I was relatively young when I first read of the concept of a mend. Huh? I thought. I can’t remember the literature I was reading but it wasn’t very well explained. This threw me a bit. I ignored it and kept doing what I did on the water. I realised later that I was mending line naturally – it comes with the turf when you fish as much I was lucky enough too; you learn quickly how to manipulate your line you create drag free drifts – not I never explored the intricacies of these skill very much. I caught enough fish, it came naturally, I was lucky, so why bother to explore further?
Over the past few years I’ve spent a fair amount of time guiding clients from all over the world who possessed a range of ability. It was during these outings that I realised the difficulty that many encountered when needing to deal with technical aspects of a mend. The Cape Streams, while possessing one of the greatest populations of free rising trout on the planet, are a technical nightmare and they test the hell out of any angler. If you learnt to fish on a Cape Stream you can fish anywhere… I promise!
Many novice anglers struggle with learning to cast. Once this obstacle is vaulted, everything should fall into place. Done! Easy. Not a much if you want to fish the wild streams and rivers of the world – and even the not so wild!
Casting is one thing – move the line through air and drop the fly at the end of it. This is enough in a well-stocked still water or tropical flat on a windless, slack-tide day. But fish live in water and most water moves. Flies are light in comparison to chunky fly lines. And sometimes we need and use that movement – but that’s a whole other story…
But so often we need to negate that movement. Enter the mend. We use the mend to control and manipulate our flies into doing real-life things so that those scaled thing we chase will eat it! And the term most often used with regards this idea is “dead-drift’. And this puts the fear of deities into so many novice anglers.
The importance of the dead-drift is the fact that is so exactly mimics a food item that has been washed loose in a current. And these food items will make a large majority of any fish’s diet. It’s easy to imagine a nymph tumbling downstream bumping off the bottom or a dry swirled and dipping in the surface tensions of the stream. But making this happen is complicated by a length of thick fly line attaching you to your fly.
But we can beat the dreaded drag by mending! Paradoxically, it’s importance really is one of the least understood aspects of fly fishing. We know it’s important, but we don’t know why or even how! WHAT? True! Mending is a skill that we don’t spend enough time becoming proficient in. It really should become second nature – a natural reflex reaction to the movement of the river. My Dad always speaks of reading and understanding the water – this includes knowing how it effects your line and fly AND how to counter those effects.
When next on the water, watch. Take note of the way the surface moves differently in areas, affected by bottom and bank structure. Laying your line across any moving water is laying it across a shifting and fluid conveyor belt. Watch the water, it’s impossible not to notice.
And when those shifting currents gather up the slack in your fly line you’ll see that dreaded wake behind your dry or indicator that screams “I’M NOT NATURAL!’ to all the fish below!
So the answer is slack and your ability to continually create slack in your line! The existence of this slack and your ability to keep creating it is what will keep your fly drifting along naturally!
So, I hear you ask, ‘How the hell do we create slack continually! Easier said than done!’
Maybe! I answer, but listen carefully and maybe you’ll see its far from impossible. I could, at this point get technical and start talking about hinge points and other silly things, I won’t. It’s simpler that. The concept of a mend is to ‘throw’ a portion of your fly line either up or down (yes, sometimes you need to mend down stream!)
Ever roll cast before? No? Lift rod tip to approx. 45degrees up and behind your shoulder and with smooth snapping action of the wrist move your rod tip to point where you want your fly line to go. The line will follow. Normally taking the whole fly line with a turning the fly over in soft presentation. (Note: this may take practice if you haven’t quite mastered it yet!)
Now a mend is a version of a roll cast. Not as strong and only moving a portion of the line. Play and see…
If you watch your line will as it gets pulled downstream, it will create S-bends (this is where those hinges such things are found). You want to negate the downstream part of the S-bend if your fly line is moving faster than your fly and the upstream bend if your fly is moving than your line.
So that’s two basic mends. Up- and downstream. Same action. Half a roll cast that lifts that offending bend off the water drops in a manner that allows for slack to be created.
To achieve a good upstream mend, you’ve got to lift and throw a certain portion of your line upstream of your fly (or downstream).
Now there are a few steps to remember. Firstly, keep practicing – it not going to just happen. Practice makes perfect, 10000 hours, etc. Doesn’t matter, we learn through repetition. So keep repeating!
When mending, mend early and often. Like equalising while diving, smaller mends allow better control of the fly line and therefore less chance of popping an eardrum (or dragging your fly underwater)!
Get rid of the slack close to you before mending. If you don’t you’re only going to move that slack and the S-bend will keep getting bigger and uglier. You may even need to strip some line in first.
Don’t be shy to lift your rod tip high. You won’t always need to, but if you need to move a lot of line sometimes lifting over head works. The higher you lift, the greater the arc and therefore the more line you move. But be aware that the more line you attempt to move, the harder it gets to control!
KILL the S, make a C! Or maybe a MacDonald’s sign! Notice the aggression? A half-hearted mend will often not kill the S and in its half formed state will still destroy your drag-free drift! This will take some time to master, to much aggression will not only kill the S but can easily result in a full on roll cast. Not a great thing when that fish was seconds from sipping your dry gently off the surface!
And those are basics of mending. Now get on the water and practice.
This short clip is of what I would term a ‘soft’ mend. The backward S (it’s a downstream mend) is not too big so less line needed to be moved.