I find it interesting that when fly presentation is mentioned to most fly fishers, it is interpreted to mean fishing one’s fly “dead drift”. I personally find that I am usually much more successful fishing an active presentation, so I sometimes wonder why the preoccupation with always fishing “dead drift”. Let me say up front, I think there is the occasion when that presentation is appropriate, I just don’t think it’s the best approach all the time.
As you think about it, unless a food item is indeed DEAD, it’s not very often an organism is just lazily “going with the flow”, laying on its back or belly idly drifting down stream. In most if not all cases, it’s using all the energy it can muster to go someplace. If it’s underwater, it is either trying to get to the surface to hatch, or back to the safety of the bottom when it’s in the process of being carried away (against its will) downstream. In moving water, there is little advantage for a bug to purposely head downstream. Chances are good it won’t have the strength to swim back upstream, so the river/stream is for all practical purposes a one way street. If the bug population does not actively try to hold its position, sooner or later it’s going to end up in a foreign environment, like Lake Michigan. So the point being, in these situations, there is at least an effort being made by the insect which will introduce some level of movement, however slight.
We all know one way bugs may use to avoid being carried away out to sea, is to sprout wings and fly back upstream a ways. In the case of mayflies, the bugs do seem to try to sit motionlessly while their newly sprouted wing dry and harden. Why would they have evolved this adaptation? Perhaps because it is the best strategy to avoid detection while they are vulnerable? Granted the predator/ prey relationship is an ongoing chess match, so once the bugs figured that out, the fish came to realize that was what to look for in regards to an easy meal. So certainly this is one situation where a “dead drift” will be effective. I will still maintain the point that the bugs figured out being still is preferable to floundering around, in terms of not being eaten, which seems to sway towards the idea that fish look for movement in their prey.
Of course caddis flies decided the best strategy was to get out of Dodge quickly, so they shoot up like a miniature Polaris missile. I’m not sure when a “dead drift” presentation would be effective while fishing a caddis imitation, unless it was to simulate a bug that had indeed died.
So when all is said and done, it seems the goal is to figure out a way to introduce subtle movement to indicate the presence of life to our offering. Of course, there are no absolutes, so sometimes no movement is the ticket, sometimes extreme movement is appropriate.
If you stop and think about it, there are at least a couple things that can convince a fish something is a bit of food. It can look like food, or act like food. Changing flies is an effort to find something that looks like food, changing presentation is an effort to make you fly look like food.