Fly Fishing: Too Much Mending Can Ruin Your Drift

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To maximize fly fishing success, you need to have good mending technique. Photo Louis Cahill

One of the most critical techniques of fly fishing that anglers often lack knowledge in, is understanding how to properly mend fly line during the drift.

If I tallied up all the time I spend each day instructing clients on various fly fishing techniques, teaching the art of mending fly line would easily rank number one on the list. I bet I say the word “mend” a thousand times a day. It’s not that difficult to mend fly line, all it takes is a little practice and time on the water to get the hang of it. In my opinion, it’s much easier to learn how to mend than the art of fly casting. The main reason mending takes so long for fly anglers to master is because the timing of the mend, the direction of the mend and the size of the mend can change from one presentation to the next. Two of the biggest mending problems I see on the water is bad technique and mending fly line too much during the drift. When mending is done correctly, you usually only need one or two mends per drift to get the job done.

Despite a lot of fly fishing literature found in books and on the internet, you don’t always want to mend the fly line immediately after the fly lands on the water. Sometimes, it will serve you much better if you wait a couple seconds to mend after your drift has begun. An example of this would be when you’re making a medium to long distance quartering presentation across and upstream of you. In this situation, if you first bring in some fly line slack with a few strips as you’re watching the fly drifts towards you, and then follow that up with a well timed mend (when it gets within your range), it should allow you to reposition all of the fly line on the water, and set you up for a drag-free drift for the remainder of the drift. Keep in mind that the different currents that you’re casting across with your fly line will ultimately determine when it will be the correct time for you to mend. The casting angle has a lot to do with mend timing as well.

Learning when to strip and wait for the mend, and when to mend right away is what sets apart the veterans from the rookies. The place where a lot of anglers go wrong is when they don’t pay enough attention to their mending technique. I see a lot of half-hearted mending on the water, and most of that is do to anglers worried about picking up or moving their fly on the water during their mend. If you don’t mend hard enough or don’t have your rod tip travel in the proper direction and shape, you’ll usually end up only mending half the fly line needed. If you’re going to mend your fly line, make sure you first are pointing your rod tip in-line with the fly line you want to mend (Sometimes this means moving your rod tip away from your fly), and then make sure you follow that up with raising your rod tip high enough in the air when you make your “n” shape or backwards “n” shape mend.

It’s important to understand that the more you mend your fly line during your drift, the higher the chances you’ll be imparting drag on your flies or moving them out of the strike zone. And that can keep anglers from getting a ton of bites throughout the day. A good mending exercise to practice is picking out a drift you want to make, and experiment with mending the fly line at different times. Pay attention to how it effects your drift and how many mends it takes for you to complete the drift. Usually, the drift that requires the least amount of mends is the one you want to be using for that specific spot, but by all means, mend if it is called for during the drift. I will be following this post up with some mending videos in the coming weeks. For now, just start paying close attention to your mending when you’re on the water. Some fly fishing technique is best explained in video where you can clearly visualize the instruction and the execution.

I’d also like to recommend checking out a mending primer on Midcurrent, that was written by Phillip Monahan. He did a very good job explaining the proper fly line mending techniques and has great illustrations to back them up.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Too Much Mending Can Ruin Your Drift

  1. Its as simple as raising the rod tip during the drift, and replacing it to the left, or the right as required. Sometimes a combination of both. No need to be aggressive with the movement. Leave maybe an ‘anchor’ of a metre of line on the surface throughout the repositioning process to avoid / minimise movement to the fly.

    Great write up Kent!

  2. One of the biggest helps in mending is having good quality or better yet, brand new fly line. I never used to clean my fly lines, but have since changed my ways. clean line floats higher and mends way better. Thanks!

  3. Amen for explaining why you don’t have to mend immediately after the flies hit the water! I used to fish with a guy that would constantly preach to me about how I was ruining my drift by not mending right after I made my cast. I’d always reply with some snarky comment and then try to explain my rationale, but my efforts were futile. I mean he would make an up stream cast and then almost do a roll cast, calling it a “mend” , which would drag his flies ten feet through the water before he started his drift. But that made sense to him….whatever. Nice tips though kent. Mending needs to be a subtle and smooth movement. I’ve seen some crazy exaggerated “mending” techniques.

    • Justin,

      Right on. The only time I use a roll cast mend is when A traditional mend is out of range. Not sure why your buddy mends for direct upstream drifts. Seems counter productive since the majority of his rig and fly line should be in the same current speed. Of course there’s always exceptions with tricky currents.


  4. Good job Kent and follow-up comments too. I find that mending has become automatic to me… sort of like driving a car or flying a helicopter in my experience. Feel for the currents and situation guide my movements. Adjustments should be subtle and well-timed. But I mend as much as I feel I need when I feel it is the right time rather than by plan or rules. I admire guides able to deal with newbies, as when I try to teach mending, what works for me falls flat or causes drag in the hands of my student.

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