Successful fly anglers pay close attention to the details. It’s easy to get distracted by fly choice, long casts and unnecessary adjustments on the water. At the end of the day, if you can’t present a fly naturally, you’ll struggle to catch fish. It’s imperative that anglers focus on their presentation before they worry about all of the other facets of fly angling.
What is a Mend in Fly Fishing?
One key aspect of proper presentation is mending. Mending is an act that is used to change the position of your fly so that it can lead the charge downstream and appear in a natural way. The goal of a mend is to keep your fly in position that entices the fish to strike.
How to Mend a Fly Line
As soon as an angler casts his/her fly on the water, many freeze and don’t know what to do. For beginners, this is a natural response. It can be overwhelming to know what to look at, where to focus your attention and understand what is most important.
Before you cast your line, pay close attention to the current of the river. What area of the river are you trying to hit? Are you looking to fish a cut bank, but there’s a fast seam in your way? Are you focusing on fishing in a pool, but can’t seem to get the fly to enter it at the right time?
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These are important things to understand and realize before you cast. If you have identified a few trouble spots in your drift before you cast, you can anticipate your mend. Anticipating the mend is vital. If you’re constantly trying to catch up and mend in an effort to fix a poor drift, you will not catch as many fish.
To mend your line, you need to minimize the amount of slack in your fly line. Minimizing the slack will allow for a more powerful and helpful mend. You don’t want to have to mend several times in a row because you can’t pull the slack in fast enough.
Keep your line tight and slightly flick your wrist in whatever direction you want to mend. If you need to mend upstream, raise the tip of the rod, pull in the slack and a quick turn over of your wrist will move the line upstream and above your fly.
If you need to mend downstream, raise the rod tip, pull in the slack and quickly flick and turn over your wrist. You will see a small loop form in your fly line and your line will be below your fly. It’s a very delicate maneuver. As a beginner, mending is one of the most difficult things to learn. It requires an immense amount of finesse.
I struggled to learn how to mend. My mends would either be too small and wouldn’t accomplish anything or I would be far too aggressive and ruin my drift. The only way I learned was to continue to try. I would cast my fly on the water with a decent amount of line out and see how it drifted downstream. I would study the drifts, start to read the river and try to make appropriate mends.
When to Mend in Fly Fishing
Once you cast, hold on to the line with your off hand. If you’re fishing faster water, the first thing that is going to happen is your fly line will loop below your fly and begin dragging it downstream. This is an immediate sign that your fly is not drifting in a natural way. You never want your fly line to drag the fly downstream.
If you see the fly line looping downstream, you know you must mend. A proficient angler will know that this is going to happen so an easy way to make sure your fly sits in the proper position is to mend as soon as your fly hits the water. Follow through on your cast, let it land and immediately flick your wrist upstream.
It’s important to start your fly in a natural position. An immediate mend will accomplish this. Remember, if you’re fishing water that is going to pull your fly line down faster than your fly, you need to mend upstream.
If you’re fishing water that is slower than the water your fly is in, you’ll need to mend downstream. Downstream mending can be intimidating for anglers. Purposely putting your line below the fly can immediately cause problems. I often find myself doing this if I am fishing a pool and am trying to fish right up against the bank. The water towards the middle of the stream is often moving slower than the water up against the bank.
I want my fly to drift down along the bank at a good pace, but it often gets caught since the slower water in the middle isn’t moving the fly downstream. A large mend downstream will allow the fly to catch the current and start pulling your fly downstream as it should. Once you start seeing your fly move at the proper pace, you may need to mend back upstream so your fly can lead the charge.
A great way to practice mending is to start by making short casts. Anglers will find themselves in more trouble every time they make a longer cast. You have to deal with all sorts of different current speeds and it can cause a bit of an issue when you’re trying to land fish.
Another necessary practice method is to make casts and watch how the river pulls your fly and fly line. I’ll sometimes throw these without a fly on the end of my line. I try my absolute best to accomplish perfect drifts with my flies. I’ve found that I don’t always have to have the perfect fly choice. If I can make sure the drift is accurate, I find myself catching a nice amount of fish.
Different Mending Techniques
As mentioned above, there are a variety of techniques that you can use when you need to mend your fly line.
This is a trickier method, but I’ve found that it is very successful. Pick the spot on the stream or river that you would like to hit, cast towards it and right before your fly hits the water, begin your mend. Move your rod tip up or downstream depending on where you need your fly line. This takes quite a bit of practice. If you start moving your rod tip too early, you’ll ruin the length of your cast and struggle to regain control. If you’re too late, you’ll find yourself with quite a bit of slack and a fly that is not going to be as natural as you would like. If this is the case, let it complete the drift, strip and try once more.
The Wiggle cast is extremely useful and does not take too much practice to learn. When you make your decision about how you need to mend and in what direction, you’ll cast and start the wiggle. Once you follow through, if you move the rop tip upstream, the loop will look as if you mended upstream.
If you flick the rod tip downstream, it will look as if you mended downstream. This technique works well if you’re making a bit of a longer cast. It’s difficult to nail down the timing with this type of cast if you’re making a shorter cast into a tighter window. I like to use this technique when I am throwing dry flies into slower moving water across the stream.
Fish often hit dry flies within a few seconds of it hitting the stream so we don’t have much time to waste making a proper mend. I’ll use the wiggle cast to ensure it starts the drift downstream in the proper way. It takes time to learn, but you’ll find it to be a useful part of your arsenal.
The quick flick is the most basic type of mending. If you’re a beginner fly angler, the flick is going to be your best friend when it comes to mending. Pick the spot you would like to hit on the water, cast to it and immediately flick one way or the other depending on how you want the fly to drift. It’s going to require a few smooth actions to make sure the mend is proper, but the more you practice, the better you become at mending.
Drag and the Dead Drift
Dead drifting is a type of fly fishing that requires anglers to consistently mend. By dead drifting your fly, you’re letting it flow in the current and hoping that the fish are moving throughout the water eating whatever insects or baitfish are in their path.
This is a great method to use if you know the fish aren’t looking for too much action. However, it requires you to stay focused on your fly line to ensure that the drifts are as natural as you can possibly make them.
Cast upstream and immediately make the decision on where you would like to make your mend. Again, if the water that your line is in is faster than the water your fly is in, mend upstream so your fly can move downstream at the pace it needs. As it’s moving downstream, make sure that your fly line is keeping up.
A common mistake anglers make is that they’ll mend upstream and think their job is done. This can cause your fly to start swinging! Mend upstream and watch how your fly responds. If you start to see it swing, make a quick mend downstream and it will straighten itself out to make sure it continues to drift in the proper way.
When I’m dead drifting, I feel as if I am playing ping pong. I’ll make my cast, do a small “quick flick” upstream, let it drift, mend downstream to get back to parallel, mend upstream when it starts to pull and continue this process until the drift has completed. This can be distracting and I have found myself missing some strikes as a result.
If you are dead drifting, it’s very helpful to keep a strike indicator attached. You can see it drop below the surface so you know it’s time to strip set. Eventually, as you practice, these techniques become more and more natural.
Closing Last Cast
Proper presentation is the key to landing fish. An angler who knows how to mend is one that is going to accomplish proper presentations and catch a nice amount of fish. It’s a frustrating process to learn and you’ll find yourself over mending and making mistakes, but keep with it.
You’ll know that you’re making proper mends when you start seeing fish strike immediately after you mend. The drift becomes more natural and the fish will strike as a result.