of fly. That goes for sea trout, pike, salmon, trout and grayling. The warmer the water, the smaller the fly I’ll usually choose. With trout and grayling, obviously because sa summer progresses, the hatching insect tend to get smaller and smaller. There are exception of course and often, a larger fly fished full speed will be effective for sea trout in the salt. And on the salmon river, a small fly fished full speed will often be good, and when not, a huge Sunray fished full speed will at least illicit a reaction, letting you know where the fish are.
3. The particular fly or pattern I rank the lowest, because I firmly believe that if 1 and 2 are “correct”, most fish will respond to most flies - with obvious execeptions of course. The right leader, perfect upstream, drag free presentation to a spinner-sipping grayling won’t matter if there’s a 4-inch Sunray Shadow on the end of leader. But if the fly is a size 16 or an 18, light olive or dark olive probably matters less if 1 and 2 are spot on. The prefect imitation will most likely fail if 1 and 2 are off, even if a very close imitation sometimes is important.
The particular fly is somewhat linked to 2. Not that I think that a Thunder & Lightning will fail if you exclude the gold tinsel tag. But when taking into account silhouette, some flies offer a very different silhouette than others. Black flies presenting a very string silhouette, light ones less. And then of course it becomes tricky, because what does the fish perceive? Does the fish perceive a #6 Black Wooly Bugger bigger than say a #2, slender Matuka bait fish imitation? That’s up to you to consider.
If you choose to fish at considerable depths, bear in mind that the deeper you fish, the less light comes through, certainly making specific colour less important. At depth, black is more visible that anything because of its contrast to an always brighter sky. Water is usually less coloured then we perceive when looking down. The fish sees it against the brighter sky.
Maybe this hierarchy makes little sense as changing one, often one or two more are changed at the same time. But as 1, 2 and 3 are obviously linked more or less closely, deciding on one change will often dictate one or both of the other. Perhaps there are so many exceptions that it makes little sense?
And tackle matters too. I might be on calm water in August, looking for sea trout (because those are particularly challenging circumstances that I enjoy), but I then consider to head to another spot to catch wind and waves (which are also lovely, challenging conditions). In the first I’d usually be fishing a 5-, maybe a 6-wt with a floating line. That’s unsuited for fishing into the wind, in waves. Here’d I’d often choose an 8-wt and an intermediate line. So I always pack to be prepared for these changes.
That ended up somewhat longer than I intended - I hope it makes some sense.
PoD: A finnish salmon fly, Viherpuna. This is a bit of an allrounder, It does well fished high, low, fast slow and only "faults" as it makes little sense in big sizes.