Mending – The Missing Link
Probably the most critical and most difficult skill to learn in fly fishing is mending.
Fish the in the Bighorn have such an enormous food supply, they seldom have to move far to get food. They are used to seeing food bounce down the river right into their mouths. Flies that are moving side to side or speeding up or slowing down do not look natural and are ignored by fish.
Mending is manipulating the fly line once it’s on the water so that the flies and/or strike indicator move in the most natural way possible.
When nymph fishing, the standard rig is a strike indicator, approximately nine feet to the split shot, another eighteen inches to the first fly and that distance again to the second fly.
While wade fishing, typically cast to either 11 o’clock or 1 o’clock, depending on which way the way water is flowing relative to where you are standing. Your cast should go slightly upstream on either side of 12 o’clock.
I like to make a mend as soon as my line hits the water. I do this because my flies are still sinking and look unnatural to the fish. If they move, I’ve done nothing to make them look any less natural. If I wait until they get to the bottom and make a mend, I run the risk of moving the flies once they are in the feeding zone and will get them to look unnatural.
After the first mend is made and the drift is moving downstream, I do what I call “mending to the mend”. I don’t make a mend all the way to the strike indicator unless I absolutely have to. I make my mend to the bend in the line that is closest to the strike indicator. As I make each mend, I adjust my mend to the last bend in the line I just mended to, creating a new bend.
At a certain point, it isn’t effective to keep mending to the last mend because I typically have a fair amount of line in slower water while the indicator and flies are in faster water. If I do nothing, everything will begin to pull tight and the flies will start speeding up and pulling into the slow water.
Before everything draws tight, learn to make a downstream mend with the line in the slow water and extend the drift another few feet.
Techniques to make a good mend:
When mending, think of a mend as a three dimensional movement, not two. Most people simply drag their line across the water, causing the indicator and flies to move significantly.
By picking as much line as possible off the water, you can simply lift line, adjust it to where you need to, and place it back on the water. This usually causes very little movement to the indicator and flies.
Also, learn to snap your wrist to send curls of slack down the line when putting in mends. A lot of people simply try to shake the rod, but this doesn’t force the line out of the end of the rod quickly enough and begins to slow the drift down. Make a sharp wrist snap as you feed slack line through the rod.
Watch your line as it moves over currents. There are many conflicting currents in many rivers and they will cause one part of the fly line to speed up, another to slow down, and possibly in more than one section of the line. Learn to recognize these transition areas on the water so you can move your line over slower water so it can keep up with line in faster water.
Last but not least, when learning to recognize when you need to mend, one rule is mend before you have to. If you mend as the fly line starts to draw tight in areas or the indicator changes speeds, it is too late. Learn to see this before it happens and make the necessary mends so the indicator keeps plodding along naturally.
While casting is probably the most enjoyable part of fly fishing, it is the mend that gets the fish to eat or not.
– David Palmer Bighorn River Guide
This post was written by Bighornangler