Deciding what flies to use and how to fish them is obviously an extremely important decision. Whether imitating bugs, fish, rodents, or whatever, the number of flies within each category can be pretty daunting. While fly selection is critical, I always make sure to have a methodology in mind before hitting the water. What do I mean by this? If I know I'm likely to be throwing more than one fly on a given day, I want to use these flies in the smartest order possible.
Picking and fishing a particular fly pattern is influenced by variables like water clarity, weather, experience, and local forage, but there's still plenty of occasions when it can be tough to know what the exact best choice might be. If I have gathered up a small variety of flies and want to experiment to see what will work the best, I'll often start with the more subtle pattern or presentation. This is especially true if I'm planning on fishing through a specific stretch of water then backtracking and pounding through the same stretch again with a different fly. I also tend to first gravitate more towards the subtle approach when facing conditions like very clear water, sunny skies, and/or calm winds.
Why will I choose to sometimes go with finesse first? I do this because I want to begin with the less-intrusive presentation as a way to gauge the response of the fish. If I start off throwing flies that offer the most presence or are fished the most aggressively, they may be a bit too much and either spook the fish right off the bat or receive no interest at all. However, if I start with a more subdued overall presentation, I figure I'm increasing my chances for success because this presentation is likely "friendlier" to fish of all sizes and/or activity levels. Also, keep in mind a more subtle fly pattern doesn't necessarily mean a totally different pattern altogether. It can simply be something like a smaller size, more muted color, or having no added flash.
Fish aren't always in the mood for the most visible or active presentation. With that said, even if you do have luck with a quieter presentation first, simply coming back through the same stretch and fishing with a more aggressive style can sometimes be a way to pick off an extra "bonus bite" or two. While many factors may help dictate what patterns you choose and how you fish them, if you ever find yourself scratching your head over how to start or simply want to experiment, consider going with finesse first and see if it helps you experience greater success!