While fishing a fine Baetis hatch on the Henry’s Fork recently, I watched as the friend I was with struggled to fool the rising fish that surrounded him. This surprised me. My friend is a competent angler who knows fishing, the river and its flies—no stranger to success, he. I watched as he tried a number of different flies, without luck. He tried different fish too, directing his casts towards any riser that dared show within his considerable casting range. What he did not try, conspicuously, was changing his position in the river. Feet firmly planted, he fished as the proverbial immovable object. On a river like the Henry’s Fork, beset as it is with tortuous surface currents that love nothing more than to drag a fly, this can be the kiss of death. In the end, relying on only brute determination and casting skill, my friend netted a few trout. But his success was nothing like normal.
The episode reminded me of something Vince Marinaro wrote about presentation. This, from his 1976 book, In the Ring of the Rise: “…the modern, narrow, oversimplistic approach of relying on [fly] pattern alone…instead of observing the trout and exploring all the available options in the all-important matter of presentation.” This was precisely my friend’s downfall. He had engaged in too much fly changing and had paid too little attention to presentation. When we’d finished for the day, he admitted as much. He said that he failed to “fish with my feet.” It was simply easier for him to stand in one spot and try different flies than to wade carefully and fish from the spots offering the best possible drift. I certainly understood; I’ve been guilty of this myself. But fishing with your feet is such an important part of good presentation that we would all do well not to overlook it.