Fly Fishing Tip: Mend Your Strike Indicator to Increase Your Drag-Free Drift

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Mend your indicator to increase your drag-free drift. Photo by Louis Cahill

Is there ever a time, when nymphing, that it can be beneficial to lift the strike indicator out of the water during a mend?

When I first started learning the art of mending fly line, I constantly struggled with keeping my striking indicator and dry fly from moving across the surface of the water. Quite often, I not only moved them during my mends, I even lifted them completely out of the water in the process. Most of the time that wasn’t a good thing, because it usually caused my flies to be pulled off my intended drift line, and that greatly hindered my ability to catch fish, no matter how accurate my initial presentation cast happened to be. I learned quickly, that poor mending, and sloppy line management, were the two main factors in keeping me from getting my rod bent with trout. There was no doubt that my problem with mending fly line laid in the fact that my technique was awful. I thought I was a whole lot maturer than I really was as a fly fisher, failing to realize that I had just begun to skim the surface of learning the intricacies of fly line mending. Such as, determining when or when not a mend was called for during a drift, mend timing and form.

I idolized, and wanted so badly to be the fly angler that made mending look effortless and second nature. You know, the fly fisher that can pull off split second mends perfectly during the drift every time, without moving the strike indicator in the slightest bit. After all, isn’t that what a perfect mend is supposed to look like? The answer is yes, in most cases, but there are situations when not moving your indicator during a mend will fall short of providing an angler with enough drag free drift to get the job done. For instance, I was watching my client the other day, as he made a presentation with his nymph rig towards a slow seam on the far bank. Several times he made a pinpoint cast to the far seam and mended all of his fly line to his strike indicator. However, before his flies could reach the sweet spot of his drift, the fast current adjacent to the soft seam, would drag his flies out of the strike zone every time. This happened four or five times in a row before the lightbulb in my head finally turned on, and I told him, “In order for you to keep your flies from being pulled off target at the last second, you need to not only mend all the fly line to your strike indicator, you also need to mend a good portion of your leader as well. The next time you make your presentation and mend, make sure you lift your strike indicator out of the water and position it back upstream. Basically, I want you to over power the mend, and do what you alway thought was bad.” 

The next few consecutive casts, my client did exactly as I had instructed, and his flies drifted drag free, all the way down the slow water seam. Unfortunately, he wasn’t rewarded with a fish. Odds are, if there was a trout in that slow seam, it had probably been alerted from the pervious presentations. That being said, all was not lost, because it did give me the idea of writing this post and pointing out that there can be situations on the water nymphing, when it can be beneficial for an angler to pick up his/her strike indicator during a mend. Doing so, it will allow the angler to also mend some of their leader, which will help to further lengthen a drag free drift. This can be especially helpful when making presentations across different currents speeds, where the fly will be drifting in slower moving water than the rest of the rig and fly line.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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19 thoughts on “Fly Fishing Tip: Mend Your Strike Indicator to Increase Your Drag-Free Drift

  1. Pingback: Mending | michiganfly

  2. We call it “walking the dog,” here in Michigan. It helps when adjusting your bobber system (er, indicator haha) into the micro seams etc. that so many of our rivers seem to have. Once adjusted, dead drift is king…

    • Steelyphil,

      “Up here in Michigan, we call mending the indicator “Walking the Dog.”

      That is hilarious and so perfect! I can’t wait to start using that. Thanks for sharing this and taking the time to leave a comment.


  3. Sometimes doing the unorthodox, or the “wrong” thing, ends up working out and gets you the results you want. I hate it when I move my dry flies and indicators during a mend. It drives me nuts. But I can see how it can be helpful in some instances. Nice tip!

  4. Was doing exactly this, just this past weekend on the Lower Owens here in CA.

    The surface water moves faster than the water at the bottom of the water column, where the nymphs and trout are.

    If you let the indicator move as fast as the surface water, it will drag the nymph downstream faster than a natural drift would.

    Mending your line and indicator upstream puts the line, indicator and some of your leader upstream of the nymph, and then they don’t drag the fly downstream unnaturally fast.

  5. With in certain boundaries, Is there a right and wrong way to apply strategies? In this case what is considered wrong was actually a tactic that worked. Being inside the box will hold a person back from making new discoveries and techniques. So I would say yes to the question asked. if lifting the indicator out of the water is working to make a better drift, then do it. The world is bigger and more exciting outside the box! God bless and great post Kent. Also, nice pic of a simply complex drift Louis

      • Thinking on this a little more. What I see happening, if I’m correct, is kind of the same effect that keeping the slack out of the line while euro nymphing produces, which helps aid the current in driving your rig down quicker due to less resistance on the line. If you are lifting your leader/indicator up and out of the water it seem you are also taking up some slack which would also allow the current to drive you rig farther down to the correct depth. Plus you are slowing your indicator speed down on top so your nymph rig can catch up in the slower current underneath. Am I close, correct? Brain storm or brain fart?lol

  6. Great subject, Kent and good comments. Mending is one of the hardest things for me to teach newbies because it is so subjective and experience-based. Fact is, the mend will always depend on conditions: water flows, seams, conflicting currents, depth, length of the sweet spot, etc. Sometimes I mend part of my fly line, sometimes I mend all the way to the indicator, sometimes I mend beyond the indicator, thereby lifting it from the water. Sometimes I mend upstream and sometimes downstream. The amount of mend varies as well. It is a matter of feel, planning, and adjustment. Experience makes this easier to do.

    With regard to the subject of lifting the indicator from the water, if possible I prefer doing it sufficiently upstream of the fish that I will not spook the target fish. However, I find that having the indicator spook fish that are that deep is not always that much of a problem, as compared to poor presentation (lack of drag free drift), which is almost certainly a turn-off. In other words, I would most times rather risk mending the indicator than not getting a good drift.

    Also, carefully repositioning yourself so you can do a downstream quartering cast may obviate the need to mend at all, thereby solving the problem of spooking fish.

  7. Pingback: March 7, 2014: TGIF Link Round-Up | Feather and Fin

  8. I’ve actually read 2 different opinions (on the web) on how the indicator should be drifting in relation to the nymph – and I haven’t been able to make up my mind which is the correct way, or if both are correct, what scenarios call for the use of one or the other.

    One opinion is that the indicator should be floating upstream of the nymph. This makes sure that there is no drag on the nymph, which would be the case if the nymph was trailing behind the indicator. I’ve seen one guy do this by holding the line tight for a little bit this slowing the indicator down and letting the nymph get ahead. This can also be done with good strong mend, as the author of this post mentions.

    The second opinion is that the indicator should be ahead of the fly. The reason cited was that it will react quicker to a strike – since the indicator will be downstream of the nymph and the connection between them will become taut more quickly than it would have, if the first presentation was used. The obvious negative in this case is that the indicator will be dragging the fly, since water on top moves faster than water at bottom.

    “If” the first opinion is correct, that would be mean one should always reposition the strike indicator. Something which I was also trying to avoid.

    Would be interested to hear from someone experienced about this!

    • I suggest you and other bobber ‘fishermen’ learn how to fish with a fly rod. You might as well use a spinning outfit. You’re not fly fishing.

    • Mustafa,
      In my experience hydraulics are so varied that different approaches work at different times and it depends on what you are trying to achieve. Some folks religiously mend all the way to the indicator over and over to maintain its relationship to the fly. That is not always a great idea depending on depth, clarity of water, and current on top and below the surface. I would experiment and see what works in a given situation.

  9. What you described is what I have always called “stalling” the indicator. By lifting the indicator and leader up off the water the angler stalls the indicators progress while providing time for the nymphs to sink into the desired location. It is effective to make this huge mend as early as possible. I frequently make the stalling mend as soon as I complete the initial cast and maybe even make another one if it appears the indicator is still not in the correct location. After that/those mends it is critical to continually observe the speed of the indicator and make mends to keep your fly line from dragging in currents of different speeds (remember it could be a n current) than that in the desired seam. Remember that not all mends are made upstream. There are times when a downstream mend is required. I have developed an indicator which helps that helps the angler know where the nymphs are. The indicator literally points at the nymphs. All the angler needs to do is mend in the direction in which the indicator is pointing. This pointing feature is not only useful in determining if an up or down stream mend is required, it also shows the angler if the nymphs are swinging away. In which case a mend away from the angler (in essence across the current) is needed to reposition the rig.

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