how to mend fly fishing lessons

Fly Fishing Lessons: Drag, Mending, Dead Drift

This is the first article in out fly fishing lessons series where we teach you how to become a better fly fisherman. We’ve already outlined the fly fishing basics on our home page and have written about world record rainbow trout and brown trout too. If you’re a little more advanced then keep reading!

Imagine yourself as a nice healthy trout feeding away on a warm summers evening. You’re sipping flies off the surface when all of a sudden a large fly ripples across the water above you, adjacent to the current. It would probably make you think twice about eating that thing the next time you saw it if it didn’t scare you completely.

This is exactly what happens when you’re fishing for trout. You must ensure a drag free dead drift across the pool. I was always taught that your dry (or indicator) should move with the bubbles atop the water. That way, you can be sure, any nymphs below that will be in a dead drift too.

Note: a dead drift is a perfect float (the fly is travelling at the same pace as the current); used in both dry fly and nymph fishing.

fly fishing lessons how to mend

What is Drag?

This fly fishing term has two meanings:

  1. An unnatural pulling of a floating or submerged fly such that it moves at a different rate than the current, often (at least on the surface) creating a “V” in the water.
  2. A mechanical system that applies resistance to the reel spool to prevent it from turning faster than the line leaving the spool and is used in playing larger fish.

For the sake of this article, we will focus on the former. A dragging fly is not able to achieve a dead drift. We want to avoid drag if at all possible as it has the following negative effects:

  • A dragging fly doesn't look natural so fish won't eat it.
  • Dry flies that drag across the surface will sink.
  • As a fly drags it will likely scare fish in still clear water.
  • It will move your fly out of line with the fish.

What does Mending Mean?

Just in case you’re just learning fly casting then we will start with the fly fishing basics first.

Mending fly line is one of the most essential skills to learn in fly fishing. Simply put, if you learn how to mend properly, you’ll catch more trout. There are three phases you move through in your journey into fly fishing.

In the beginning, you spend so much time concentrating on how to cast a fly rod, that you think that when the fly is on the water, it’s your time to rest. But, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Remember, when the fly is in the water, you’re fishing! You should only cast as many times as necessary, ideally “one and done”.

Once you advance past this initial step, you begin to recognise when your fly isn’t floating naturally through the pool. Our goal is to identify situations where a fly could potentially drag and add slack into the line to prevent this.

Adding slack to a line is defined as mending. This mend is then slowly pulled out of the line by the current allowing the fly to float more naturally (for longer) past the fish.

Mending fly line without spooking trout is an art. Trout in fast flowing rivers or deep pools are less susceptible to being spooked by a mend. But, if you’re dry fly fishing for trout on still water or in late summer rivers, you’d better be careful, or those fish will scatter.

As your mending skills (and casting skills) advance, you’ll begin to realise that you can manipulate the way in which the line falls on the water. Slackline casts can be used to “pre-mend” the fly line prior to it landing on the water. Thus reducing the number of mends necessary and greatly improve your chance of catching those often missed fish!

How to Mend

In principle, mending your fly line sounds simple. You raise your rod tip carefully to lift some line off the water then move it upstream (or downstream) before laying it on the water again. The goal is to prolong the length of your drag free drift.

But, a good mend should be done before your line begins to drag. It is especially important when fishing across fast flowing water into slower moving water.

You can imagine that as soon as the line touches down the fast water will begin to pull the flies downstream. At some stage, it will yank the fly out of the slow-moving water and into the faster water column. This is completely unnatural to the trout.

In this case, you would need an upstream mend to create a U shape in the line that is slowly pulled out by the current.

Many anglers discover the need to mend the fly line then begin mending excessively. This increases the risk of a spooked trout and a walk home empty-handed. As you advance in the world of fly fishing you’ll be able to anticipate the water speeds and add slack to your line while casting.

fly fishing casting

Fly Fishing Casting Techniques

Let’s face it, mending is inefficient. If you’re mending, you’re not fishing. Every time you mend the line, you’re pulling or dragging the flies through the water, in still or clear conditions this will be enough to scare almost any fish.

Furthermore, you’re adding an extra step (or steps) after your line is already on the water. If you’re like me, you want that fly line on the water (fishing) as much as possible. The longer your fishing, the fewer chances for tangles, less flies donated to the tree gods and ultimately, more fish!

In an ideal world you would do one false cast to get the line under control, then your actual cast while implementing a mend as you lay the line on the water. Let’s do a bit of fly fishing lessons and learn better ways to add slack to the line.

Fly Fishing Lessons

In order to achieve this, you can try one of the three better casting techniques as listed below:

Reach Cast

The reach cast is actually not technically a cast as you move the rod tip after your cast is complete. This makes it an aerial mend (and easier to understand how to do it). The reach cast is very easy to learn. Once you’ve got it, you won’t lay a line down without some form of reach mend added to it.

There are two versions of the reach mend:

  • Dominant arm (outside mend)
  • Cross Body (inside mend)

You will use these interchangeably depending on what side of the river you’re on and exactly where you want to place the slack.

Start by false casting until a sufficient amount of line is out. Once you’re happy, lay out your final cast (in the air). As the cast reaches the peak distance, you lay the rod down either towards your casting hand or back across your body (generally whichever way is upstream).

Rotating your wrist and arm in order to maximise the amount of slack loaded into the cast.

Follow the fly downstream with your rod tip and remove any slack that forms in the line with your non-casting hand (as you would any other cast).

Curve Cast

The curve cast is used when you want to cast the line one way, and have your flies land in another. This comes in handy when trying to cast around a rock, against a bank, or to pre mend your line before it hits the water.

The curve cast is a little more complex than the Reach Cast. It is essentially performed by taking your classic overhand cast and turning it more parallel to the water. So your backcast and forecast are moving in an arc that is closer to the plane as the water.

If you overpower the cast and stop abruptly, the line will stop, but your leader (and flies) will continue to move. In this way, you can generally have your line laid out perpendicular to the flow of the water with your leader running parallel.

If you under power the cast you can turn the fly you can get the fly to land in the opposite direction. However, this can be difficult to achieve any level of accuracy. A better method to achieve this is to cross the fly line across your body and overpower the fly cast to get it landing upstream.

The Wiggle Cast

The wiggle cast is a very versatile cast to use across a stream with complex currents across it. It allows you to create slack line from the tip of your rod all the way to your fly. It is another easy cast to implement in order to get slack into the line.

Immediately after the forward stop, wiggle the rod back and forth (rapidly) to send ripples down the line. These ripples must reach the end of your fly line before the line touches the water.

Note: The movements of your wrist only need to be very fine to send the ripples down the line. Just let the rod do the work!

Wrap Up

So that’s it. We’ve taught you some good fly fishing lessons all about getting the perfect drift. If you don’t already know how to mend fly line then you should now. Remember the faster that you are able to move away from physically mending the line when it is on the water, the better your results will be when you are fishing.

Try to learn different slackline casts in order to mend the fly line before it touches the water. The Reach Cast, Curve Cast or Wiggle Cast are all great ways in which you can apply slack to the fly line in mid-air.

Tight Lines Everyone!