Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #10 — Mend Less

by | Oct 1, 2017 | 4 comments

Many fly anglers are entertained and enamored with the fly line itself. They make loops and curls that hang and fall, watching the line swing and glide through the air. Drawing those shapes and curves is artistic, but it doesn’t do much for good fishing. More than one or two false casts is rarely necessary, and it simply wastes time. Likewise, too many anglers like to draw shapes on the water, habitually mending line during the drift. Worse than excessive false casting, for the fisherman, unnecessary mending becomes an unconscious reflex that costs him fish.

The fly fisher mends to create slack on the water, but that slack puts him in a weaker position for controlling the drift or setting the hook. So mending should be used sparingly.

Whether fishing dries with a fly line or using nymphs and streamers with the Mono Rig, my goal, almost always, is to eliminate extra line on the water. Fly line and leader material causes drag, and it quickly becomes more than I can control. So the less line I have on the water, the better I can direct and guide my flies through the drift.

Rather than mending extra line to provide slack, I prefer to wade closer and find a better angle. If I must cast greater distances, I’d rather my mending adjustments happen before the line hits the water. I like reach casts and aerial mends that align the fly line and leader in preparation for the currents ahead, before the line touches the water.

YEAH, SOMETIMES

Real quick: for the wading angler, there certainly are times when mending is necessary and effective. But on-the-water mending should be a last resort, not the first choice, and it’s best kept to a minimum.

Also, in a boat everything changes. Drifting with the current makes periodic mending a completely different proposition. With a skilled oarsman on the sticks and a good caster on the deck, some wonderfully L-O-N-G drifts can be achieved by thoughtfully mending at the right times.

WHERE’S THE SLACK

Let’s assume the wading angler’s goal is an upstream dead drift with a dry fly. Yes, the fly needs slack to drift naturally, but the best slack is in the leader and tippet, not the fly line.

Read: Dry flies need slack, so give it to ‘em George Harvey Style

Try using a leader designed to fall in s-curves, and stop the casting stroke high. Then let the leader recoil a bit as you drop the rod tip toward the target. Likewise, use aerial reach mends. Following the halt of the rod tip on the forward cast, simply drift the rod tip upstream and lay the extra line on the water above the fly’s position. Aerial reach mends are extremely effective, allowing the slack in the leader to remain and the dry fly to drift naturally.

These same principles apply to nymphing with a fly line and suspender (indicator).

Mend less. Instead of mending, set up a better cast by wading into position and finding good angles.

THE TROUBLE WITH MENDING

When a fish takes the fly we set the hook to remove slack in the line and gain contact with the fish. With that slack gone, the line tightens and the hook is driven home, hopefully into the trout’s jaw. Therefore, we want only as much slack in the system as necessary. Throwing upstream mends into the fly line and laying more slack on the water makes setting the hook more troublesome. We must remove that extra slack with a longer stroke on the hookset, before the line finally tightens and the hook pierces the trout’s jaw.

Again, wherever possible, my goal is to stay connected to the fly and under control of its drift, providing just enough necessary slack in the leader and tippet to allow for a good dead drift. Bad mending breaks that connection; it leaves me at the mercy of the current and with a lot more line to pick up on the hookset.

Inevitably, it seems the best fish always take during a mend, while we’re pushing line out into the water. It’s impossible to set the hook in these moments, and the best we can do is set the hook immediately after the mend. But the fish has often dropped the fly already.

Mending also disturbs the water surface and spooks fish. In a flat or a pool, even the most accomplished line handler causes ripples and arcs with every mend. A better approach is to cast shorter, mend in the air with a reach cast, and limit on-the-water mending to a minimum.

SO DO THIS

Get close to your target. Wade into the best position and find the angles where mending against the currents isn’t necessary.

Make your mends above the water, so the line lands with strategic slack in the currents.

Keep as much line off the water as possible.

Eliminate the hero casts. Fish close, and accept shorter drifts, They’re more effective anyway.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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4 Comments

  1. Dominick,
    Your best tip yet. Hook casts, curve casts, reach casts, and combinations of, should all be learned and practiced with on the water mending a last resort. This old geezer will admit, though, that modern fly lines have made mending a very attractive proposition. The older ‘modern’ fly lines sat much lower in the water and almost every mend made during the drift caused the fly to move unnaturally (drag). The first time I struck a mend with the latest, greatest line from one of our larger line makers was truly a watershed moment for me as these newest lines seem to float above the water, with what seems like no surface tension, and allow the leader to anchor the fly in place while the fly line body orbits the moon if need be.

    Personally I find that these casts are easier to perform with double taper lines than weight forward which could simply be because I spend 90% of my fishing time with the DT. Your thoughts?

    Phil

    Reply
    • Honestly, I rarely have enough fly line out that the difference in double taper vs weight forward would matter. I do like DT lines though, because I get double the use from them. Regretfully, the line companies are phasing them out because of that.

      Reply
  2. I couldn’t agree more. Many fishermen mend in a robotic fashion, almost as if they have some nervous tick. I’d much rather do as you suggest: wade into a position where most of my line/leader is off the water.

    Reply

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