McAbee: The benefits of a good presentation |

McAbee: The benefits of a good presentation

Jeff McAbee

A few years ago I went to New Zealand. I hired a car, backpacked and fished around the incredibly beautiful and pristine south island.

The trout that live there were a gift to the people of New Zealand from Theodore Roosevelt. With no natural predators, these fish have flourished.

After I set up my tent on the bank of the Hooker River, one of the many beautiful rivers that drain the Southern Alps, I put my rod and reel together and headed for fishing heaven.

I spotted a massive rainbow in 3 feet of gin-clear water, just holding and feeding. The sun was setting in the west, (or is it the east down there? No it was west), and upriver I could see the glaciated peaks from which this river flowed.

I stood in the midst of literally hundreds of square miles of wilderness with only one road skirting the boundary of this amazing place. I might have seen four cars in the six hours that I drove that day. A steel bridge was about the only sign of civilization, and it was just upstream from this bridge where I spotted the pig of a fish.

While I stalked the big boy (or girl I don’t know how to tell), a car stopped on the bridge, a Kiwi got out and hopped up on the railing.

“Aw,” he said, “I see him. That’s a good fish there, mate.”

Slightly annoyed that my peace and quiet had been broken, I stood still like a small animal does when danger looms and waited for him to get into his car and drive on.

“You’re not going to access him from there, are you? You’d be better off from this side over here,” he said. He pointed to the middle of the river.

If looks could kill, that man’s whole family tree would have burned right then. I wanted to inform him that I was from Colorado, that I had been fishing since I was a small child and that I worked summers in college for a fishing outfit in Alaska.

Even though we both knew the objective, we differed on access. Nevertheless, I had the experience. I held the rod. I moved quietly into position within casting distance, stripped out some line, made a few false casts, and let the fly go.

While fly-fishing, it is paramount to present the fly in a way that mimics as close as possible something that occurs in nature; in this case, an aquatic insect floating along the bottom of the river.

What I presented to this fish was a tangled coil of flyline and tippet that landed close enough to spook him off. The dumbest fish in the world wouldn’t have seen anything natural about this cast.

“He’s gone now,” the man yelled from the bridge. I heard him laugh. He got in his car and drove away.

I went back to camp, sulking really, to start a little fire and wait for the Southern Cross to appear in the night sky.

Feeling like I had let down my whole country, and all the worse about it being witnessed, I decided I would hire a guide, a one-man task force you might say, to help me with my problem.

I wanted my guide, Mr. John Somervell, to examine my fishing from several different points of view and to make recommendations based on his assessment. I wanted him to be a bridge between the angler I was and the angler I wanted to be.

With that, we set off in his beat-up old pickup truck bouncing along some dirt roads until we came to a secluded spot along the river. We must have gone up because the river was narrow and swift, a little angrier than I expected. But, he assured me the big fish were in there.

He tied a nymph on for me and walked me to a spot where a nice long run exited a bend in the river.

I cast my fly into the current and it drifted along beneath the surface. He yelled, “Strike!” in a strong Kiwi accent so that it sounded like “stroyk.” It startled me. I lifted my rod tip to set the hook, but there was nothing on the end of my line.

This scene repeated itself cast after cast. He’d yell “stroyk!” and I’d have nothing. I suggested that there were no fish in the river and that he was yelling to make it seem like the problem was with me.

At this, he took my rod and promptly hooked and played a big brown trout into the shallows. Then, as if on cue he released the fish with a curl of the wrist without even touching it.

We sat down on a couple a rocks and ate the sandwiches this fish whisperer had packed for us. He began to tell me how my line was too slack in the water. But more than anything else, I needed to work on my presentation.

When he said this, a light went on and I began to listen not as a sulking someone who felt unjustly criticized, defensive, misunderstood and aloof but intently as if he was giving me a key to unlock a mystery that accounted not only for my futility in fly-fishing but in life as well.

My presentation was awful, inauthentic, grating and unrealistic. As a result I spent many hours on the river without catching any fish. It occurred to me that my presentation in relationships was also pretty terrible.

I mean, I had been wrapping gifts (read good ideas, wise words, insights, encouragement, political ideologies whatever …) in toilet paper, dead leaves and old candy wrappers and then getting upset when someone didn’t appreciate the brilliance of what was inside. In other words, my presentation was off-putting to people.

I wonder how many arguments could be avoided, conflicts settled, relationships saved if only we thought about our presentation.

I’m not saying that differences need not be expressed. After all, the fly disguises the hook that rips the lips of the fish. It’s just that when one has a new standard, political idea or if one is in a debate, one does well to wrap it in some handsome packaging, let it float as natural as possible and be ready to set the hook when you hear, “Stroyk!”

Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge. He’s a campus supervisor at Summit High School. Contact him at or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.

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