8 Common Fly Line Mending Mistakes

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Mending fly line correctly is crucial for getting drag-free drifts and consistently catching fish. Photo By: Louis Cahill

I spend the majority of my time teaching fly casting when guiding my clients, but the art of mending fly line is a close second.

A perfect cast can quickly become obsolete if you don’t understand the concept of mending fly line. When mending is timed correctly and executed properly it allows fly anglers to maintain a drag-free presentation, keep their fly in the target zone, and prolong the length of their drift. Developing good mending technique my friends, translates into more fish being hooked and landed. If you’re lucky enough to already have the basics of fly casting down, I highly encourage you to next focus your time on understanding and mastering the mechanics of mending fly line.

Throughout this post I’m going to try to touch base on the most popular mending mistakes I see on the river, but before I do so, here’s an intriguing question for everyone. Why is it, that fly anglers seem to always get their left and right mixed up when mending fly line? It happens to me guiding all the time. I’ll instruct my client to mend to the left and they’ll do the opposite, by mending to the right. One of the most common four word phrases out of my mouth is, “no, your other left”. This will probably hit home with more guides than anglers but I had to bring it up, since we all do it. I’ve tried using upstream and downstream for instructing mending direction, but that seems to be even more confusing. That being said, here are the most common mending mistakes I see on the river.

1. Anglers Wait Too Long to Mend

Everyone deserves props when a perfect cast is made, but don’t make the mistake of admiring it, and forget to follow it up with a good mend. Most often, but not always, a fly angler should make their first mend within a second or two of the fly landing on the water. Why you ask? Because it’s the most critical mend of your drift. It sets up your entire drift, and will eliminate the need for extra mending.

2. Anglers rod tip does not travel high enough in the air during the 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 the cast or more fly line you have on the water, the higher you’ll need to move your rod tip in an oval shape path. “Give me a superman mend”, I say to my clients, when their mending a bunch of fly line. What I’m meaning by this is giving me the biggest mend you can.

3. Anglers mend their line by moving their fly rod in a sideways motion instead of upside down u-shape or n-shape

When your mending, your trying to pick up fly line and leader off the water and reposition it (placing it back down upstream or downstream of your fly). I see a lot of anglers moving their rod sideways in a straight line when mending. All this does is require you to mend again seconds later.

4. Some drifts require multiple mends

Even a perfect first mend isn’t always enough to get you through the entire drift drag-free. Sometimes fly anglers will need to mend two, three, and even four times from the beginning to the end of their drift. I see a lot of people fall behind on their timing of their second and third mends. Be ready for it, and as soon as you start seeing a loop forming to the left or right of your fly, commence mending. When done properly you’ll extend your drag-free drift and will be less likely to move your fly on or below the water surface.

5. Strip excess fly line in between mends

Mending your fly line you will at times build more slack up between you and the fly than you want. Too much slack and you’ll have a hard time setting the hook, but secondly, too much slack will make it very difficult to execute you next mend.

6. Be prepared to change mending direction during the drift

Eddies and 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. Don’t feel like there’s only one correct direction to mending your line. Pay attention to the direction of where the loops of your fly line are forming and mend the opposite direction.

7. When dry fly fishing you have to be more subtle with your mending.

Just about anyone can make great mends when their nymphing with a strike indicator. The weight of the rig and friction of the surface provides us with a buffer that keeps it from moving during mending. When your dry fly fishing though, you don’t have that buffer, and fly anglers need to take a more subtle and slow approach. Don’t be overpowering or in a rush, instead raise your rod up high smoothly and make a tight half-circle path with your fly rod to finish the mend. This should do a good job of keeping your dry fly from moving on the waters surface.

8. It’s ok to lift your fly or strike indicator off the water during your first mend.

A lot of novice fly anglers think it’s bad to move your fly or strike indicator with the first mend. Most of the time it’s not a bad thing at all, and can make your drift even better. I do it all the time when I’m deep nymphing in fast water, where even the slightest loop in my leader or fly line will hurt my drift. When I’m dry fly fishing, I often will cast just past my target, so when I make the big mend, it will pull the fly slightly back to me and drift in my target zone.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “8 Common Fly Line Mending Mistakes

  1. Great advise. I’ll be working on my mending using your advise. I have struggled with mending for sometime. Thanks for the tips.

  2. Too often I make a perfect dryfly cast (ie an inch from the bank or under an overhanging branch or in the bubble line only to move the fly too much on first mend. I see #7 above and have tried but seeking to get better. For instance, is it better to point rod tip at fly and make smaller arc/upside down U or lift tip w/ line off water and then mend upstream and make more pronounced mend?
    PS Years ago on my first guided drift trip, the guide said upstream/downstream and it took me a while for that to sink in. More time on the water, it does sink in for the type of fishing you are doing.

  3. Thanks Kent.
    I’m a relative beginner (at 52 this old dog is trying to learn new tricks) & really needed this article. I’m in Alaska & finally got my first dolly (18″) fishing beads with a strike indicator. A good dead drift seems to be the ticket & mending plays a huge part. I think you moved me forward a few weeks in the learning curve.

    • Vance,

      I am so jealous you live in AK. That is sweet. Spent a season guidinh there in 2006 and my heart still aches to visit that country.

      Glad to hear the mending post helped out. It should help you catch a few more fish for sure. Thanks for following the blog.


  4. Pingback: Mend, Mend, Mend « The Ozark Fly Fisher Journal

  5. There is a technique for introducing a mend prior to the line touching the water. Can you discuss the pros and cons of this approach?

  6. Pingback: Set me straight - The North American Fly Fishing Forum

  7. OUTSTANDING, Kent! Man, I wish I had this information 20+ years ago when I first started fly fishing. I know that most of the time, an upstream mend is required, but I don’t always know when to do a downstream mend. Any tips for those of us that get confused over this issue? Thanks!

  8. Keeping your line clean and floating well makes mending a lot easier. A sinking floater makes a good mend very difficult.

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