Written by: Tim Linehan
I remember the day the light bulb went off for me. I was standing shin deep in a small New Hampshire stream under the colorful fall foliage canopy while several brook trout rose in front of me. I was a rookie angler but had finally managed to learn how to cast without embarrassing myself. It wasn’t pretty, but it was beginning to work. However, I knew little about the importance of drag-free drifts and the extent to which they contributed to the success of catching trout. I was vaguely aware of the term “mending,” but the concept hadn’t really taken hold.
I’d make a cast, drop the fly right in front of a fish, and immediately the current would grab my Elk-Hair Caddis and swish it downstream so fast it was impossible for anything to grab it. Then I remembered reading something, a couple nights earlier, about mending the line. So I gave it a shot. I made another cast and immediately flicked the tip of my rod upstream in order to move the belly of the line upstream, as well. I watched with great surprise as my fly stayed on the surface, stayed in the feeding lane of the rising fish, and was promptly eaten in a quick splash by one of the brookies. I hit the little guy so hard he actually flew over my head and landed on the yellow line in the road behind me. But I had executed my first true mend, and it had worked. By the end of that day, the importance of mending had definitely taken hold in my mind.
Mending your line is necessary for two simple reasons. It helps you accomplish a drag-free drift, which makes the fly look more natural by allowing it to float downstream at the same speed as the current. Second, mending allows you to increase the length of your drift.
Mending is easy, but it’s important to keep in mind that’s it’s a process––more often than not, it’s necessary and advantageous to make several mends in order to achieve the perfect drag-free drift. Let’s keep it simple for now and assume that there are two general types of mends: the single mend and the multiple mend.
The single mend is easy. Let’s say you’re standing in a run where the current is steady, even, and the same speed, with fish rising in front of you.
1. Start by measuring out the proper distance to your target fish by false casting a couple times.
2. Then make your cast and land the fly about four feet upstream of the rising fish.
3. Immediately after the fly hits the water, bring your rod parallel to the stream and gently roll the belly of the line, the line between you and the leader, upstream, as well. It doesn’t take much. Simply lift the belly of the line slightly off the water, move your rod across your body, and lay it all down again.
Good. Nice mend. With the belly of the line now across from your fly, you have prevented the current from sweeping the belly of the line downstream and pulling the fly faster than the current or dragging the fly throughout the entire drift. Now your fly looks natural, it’s floating the same speed as the current, and next thing you know you’re tight to a nice, thick rainbow with gill plates the color of ripe apples.
Now let’s make a multiple mend. And here’s where the process of mending becomes important. Let’s say you have the same rising fish in front of you, but instead of an even current, you have slack water immediately in front of you and faster current beyond where the fish are rising. This situation will require several mends in order to achieve a drag free drift.
1. Once again start by measuring out line with a couple false casts. Be mindful to keep your backcast high and when you’re ready, land the fly upstream of your target fish.
2. Since the fly landed in the faster current beyond, you’ll need to make a big, sweeping upstream mend to set up the multiple-mend process. You have the entire belly of the line, including the leader, upstream of the fly. Now we have to consider the effects of the slack water on our drift. If we left the mend as is, the faster current beyond would sweep the fly and leader quickly downstream leaving most of the line stuck in the dead water immediately in front of you.
3. In order to make the drift work, quickly make two or three small downstream mends just off the tip of your rod. Now you have the belly of the line basically across from the fly, and you’ve compensated for the two different current speeds by first making a mend upstream, followed by a series of smaller mends downstream.
It’s important to keep in mind that, depending on the situation, mending is a process and not a single action. Mending the line is about preventing the fly from being dragged downstream by the current and about achieving a drag-free drift. Sometimes all it takes is a single upstream mend. Other times a mend upstream followed by several mends downstream is necessary. Or, if you’re fishing from a drift boat, upstream mend, after upstream mend, after upstream mend works since the boat and your line are traveling at the same speed. Regardless of the situation, by keeping in mind that mending is a process, you will greatly improve your ability to achieve more consistent drag-free drifts and catch more fish as a result.
Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. on the Kootenai River in Troy, Montana. For more on mending, check out “5 Keys to Good Dry-Fly Mending.