Mending Line

Part I - Dry Flies

One of the most confusing things for me to understand when I began to FF
was how to mend line. This concept was totally new to me since I had been a
spin fisher prior to taking up FF. There is no need to mend line when spin
fishing. For the record let me define line mending as the intentional
positioning of the line (usually with an upstream or downstream curve),
either during or after the cast, with the intent of creating a *realistic*
presentation of the fly.

Adding to the confusion were the written descriptions of line mending when
dry fly fishing versus streamer fishing. As advanced FFs know, you could be
told to mend line one way when dry fly fishing and in the opposite
direction when fishing a streamer. For the first few seasons, I didn't mend
line at all, being content to just try to get the fly in to the target area
any way I could.

When *dry* fly fishing we mend line to maximize the drag free float. This
would be easy if the surface currents were all uniform, since the fly line,
leader and fly would float at the same uniform speed no matter how we cast.
The problem is that the surface currents are rarely uniform. When you make
a straight line cast across differential currents, the currents immediately
grab the fly line causing the fly to float either faster or slower than the
surface current the fly is on. If the current between you and the fly is
faster than the where the fly is, the fly will be pulled downstream. If the
current between you and the fly is slower, the fly will be held back.
Hopefully everyone knows that you mend upstream to compensate for a faster
current tongue, and conversely downstream to compensate for a slower
current tongue (as when casting *across* the slack water behind a boulder).

Perhaps you are at that stage where you would like to try some line mending
or have just started to mend line. The most difficult decision to make, and
the most confusing concept when learning to mend, is where to place the
mend, and how large a mend to place in the line. I started by just
experimenting and tossing mends into the line where I thought they should
be. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't, but by trial and error
I became better at it. That is how most of us learned. I think I have a
better method which came to me later as I was teaching someone else  how to
mend line....Let the river tell you how to mend.

I tell beginners to try to read the stream and make their mends where they
think they should go. Then after they have fished that lie, make several
straight casts without mending to the same area. Don't watch the fly.
Instead observe the fly line and leader as the mismatched currents force
curves into the line. The flyline will show you where the differential
currents are, and the direction and depth of the  curve shows you the
differential velocity between the various currents. Now try to mend the
line so that it is a direct opposite of the displaced fly line. Make a
"mirror image" mend. Those are the fishing mends you should have made in
the first place

This teaching method is much easier than repeatedly guessing what mends to
make by reading the water. I think you will find that this method will help
you to learn the proper mends faster. It will help you to become better at
reading the currents, since you are practicing and correcting just after
you have tried to read the currents on your own.

This method has two other benefits. First, you will be making the practice
mends after drag has displaced the fly line and leader. Therefore, the
leader to the fly will usually be fairly straight and poor mending
technique will show up as a big movement in the fly when placing the mend.
If your mends move the leader too much, it will cause the fly to move. That
defeats the purpose of the mend, which is to let the fly float drag free.
So as you practice, try to feed some line into your mends so that you
minimize the fly movement.

Secondly, it will help you to appreciate the more subtle differential
currents that cannot be corrected by mending per se. These are the currents
that lead to micro drag and  you will see them as subtle displacements or
curves that form in your leader as the fly floats downstream. These curves
will form despite the placement of the correct mends. The micro drag or
invisible drag can be prevented by learning slack line casts. The slack
line casts also provide the benefit of protecting the fly against movement
caused by the act of mending described in the paragraph above.

Part II - Wet Flies

The concepts of line mending for nymphs and streamers are more complex than
for dry fly fishing. In dry fly fishing, we are controlling line on a two
dimensional surface. In wet fly mending we are dealing in three dimensions
and that complicates the mends we must perform.

The first concept to understand is that there are several and sometimes
conflicting things that we are trying to do with wet fly mending. Most of
the early books I read concentrated on only one technique and that was to
fish a streamer so as to present it's silouette broadside to the fish. They
said to cast down or down and across and to mend the line downsteam so as
to make the flyline and streamer swing across the current and present a
side view of the streamer to the fish holding below. That was the only type
of mending I did for many years when fishing streamers. Then I got to
thinking. If I mend in this fashion I am limited in the depth at which my
fly swims. I tried varying the depth of the fly by weighting the fly,
adding split shot to the leader, or using a sinking line.

Expand your thinking about mending. Is there a way to mend so as to make
the fly sink? Yes. We must use the same mends as when we dry fly fish for a
drag free float. With a dry fly, our goal is remove the tension of the
leader from the fly. If we perform those mends with a streamer, we can
allow the fly to sink to a prescribed level before we start to swim it
across stream. Depending on the amount of the mend that we use, we can vary
the level of the fly and fish the streamer at several different levels.

I learned the above lesson while casting toward the stream bank one day.
Instead of the usual shallow water which gradually deepens away from the
shore, this bank dropped down into a deep pool. With the usual down and
across cast and the downstream mend the fly landed next to the bank and
quickly swam away toward the middle of the stream. I realized that I was
presenting the fly too high in the water column, well out of the visual
zone of the fish. So on the next cast I mended the line upstream on the
faster water I had to cast over. This kept my wooly bugger *drag free* and
sinking next to the bank. Then I stopped mending to allow the fly to swim
down and across but at a deeper level and I was rewarded with a 16"

This concept should not be foreign to most of you. If you nymph, you do it
with every cast. Aren't you trying to get your nymph to sink and float drag
free. To get deep, fish your streamers and wet flies in the same way.

Here's a trick which uses the above technique plus a second mend to fish a
difficult situation. We all know that in fast water, fish like to hold in
depressions or next to boulders in the hydraulic cushion. Favorite spots
for the purposes of this discussion are directly in front of the boulder or
just to either side. What we want to do is to swim the fly sideways in
front of the trout and at his level. We want it to look like a bait fish is
trying to sneak around in front of the boulder. Have you ever tried to do
this in fast water? The usual down and across presentation zips by the
boulder at mach speed, well above the level of the fish.

Instead, try to get directly above the boulder if you can, or slightly to
one side. Cast your fly upstream and either raise your rod to take in the
slack if the cast was directly upstream, or do upstream mends if you casted
slightly across and up. You want the fly to sink to the bottom. Lower the
rod as the fly and line goes by or feed line into the float as the line
goes by. When you estimate that the fly is 4-5 feet above the fish, mend
the line across the current, toward the boulder/depression. That will put a
bow in the line which will make the fly swim across the stream in front of
the fish. You can release some line into the drift to slow down the
swimming of the fly, to keep it deeper, and to drift it more downstream
toward the boulder. Conversly, take in some line to swim the fly faster, at
a higher level, and to make it swing more upstream. If the fly still
doesn't get to the bottom, then you have to add more weight or cast further
upstream to allow more time for the fly to sink.

The two things that we want to do with mends are to control the swim or
action of the fly (speed it up or slow it down), and to control the level
of the fly in the water column. To get the fly to sink we want to mend such
that the *float* is drag free, and we want to feed line into the float if
necessary. To swing or swim the fly we want to mend generally across the
faster current so that it catches the line making the fly swing and we can
also take in line from the drift. Thirdly, we can determine when the fly
will swing by when we place the swing mend and we can determine the
direction of the swing by the direction of the mend.

Controlling the fly with wet fly mends is more difficult that with a dry
fly because you can't always see the fly. You must get a *feel* for where
the fly is and what it is doing. One way to do this is to practice in
shallow water where you can see the fly and see what your mends do to the
fly's drift and action. If you have rivers with very clear water, try
practicing these mends with the fly drifting even deeper.

I hope that above has been of some help.

Copyright 1996 by Henry Kanemoto.
No reproduction, electronic or otherwise, is allowed without permission of
the author.