Which is more important casting skill or fly presentation skill?

The below website makes this assertion
Unless You’re Good at Casting - It is Useless to Tie Flies
[it’s a long read, but kind of entertaining and thought provoking]

I’ve often read on Japanese tenkara fishing websites the priority or hierarchy of skill development for tenkara fishing roughly follows this order:

(1)learn to cast,(2) learn to cast precisely to a point, (3) learn what point to cast to (where the fish are), (4) learn to make the correct presentation of the fly to the fish (natural drift or some type of manipulation, aka sasoi, 誘い. After that learn more about what kebari to select, about fish behavior of different species, learn river currents, etc. Learning to cast does appear to be at the top of the list as being of first importance. And many will point out, a great looking kebari will not catch any fish if you splash the water surface with your line during your cast, thereby spooking the fish.

The below linked article is comparing skillful western fly fishing casting vs tying beautiful imitation flies, tied to entice the fish to take the fly because the fly looks like the real prey.

Which, I think, is a different concept from tenkara kebari. Kebari are flies tied to provide an impression of natural fish prey. Just enough in shape, color, size or movement to trigger the fish to take the fly. More like impressionist art than realistic art.

For tenkara fishing which is more important casting skill, or the appearance of the kebari? Or maybe for tenkara fishing we should think of casting skill & presentation skill of the kebari as one combined skill. And how the kebari is tied (shape, color, size) an isolated separate skill for fish catching success .

These flies where tied by the very young son of a friend of the author of the article.
I am in the camp that believes, or at least somewhat believes, that fish are attracted to rumpled looking kebari.
The young fly tier said this about his flies. “These flies will catch all the fish in the world !” :smiley:
I don’t make my rumpled looking kebari quite this rumpled. But maybe the boy is right, if they are cast and presented skillfully to the right spot.

Unless you’re good at casting, it’s useless to tie flies…

I don’t think it is useless to tie flies, even if my casting & presentation skills are less than expert level.
Maybe making tying kebari the priority over casting/presentation skill is the wrong priority as far as catching more fish. However, I do find tying kebari, a fun separate activity from fish catching. Tying kebari is fun on it’s own. Just to use a little of my own creativity to tie something new, based on study of existing patterns or based on what I think fish behavior is and what they will respond to. If they catch fish, great. If not, I still had fun tying them and spending a few hours on the water fishing with them. Even if I didn’t catch many or any fish. :wink:


I am in the camp that any activity is like a painting or photograph.

It is a slow building process…developing…slowly and equally all parts at the same time.

As one of my painting professors once noted, it makes no sense to paint the whiskers on a cat before you have blocked in and developed its form. The foundation and Broad strokes before detail.

With fishing I do not believe in learning order. It is not a serial process…it is a parallel learning process. Each piece should be developed equally as the context of one is meaningless without the other parts.

Pin point casts are meaningless if you cannot read water. Reading water takes experience and confidence.
If you have more experience, chance are you are not a novice caster.


Well, yes of course one doesn’t become a master at skill priority #1 before moving on to skill #2, then #3, and so on. You just develop basic competence of each in order. Then thereafter it’s a matter for a life time of improving at each in parallel as you fish or spend specific periods of time improving at each one. While keeping in mind the things that rank higher in importance to improve first. If you’re the type of person who seeks to hone their skills.

I am extendind this to the honing part.

Equal parallel development of all parts.

Yes. You can become a master at tyng flies or at casting precisely…but i see it as the equivalent to a body builder who just builds his arms and doesnt develop the rest of his body. He does get a result that may be pleasing to him, but he is actually out of proportion as his skinny legs cannot carry the weight of his upper body.

I would not rank any diciplines of higher importance.

1 Like

Regarding the fly tying. I am forrunate the tying ugly flies is ok.

Tenkara reinforces the importance of just the key details. Size and movement…banking on the close enough factor.

In the case of flies…at face value one might think the note is to atrophy fly tying…but perhaps its a note that proper design is not always inline to what is most pleasing to us. It is still something for us to discover and master.

There are artists who spend there academic lives learning…then spend the rest of there lives trying to unlearn the same conditioned structure they spent so much time building.

Sometimes academic form helps us but also impeeds true innovation and understandimg.

Consider the flies in that child’s box. How may of us would refuse to cast them because they are not a sanctioned pattern in tenkara or western fly fishing…no matter if they worked better?

Agreed, but also disagree. I think that in order to know what rules to break and when (and thus lead to innovation and understanding), one needs those academic basics. Taking your painting example a little further, a perfect example of this is Pablo Picasso. He regularly credited his work, particularly in later life, with his education and learning the basics and not ranking any discipline with higher importance (as is evidenced by the fact that he excelled in multiple forms of 2D art and in 3D art). There are examples of people in other arts as well; 与謝野 晶子 Yosano Akiko is an example of a Japanese poet and writer (and female at that) who broke many rules in writing.



Yes, unless one is a genius the rest of us have to learn things formally then use that as a departure.

I was just trying to note that academic form is not the end all.

From an academic stand point, tenkara flies do not fit in western fly fishing philosophy. A philosophy and engineering that considers imitating specific forage. Clearly that does not make Western flyfishing philosophy an accurate or a fully explored method. It is overlooking a significant efiiciency…the one we all enjoy…making generic flies that look like no particular bug but have potential to imitate every bug.

Even with the way we have been exposed to tenkara, there are imposed academics that determine what is and what is not under that umbrella. Thus all the disputes.

I wonder if the commercial tenkara angler would turn his nose up at a flybox full of beadhead nymphs if he were fishing a deep, deep, pool. Probably not, if it meant putting more fish into the creel.

I must admit, there is some thing about fly and lure fisherman where there is some imposed dos and donts that contradict the goal at hand.


What about attractor patterns though? I mean stimulators and humpys aren’t meant to be anything specific, right?

The fact is, if you make a dreadful presentation (bad cast, bad drift or both) it probably doesn’t matter how good/realistic the fly looks.

As for me, I have yet to have an iota of interest in tying my own flies. It looks like tedious, boring work to me and I’d rather be doing something else than bending over a vise.

1 Like

I am generalizing, and often a lot of my ideas/understanding is not bulletproof. I have only been a fly flinger for 4 seasons and only tenkara. It is a small window.

regarding fly tying.

there is something wonderful about catching on ones own creation.
there is something also creative and immediate about being able to explore concepts in patterns or finding your own path…like take aspects of fly A, fly B, and fly C…put them in a blender and see if it works.

Sometimes resources do not have fly sizes and weights I like in stock. That was a big motivator for me to start tying.

The other is the one pattern philosophy, you can take your one pattern. Make different hook sizes, make different weights using different hook weights, some with/without wire, use different weights beadheads…etc. All can be used in different waterflows. Tune your fly to the water sort of thinking. There is not a resource that can provide it all and if you go to a commercial tier with requests, those flies might cost you 3-5 dollars a piece.

fly tying is not for everyone. It is also not necessary, but it sure is fun and can change on how you think about the flies you have in your box. You start considering attributes of material and how that affects presentation differently.

1 Like

Yeah, I can totally see why some people really like tying…it just holds no appeal for me at all. I have no artistic ability, limited fine motor skills and no patience for activities that require fastidious attention to detail. I’d rather read a book (or take a walk, or watch tv, or or or) and just buy my flies.

Fortunately for me, the streams I fish most often really don’t require any kind of hatch matching or special flies. Any old attractor dry fly pattern in any size from 12 down to 18 works about the same when it’s warm and any generic nymph works when it’s cold.

1 Like

Ah, when I started this a little voice said I am too busy right now and I should do it later.
I really titled it wrong. The question is should be - which is more important casting skill & skill at presenting the fly, (via natural drift or manipulation). Or the choice of the fly pattern & your skill at tying them for those who choose to tie their own?

Kebari patterns and how to tie them seem to get talked about more than casting skills and how to deliver the fly to the best place in the best way. I think a knowledgeable angler will know the best kebari pattern to choose - size, color, shape, stiff or soft hackle, long or short hackle, to use during different seasons, stream situations or target species.

However, I tent to believe that an angler who knows how to chose the best pattern to reach and attract the target species, will have less catching success than the angler who may choose a less appropriate kebari pattern, but has the superior skill at casting it to the best point, and presenting it to the fish in a better way. No hard line splash on the water surface, the appropriate presentation, natural drift or manipulated presentation, line slack or line tension with just the right timing. etc. All are knowledge and skills that take a long time to develop to a high level.

I recall reading an interview of Tenkara no Oni, where he said he was more interested in hooking the fish in a certain way, than in catching the most fish. Corner of the lower jaw, I think was his goal. That indicated to him that he had cast to the fish from the best position, and he had set the hook on the fish by understanding fish behavior rather than my his speed at setting the hook before the fish rejected the fly. iow the fish had accepted the fly, not sensing any line tension, and was turning to return to his preferred lay to finish his snack, when the hook was set because he was swimming directly away from the angler’s position. I am a long way from that level of skill, and from the desire to only hook the fish with a defined style.

However, for me tying kebari is also a satisfying activity.
I have more time to tie flies than time to spend on the water. And it is something I can do during unpleasant weather. Researching different patterns, and their history is fun. Trying to invent my own patterns is also fun. Judging their success it a little more difficult. Did many fish take it because the pattern alone enticed the strike or take it because I by luck presented it the best way? Hard to determine.

I am not very good at sketching, though I’d like to be.
Recently the instruction from Alphonso Dunn has helped me improve my sketching skills. Tying kebari is also a way to play with artistic urges. I can try to turn what I have read about fish behavior and vision into some new idea for a kebari pattern. I find it interesting when I read how fish during spawning have no appetite, and are not feeding. But with the right choice of fly and presentation, you can trigger their instinct to chase and take the fly anyway. And I find it fun to tie flies using different techniques I see people use. The variety of tying techniques keeps it more interesting. Maybe I will discover some new way myself.

Anyway, the idea of exploring the ranking of line control skill vs choice of kebari was just something to think about on a winter day. There are many different paths to the most effective way to catch fish. However, for me activities related to tenkara fishing are not primarily about catching fish. There are many facets to tenkara that are fun to spend time on.


I sort of feel that a lot of attributes we consider important may or may not be to the target species.

The reason why i say this is because althought i have been refining all aspects of my skill i have not seen a significant up tick in my productivity.

Yes i do have more tricks and better presentation but there has not been a dramatic shift in fish counts.

What has not developed much is my ability to read water and understanding of fish behavior. I brought that to my trout fishing from my striped bass fishing. Perhaps this is the most important.

Flawless technique sometimes may be more disipline than necessity.

Fly first casting may only be important in niche situations. Slower water…spooky fish. It also may not make any difference at all. Sometimes spooky fish are completely unapproachable.

Casting technique may be like a perfectly groomed fly. More of a condition we impose on our sport than necessity. Both may be beaitiful but what might be most important is dragging an offering across the dinner table.

Consider this …tradition fly fisherman catch lots of fish. Compared to tenkara…it is a very sloppy presentation. They do all the tenkara donts…and still do well…sometimes out fishing me.

good presentation trumps good fly tying - but that said it helps if flies are functionally appropriate to how you want to use them (i.e. floaty, sinky, rates of sink, etc…)

and then another thing is you can be the best caster in the world but that doesn’t help if:

  1. you don’t know where to cast (reading water, knowing fish habits… etc)
  2. you spook fish
  3. can’t detect strikes

Good point. And a topic, how to become more sensitive to detecting strikes, I rarely see discussed. Not much beyond some people recommend lightly touching the barrel of the rod above the grip area with a finger tip, or just being more focused to the vibrations felt in the hand.

However, even if you don’t detect the strike. You still cast to the right place without spooking the fish with a fly that attracted their attention, enticing the take. You just didn’t know about it. :roll_eyes: Ignorance isn’t always fishing bliss. :thinking:

I agree strike detection is up there with skills.

As noted in a separate thread…a trout can take and spit a fly at speeds that are almost impossible to see.

I suspect 80 percent of takes are comletely undetected.

At least for me…i fish winter and early spring and most of my presentations are deep. As a result tension is impossibe and slack is necessary for a natural presentation. Lots of lost and found contact.

It comes down to intense focus and observation…and even then you must employ blind hooksets or manipulation at the spot you think the fish might be. This is a common advise that i recall from some translations of tenkara master fisherman.

Most of the time the lift in the spot i think the fish is in…is a swing and empty. I would say the remainder 10 percent i feel the tension of a fish or actually luck out with a hookset.

The bummer with wild browns is that if you screw up once ypu might be out of luck…but if you never felt the take at all…you are beating a dead horse.

I know some guys speed fish…jumping from pool to pool. I am a slower angler. I take my time and will try everything i have confidence in before moving.

1 Like

I recall Chris Stewart writing about people catching fish while fishing with keiryu tackle vs people not catching as many fish tenkara fishing, at one of the mid-west tenkara events several years ago. I think it was the first time Chris introduced keiryu rods at an event of that type. He believed the tenkara anglers were just not sensing the hits on their flies. At least I think I recall reading that. I might be mistaken, and mis-remembering as they say . Since I can’t recall what I did Monday my memory is always suspect of being wrong. Or mixing things from multiple events into one. :slightly_frowning_face:

I do remember that passage.

He was using three markers and that config helped reveal takes that one could not detect with a single.

I actually bought some markers around that time but never employed them.

Part of me is lazy…the othe part realizes that those extra bits will end up polluting the environment. Tippet and flys arr bad enough…but at least invisible…add in three dayglo markers…and that is a lot of visual polution.

I cringe every time i see a fly fishing float…aka…bobber.

The gain is not worth the clutter. 80 percent of me is just happy to be on the water…so i am ok with letting the fish have the edge.

1 Like

@Gressak constant contact (proper tension), and fly awareness will help muchly with strike detection - with tenkara I feel like most strike detection devices are a moot point as a hi-vis line is a giant strike detector

and one thing that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough is that active fly manipulation - especially cross-current and downstream tactics practically remove strike detection from the equation - strikes are instantly apparent

And that doesn’t preclude upstream casts - most of my upstream casting involves cross-current fly manipulation - at least when using wet flies and kebari

with tenkara my strike detection percentage has sky rocketed compared to when I was using western gear

1 Like

I completely agree and would add that my landed fish numbers have increased as well. I did a presentation about tenkara last Autumn to our local Trout Unlimited chapter and those were two points that a couple of people could not get their minds around.

I agree and disagree.

I agree that observation, technique, and manipulation can and will improve hookups, but also believe that slack can also equally be valuable and this is where constant contact is up for debate.

Lost in found is an area where I invest the most of my water time to perfect. Lost until the fly is where you want it, then some periodic checks in the strike zone. I am sure these checks are like mini-pulses.

If one were to fish deeper than 6 inches, I believe 100% that there are takes that most anglers will never feel…no matter what sort of tension you think you have to your fly. The water will always produce some slack/curvature in your line.

In the case of Chris Stewart, I do believe his observations. I have never fished with him, but have found credibility in just about everything he writes. His tactics in using strike detectors, is not an avenue that I am interested in, but I would definitely consider it if fish counts were more of a driving factor for me. It might even be worth trying to see if there is something educational about the experience.

In fishing a 6x tippet, it is nearly impossible to see the subtle shift of a trout holding and gently inhaling a fly.

I think this is where we step into some preferences in presentation, conditions, fish behavior and season of implementation.

I have not honed manipulation to a point where my numbers are higher than dead drift. I do pulse the fly and will employ lifts but most of my fish are taken on dead drift and lostandfound with enough slack to let the water deliver the fly.

I do find that manipulation will take fish that I can see, but do not seem to be feeding. But I have equally tried to employ techniques on fish that result in no reaction. Sometimes if you are persistent, you can annoy them into a strike, but I find less joy in that.

Most of what I do lately is a near vertical presentation, but with some slack of tippet on the surface. I know that this could be considered a no-no, but I still catch plenty of fish and really see how to have a drag free drift without some slack. I think its fair to say…if you are employing tension of any type…you are no longer drag free and you may be pulling the fly our of the strike zone. I do employ pulsing, skating, or twitch the fly, but I really like a more natural presentation the first pass. Sometimes this works out…sometimes not.

Just yesterday I came across a nice group of large brook trout. My first dozen passes on dead drift got some attention and a couple takes but no conversions. After that, they did not even budge no matter the manipulation. I think my biggest failure was that they were feeding on small stuff. I really need to start tying tiny. The fish probably became aware of my presence, so they became more selective.

I really do not think there is a right or wrong here. It is personal preference and conditional. I am targeting cold water months which may also explain why my skills are dead drift bias. They are also deep water brooks. The fish are rarely at or near the surface.

A buddy of mine schooled me one day last fall.

I must admit I am better educated in tenkara tactics than he, but often it does not matter. This one day he caught ten fish to my one in a wild brook trout stream. End fish count Matt 30, me 3. He uses little stealth to fish and does not use any tenkara specific techniques other than a tenkara rod. He fished the whole day, swinging flies in current and just holding them there on structure. I of course was trying to understand his approach. On more than one occasion, Even being off the bank by 30 feet and crawling an approach, I could see I spooked some fish. It is maddening to see a fish dart from 30 feet off the bank. Matt, would just use a regular gate, walk up to a pool, identify the structure and drag a fly in it. Boom he would be on…hahahhahhahaha.

That day Matt broke all the tenkara rules…and if you listen closely you can hear tiny trout voices…

rules…we dont need no stinking rules.

The whole day…I watched him dead stick a fly in seams and on lines of structure. No drift…just holding the fly stationary sub surface.

1 Like