Become A Better Fly Fisherman With Fly Fishing Mending

Become A Better Fly Fisherman With Fly Fishing Mending

What is Fly Fishing Mending? Mending your fly line is one of the essential skills to learn in fly fishing. Many fly fishers believe that the key to catching more trout is knowing how to cast, but actually, the secret is knowing how to have a perfect presentation and mending correctly helps with just that. Here, we're going to take a deep dive into the ins and outs of fly fishing mending, so you can get it right and know all there is to know.

What is Fly Fishing Mending? Mending your fly line is one of the essential skills to learn in fly fishing. Many fly fishers believe that the key to catching more trout is knowing how to cast, but actually, the secret is knowing how to have a perfect presentation and mending correctly helps with just that. Here, we're going to take a deep dive into the ins and outs of fly fishing mending, so you can get it right and know all there is to know.

Why Do You Have To Mend The Fly Line?

If you're fishing out of a drift boat or wade fishing while using dry flies or nymphs, failing to mend your line means that the flies will drag in the water. If your flies drag in the water, they will be moving faster or slower than the river current. When fish see your fly acting out of the ordinary, they will know the flies aren't real, and you reduce your chance of catching fish. However, by mending effectively using the advice we're going to give you here, you can eliminate drag.

Learning how to mend a fly line is the most important thing a fly fisher can do to improve his chances of catching trout. Some fishermen may not agree, but when you try it for yourself, you will see how successful it can be. So, let's get into it. 

Man Mending Fly Line

Limited Presentation

Without mending effectively, your chances at a drag-free presentation are extremely limited. Remember, the term' drag-free' means your fly is floating freely in or on the water. When your fly begins to drag, it ends your cast and will reduce your chances of getting a bite, but using mending; you can extend your drifts. 

An experienced fly fisher will use a variety of mends on every cast to extend his drag-free drift. We're going to talk about some of the mends in more detail so you can go out and practice them for yourself.

How Do You Mend A Fly Line?

There are many things to remember when it comes to mending a fly line. First, you must raise your rod tip carefully to lift some line off the water, and then move it upstream (or downstream) before laying it on the water again. As you do this, keep your goal in mind - to prolong the length of your drag-free drift. It may seem a little tricky at first, but the more you practice the technique, the more naturally it will come to you.

A good mend should always be done before your line begins to drag. Learning the right time is a hugely important aspect of mending a fly line. It is especially important to do this when fishing across fast-flowing water into slower moving water.

Picture the scene in your head, and you will be able to see what we're talking about: as soon as the line touches down, the fast water will begin to pull the flies downstream. At some stage, this will pull the fly out of the slow-moving water and into the more rapid water column. The trout find this unnatural, and you will know about it when you come back from your trip empty-handed. 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.

Avoid Excessive Mending

It's not unusual for some anglers to figure out how and when to mend a fly line and then go for it with reckless abandon. However, you should not be doing this excessively at all. This increases the risk of trout feeling spooked, and again, you will leave empty-handed. Typically, as you advance in the techniques of fly fishing, you'll be able to anticipate the water speeds and add slack to your line while casting.

The Technique

Mending a fly line can be very easy. You should raise your rod tip to lift your fly line above or below the fly to eliminate drag. Make an upside-down U shape or N shape with a high rod tip to accomplish simple mend.

Mending must be done before your line drags. This is the most critical part by a mile. Doing this, though, requires a high rod tip. Once you have this, mending can be as simple as a quick flip of your line above the fly in the current or as intricate as a more technical mending tactic.

Anglers must search for the right type of mend and technique for them. Many kinds of mends will increase the length of a drift. Be aware, however, that mending must be followed by some means to gain control of your slack fly line. This will help you once you get a bite and need to react quickly.

Large Brown Trout

More Advanced Mending Techniques

Knowing exactly when your fly is dragging is the key to getting this right. You need to pay close attention, almost intuitively so, as the signals can be extremely subtle. Currents vary throughout the water column, and just thinking about what is happening on the water surface is not the whole picture by any stretch.

Practicing a subtle approach to get the best results is key. Below are some more advanced mending techniques you can try out.

Reach Mend Cast - this is done by reaching your rod tip upstream after the cast. You should release the cast and then move your rod tip in the direction you want to mend. The fly line will follow, and this will create mend in your line before it lands.

Wiggle Cast - this technique will put slack in the line and can be an excellent way to mend. All you need to do is wiggle the rod tip immediately after you release the cast and before the line hits the water. If you're limited with space either side of your target, but a reach mend cast won't work, you should try this one.

Stack Mending - this one is usually used with dries. It creates slack but dries your fly out too. All you need to do is pick a target that is high off the water, across from your rod tip and then make a strong cast. Before the fly fully extends in the air, but before it hits the water, you need to pull back on the line ever so slightly to create a rebounding effect.

Advanced Mending Techniques In More Detail

Reach Cast

It's important to note that technically, the reach cast is not a cast. This is because you move the rod tip after your cast is complete. If you think of it as an aerial mend, you will likely better understand how to do it. Luckily, the reach cast is straightforward to learn.

There are two versions of the reach mend:

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

You will likely use these techniques interchangeably depending on what side of the river you're on and exactly where you want to place the slack. Make sure you consider this and practice both so you can get the hang of how to do it.

You want to start by false casting until a good amount of line is out. When you're ready, you can then 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 (usually, you do this depending on whichever way is upstream). 

You will then rotate your wrist and arm so that you can maximize the amount of slack loaded into the cast. Follow the fly downstream with your rod tip and remove any slack that forms in line with your non-casting hand. This part is the same as you would do with any other cast used.

Reach Cast

Curve Cast

The curve cast is not one we have mentioned yet - this is best used when you want to cast the line one way, and have your flies land in another. Many fishermen decide to use this one when they are trying to cast around a rock or against a bank. It's more complicated than a reach cast.

You perform this cast by taking your classic overhand cast and turning it more parallel to the water. Imagine your backcast and forecast moving in an arc that is closer to the plane of the water. It's important to note that if you overpower the cast and stop, then the line will stop, but your leader will continue to move. You can generally have your line laid out perpendicular to the flow of the water with your leader running parallel.

If you, on the other hand, under power the cast, you can turn the fly and get it to land in the opposite direction. This will be difficult to do with accuracy at first, so you'll need plenty of practice if you're going to get it right. Another method to achieve this is to cross the fly line over your body and overpower the fly cast to get it landing where you want it upstream.

The Wiggle Cast

This cast is exceptionally versatile and often used across a stream with complex currents. You use this to create a slackline from the tip of your rod all the way to your fly. Good news, too - it's easy to do! 

Immediately after the forward stop, wiggle the rod back and forth (quickly) to send ripples down the line. It is your goal to ensure that the ripples you create reach the end of your fly line before it touches the water. Although you need to wiggle the rod backward and forwards quickly, the movements of your wrist do only need to be subtle. The rod will do most of the work for you if you let it!

Make practicing these techniques a priority, and it'll make a huge difference to your success as a fly fisherman.

The Benefits Of Mending

There are numerous benefits to mending, which is why it's such a popular technique amongst successful fly fishers. Mending correctly will help you with straightening your line, and will control how your fly swings across the current, whatever it may be doing. You will find that you can quickly slow down your fly and get it to the fish, too. 

Frequently, as the fly swings across, the current can grab the fly line and pull it into a downstream belly. This is rarely something you want to happen! This is what happens before your fly is pulled faster than you ideally want. Making a mend will put your fly back to the speed of the water.

A nicely executed mend when swinging flies can be beneficial in ensuring you present the fly accurately to the fish.

Mend on Steel Head

The Three Phases Of Fly Fishing

There are usually three phases that regular fly fishers move through on their fly fishing journey.

At the start, they will usually spend too much time focusing on how to cast a fly rod. This makes them think that they can relax when the fly is on the water, but this is not the case. When the fly is on the water, you need to still think of it as active fishing. You should cast as many times as necessary, usually 'one and done' is the primary goal.

When you feel you have moved past this step, you will recognize easily when your fly is not floating naturally. Identifying these situations and knowing when your fly could potentially drag will give you a hint as to when to add slack to the line to prevent it. Adding slack is 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.

Being able to mend your fly line without scaring trout away should be viewed as fine art. However, trout that live in fast-flowing rivers or deeper pools are less likely to be frightened by a mend.

As your mending skills and even your casting skills improve, you'll begin to realize that you can manipulate the way in which the line falls on the water. Eventually, you'll know exactly what to do to attract the fish that you would have once missed.

Rainbow Trout Drifthook Fly Fishing

Are There Downsides To Mending?

There may be some downsides to mending, depending on which way you look at it. Being able to examine these techniques from both sides will allow you to figure out which technique is for you, the right time to use mending, and when to leave it alone.

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 ends up where it is supposed to be. There should only ever be as much slack in the system as is needed. Throwing upstream mends into the fly line and laying more slack on the water makes setting the hook more troublesome. A longer stroke on the hookset will remove the extra slack and tighten the line before it hits home.

It's a good idea to make it your goal to stay connected to the fly and under control of its drift.

Bad mending breaks that all-important connection. If mending is not performed correctly, then you will disturb the water surface too much and spook fish.

Is There Anything You Can Do When Mending Doesn't Seem To Be Working?

There may be a few things you can try if mending doesn't seem to be right for you. Start by getting close to your target and wade into the best position to find angles where mending against the current will not be necessary. 

You can also try:

  • Making your mends above the water, so the line lands with strategic slack in the currents.
  • Keeping as much line off the water as you can.
  • Fishing close and accepting shorter drifts.

Things To Remember

Even a perfect cast can be rendered useless if you don't understand the concept of mending a fly line. When you mend correctly and time it right, anglers will be able to maintain a perfect, drag-free presentation. The fly will be kept in the target zone, and the length of your drift will be prolonged. A good mending technique will nearly always result in more fish being caught.

Assuming you already have the basics of fly casting down, you should focus your efforts on understanding and mastering the technique of mending a fly line. Below are some things to remember that will help your fly fishing mending journey:

1. Don't Get Your Left And Right Mixed Up

This is something many anglers do, especially when just starting out! Take your time at first so that casting and mending from the correct side comes naturally to you. Everybody does it, so don't feel disheartened if this is you.

2. Don't Wait Too Long To Mend

Waiting too long to mend is another big mistake many fishermen make. If you make a perfect cast, you're going to feel pretty pleased with yourself, but don't make the mistake of admiring it for too long, and make sure you mend quickly! A fly angler should make their first mend within a second or two of the fly landing on the water. This is the most important element of your drift and will eliminate the need for extra mending.

Mending Fly Line on River

3. Ensure Your Rod Tip Travels High Enough

You'll also see anglers rod tips not traveling high enough in the air during a mend. The majority of the time, when mending, you're trying to mend as much of your fly line and leader without moving your flies. The longer your cast, or the more fly line you have on the water, the higher you'll need to move your rod tip in an oval shape. Always try to do the biggest mend you can.

4. Don't Forget The Correct Shape

Many anglers will try to mend their line by moving their fly rod in a sideways motion, instead of using the correct upside-down U shape or N shape. If you keep on making this mistake, you will need to keep on mending time and time again, spooking away the fish.

5. Remember - Some Drifts Need Multiple Mends

Even if you achieve the perfect first mend, this doesn't mean you'll get through the whole drift drag-free. Some anglers may need to mend up to four times from the beginning to the end of their drift. Make sure you're ready for this so that you don't fall behind.

As soon as you start seeing a loop forming to the left or right of your fly, commence mending. When done correctly, you'll extend your drag-free drift and will be far less likely to move your fly on or below the water surface.

Mending on a River

6. Strip Excess Fly Line In Between Your Mends

Mending your fly line means you will build up more slack than you want at times. Too much will mean you have a hard time setting the hook, and it'll make it difficult for you to execute the next mend.

7. You May Need To Change Mending Direction During The Drift

Converging currents downstream of your fly may require you to mend in the opposite direction of your first mend during the later parts of your drift. There is not only one correct direction to mend your line, so pay attention to the direction of where the loops of your fly line are forming and mend the opposite direction.

8. Be More Subtle When Dry Fly Fishing

When you're dry fly fishing, you will usually need to be more subtle with your mending techniques than usual. Dry fly fishing means you don't have the same buffer as with other types of fishing, so you will need to take the slow approach. Never be overpowering or rush, and instead, make sure your rod is lifted high and smooth to create a good semi-circle path with your rod so that you can finish the mend effectively. 

Dry Fly Fishing

9. You Can Lift Your Fly Or Strike Indicator Off The Water During Your First Mend

Many new anglers think that they should not move their fly or strike indicator when they carry out the first mend. Most of the time, this isn't the sin that you think it is, and it could potentially make for an even better drift. It can be especially good when used for deep nymphing in fast water, where you know the slightest loop in your leader or fly line could damage the drift. 

When dry fly fishing, you can try casting just past your target, so when you make the big mend, it will pull the fly slightly back to you and drift into your target zone.

10. Imagine Your Rod As A Paint Brush

This might sound silly, but next time you try this, imagine your rod as a paintbrush. Now using only the rod tip, lift the line and quickly flick paint in the direction you want to mend. As you practice this, you'll eventually see that when you flick the mend, it should roll down the line. The harder you flick your 'paintbrush', the farther down the line it rolls. The farther you need to mend, the higher you need to lift the line off the water.

When you imagine yourself flicking paint and even painting circles, it'll give you a much better idea of what needs to be done.

Steel Head caught with correct Mending

Now Go Out There And Practice Your Mending!

Now you know all there is to know about mending, there's nothing left to do but to go out and practice it. The theory is great, but you will only learn what you need to know when you get out there and do it. 

Every mending situation is unique, meaning you need to apply a different technique based on what you see and where you are. There may be times when you have to slowly lift the line and lay it back on the water, and there may be times when you need to work quickly to get the result that you want. The key is not only practicing the techniques but knowing exactly when to use which method.

It is indeed only so much you can learn by reading about it, so please go out and try these techniques as soon as you can in a variety of situations. Spend some time observing the result of the rod tip actions you take and the effect it has on the fly line. The fly line will always follow the rod tip.

By concentrating on mending techniques once you have the casting basics down, your flies with drift more naturally, and you'll be in contact with a fish more often. They will be none the wiser, and you'll never go home empty-handed!

Matthew Bernhardt - Founder Drifthook Fly Fishing


About the Author

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there. 

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.