Not too long ago, I wrote a blog here about how casting accuracy is often far more important than pure distance. Being able to toss a crazy length of line sure looks cool when people are watching, but how often are you throwing that far during an actual fishing day? For many anglers such as myself, the answer is not that often. Distance should never be totally ignored, but many times being accurate at shorter lengths will pay big dividends. It's one thing to be accurate, but it can be even better to be precise.
While accuracy and precision may basically mean about the same thing, I view them differently on the water. To me, an accurate presentation means putting the fly about where you want it each time. Think going down a shoreline in a boat and casting along a weedline or around some scattered cover—you're quickly peppering the water with accurate presentations trying to locate fish. On the other hand, precise presentations are when you slow down because you've either located a fish or a place where you're pretty darn sure one lives. In this instance, I'll use numerous presentations to pick apart a single zone literally down to inches.
Being an avid bass angler for many years has really taught me the importance of being precise. Presenting the bait in an exact spot can often be the difference between a hookup or nothing at all. Take dock fishing as a prime example. It's a sunny day and there's a dock that's very low to the water. An inexperienced bass angler or one that's fishing quickly may only hit the edges of the dock, or perhaps get back under it a foot or two. After a quick couple of presentations around the dock edges, Angler A will move on to the next spot. Soon after, Angler B approaches the same dock fishing much more methodically. B makes numerous presentations fishing the edges, the supports, and far back underneath where many others can't or don't put in the effort to reach. In this situation, who's more likely to get bit? While Angler A may have put the lure a mere four or five feet from a bass, Angler B put the lure right in where the fish was hanging out.
Fishing California's Hot Creek one day about 15 years ago was one of my most memorable instances where being precise literally down to inches really mattered. It was early evening and the wind was really cranking to about 25 miles per hour. I was throwing terrestrial dry flies picking apart the water as methodically as possible in those blustery conditions. After catching a small trout or two, I spotted a moss/grass patch in the center of the creek that just looked epic. Hot Creek was absolutely full of the stuff on this day, but this spot really stood out. This patch had nice depth around it, some good mossy overhang, and a short, thin pool had formed behind a small mossy notch that stuck out from the main clump. My plan was to cast around the fringes first, then try to get my bug right behind the moss at the head of that tiny bit of calm water. I just knew something was in there!
I made about five minutes worth of casts around the edges of the moss patch with no luck. Some of my casts landed the fly a foot or less from that fishy-looking eddy, but still no grabs. A few anglers may have moved on by then, but if I find a likely area I tend to really beat on it before throwing in the towel. Besides, I knew that the real sweet spot was that tiny bit of calm water I was saving for last. So, after fishing the fringes, I focused on getting my fly into that little area. A 4-weight rod, long leader, and sideways wind gusts to 25 don't exactly make for accurate casts, but after a few tries I finally got my fly exactly where I wanted it. BAM! The sixteen-inch rainbow struck about a second after my fly splatted down on the surface. The fish went berserk in typical wild trout fashion by jumping two or three times and then headed immediately for the bed of moss in which he was initially hiding under. There's no glory to the end of this story, as the fish ran into the the thick of it and popped my tippet in short order. It was quick, disappointing, yet VERY eye-opening!
That experience and countless others have reinforced the need to slow down and cover every square inch of certain areas. Just because someone didn't catch anything in a given spot doesn't mean there's no fish there—they may have just not covered it effectively enough. Using this super-methodical approach can be applied to anything from physical irregularities, structure, cover, or simply hitting different zones of a pool or seam from various angles. Some fish simply don't want to move very far from their comfort or ambush zones, so you need to take your offering directly to them!