When you’re fly fishing, there are lots of steps you need to execute well for success. You need to know how to cast, how to tell what the fish are eating, and how to determine where the fish are in the water. Most importantly, anglers need to know how to present flies in a naturalistic way, and mending— also called line control— is a key technique to master.
In this article, we are going to explain what anglers should be looking for, and how different mends can be used in different situations. Visualizing mending through text is not the easiest way to learn, so what we have done here is incorporated written explanations, and embedded the top videos we could find from around the web to help.
What Is Mending?
If you’ve never been fly fishing before, you might think that mending refers to some kind of line repair. But we’re not talking knots today, because mending in fly fishing means something completely different. This type of mending refers to a series of techniques you can use to make your fly presentation look more natural by reducing drag from water that prevents your flies from floating naturally. A proper mend keeps the drift going for as long as possible before drag forms in the line. While lines will always drag eventually, mending improves the length of your drift and increases the time at which your flies are presented to fish naturally.
Why Is Mending Necessary?
To fool many fish, it’s not enough that a lure looks like dinner. It has to move like dinner, too. Real flies and nymphs aren’t attached to line, and for fishing success, you need to create the illusion of natural movement. This means that you want a nice, drag-free drift. But accomplishing this drift isn’t always easy!
When you’re fly fishing, you can’t just watch your fly. You have to pay attention to what your line is doing, too. The line and flies work together, and you may find that they’re being pulled at different rates through the water. Watch the line and the leader to see what you need to do so that the fly and line move as one.
When you’re mending, you can’t just move your line around and expect it to work. There are several things you have to pay attention to before you can start mending correctly. Like many aspects of fly fishing, successful mending engages your observational skills. You need to pay attention to the line, the water, and where your line sits on top of the water. The ability to identify when there is drag on your line, determine the type of mend that needs to occur, and executing on that mend all needs to be put together in a very quick fashion, making this skill difficult.
Fly fishing line is more complicated than spin fishing line. We go into more detail about the parts of a fly line here, but when you’re mending, you’re usually moving the weighted fly line rather than the leader or tippet. In spin fishing, you use the reel and the rod to control the lure’s position. But in fly fishing, you actually use your hands and rod to help maintain line control, as well as the rod. After casting, the first thing you do is place the index finger of your rod hand on top of the line. This enables anglers to manage line slack, which will be essential in the mending process. It is often necessary when casting upstream to have to strip in fly line, then mend to keep a drift going for a longer period of time. It is these situations, that line control, before mending is essential.
In this video, you’ll find super helpful tips in a real life fishing scenario. You’ll also notice for any avid fly angler, how that index finger is always immediately on the fly line to maintain control. You’ll see how recognizing the “U” bend in your fly line on the water quickly allows you to identify the need for a mend.
Watching And Reading The Water
Water movement is complicated. While a stream might be generally fast or slow, different parts of the water move at different speeds depending on streambed conditions, obstacles in the water, and other elements that change the dynamics of water movement. Eddies and rills can slow movement, while narrower sections of streambed can speed it up. The only way to know what the water is doing is to watch it. Learning how to look at things is an integral part of fly fishing. It’s part of what makes the sport such a fun challenge, understanding water is a skill that takes time on water to develop.
Reading the water allows you to first identify where fish are most likely feeding, but also proactively understand how you may need to mend when casting to these situations
Knowing how to mend can greatly increase your chances of success, but without understanding how to read a river and knowing your river’s high, low, and mid-range flows, you’ll have a harder time knowing which techniques to use. Pay attention to water movement, and don’t try to mend without seeing what’s going on!
If your fly is in water that’s slower than the water your line is in, you’ll likely have to make at least one upriver mend. But if the water you’re fishing is moving faster than the water that the line is in, you will be making downriver mends.
Once you’ve figured out where the various water speed zones are, you need to visualize those intersections, and understand how your fly line will be affected by those different currents. It is these locations that you will have your mend hinge point.
Another way to visualize hinge points is to think of the curve in your line— the mend— as being shaped like the letter U. The curve of the U is the mended line. The hinge points are the top tips of the letter.
Controlling the hinge points is the key to mending success. Depending on the type of mend you use, you might have two hinge points, or you might have more. An upstream or downstream mend usually just has the two hinge points, but a double mend will have more. A mind on these hinge points effectively creates slack, which allows your flies to float unimpeded by the current for longer.
Types Of Mends
There are four main types of mends: upstream, downstream, double mends, and stack mends. The mend you use is determined by where the fly is located, the speed of the water, and how that is affecting your fly line and drift. You must also consider how many speeds there are in the water you’re casting across— if there are eddies or other obstacles, you might be casting across several speed zones, making the mend needed even more complex.
It is always important to keep in mind that the best mend is utilizing your feet to get in a position where less mending is necessary, and a more natural drift.
When you think of mending, the upstream mend is typically the mend that comes to mind. It’s the most common mend necessary for natural fly presentation because you are usually casting into slower-moving water near the opposite bank of the stream. Streams tend to move fastest in the middle, so you’re casting across fast water into slow water. This means that you need to mend your line upstream of your fly to reduce drag.
Many anglers are tempted to just mend in one direction: upriver. It’s true that this is the most common type of mend, but it’s not always the one you want. If your fly is in faster water than the water you’re casting across, an upstream mend won’t help you. You’ll need the opposite, a downstream mend so that the line can keep up with the faster-moving fly. Refer to the video above for both upstream and downstream mending tips.
The double mend is more complicated and trickier to do than either an upstream or a downstream mend. When you use this kind of mend, you are essentially putting an S-curve in the line. When executing a double mend, make your mends from far to near. This usually means making the upstream mend first, then the downstream mend— but this of course varies based on water movement. This mend is needed when your fly line is going across more than two speeds of water, or this is often used when casting into an eddy. This is one of those skills that is hard to teach, but as you gain experience mending, and reading water, you’ll find yourself starting to mend your line in this manner.
One of the best ways to present a fly is to place it upstream of the fish and let it drift downstream. To manage this line, you may need to perform a stack mend, which is sometimes called a kick mend or a vertical mend. To do this mend, you use your wrist to snap the rod up and down vertically while releasing some line tension. This lets you throw loose line onto the water closer to you, which lets your fly drift towards the target without drag.
High sticking is not a mending technique; rather, it’s the technique you might use when you cannot mend. It is worthwhile to mention here because while it’s a very different technique, it has the same effect as mending: natural fly presentation.
When you’re fishing on rough or confusing water with lots of speed and texture change, you may want to high stick. High sticking requires a short cast and closer proximity to where the fish are likely to be. Because the water’s moving in such a confusing manner, the bubbles, sediment, debris in the water, and other aquatic hazards mean that the fish aren’t likely to see your approach— so you can get closer than you could in clearer waters.
To high stick, you keep the tip of your rod high and the fly line out of the water. This means that there is no slack line on the water’s surface. The multiple water speeds won’t influence the fly’s drift as much because there’s no slack line in the water to experience drag except for your tippet. While mending is all about slack line management, high sticking is about ensuring there’s no slack line, to begin with. This is the technique you should use when it’s impossible to manage fly speed with a slack line. It can be used with nymphs or dry flies, and it’s best accomplished with a heavier fly so that the lure is presented deeper in the water column. Some anglers like to add split shot to their line when they’re high sticking to help the lure sink. You can also get fly fishing setups that are best suited for high sticking, euro nymphing, Czech nymphing, and other fly fishing techniques that utilize tight lines.
How To Mend & Mending Tips
No matter if you’re upstream, downstream, or double mending, the basic technique is the same. To mend, you flip the rod tip. Usually, this is a series of flips. The goal is to put a horseshoe-shaped bow in the line. This slows the line’s speed of travel in an upstream mend or speeds it up in a downstream mend.
To achieve a good single mend, whether it’s upstream or downstream, you’ve got to throw a certain portion of your line in the desired direction in relation to your fly. This is harder than it sounds because while you’re doing this, you want to avoid moving your fly as much as possible while also avoiding as much splashing as possible. This balance can be difficult. We have given you some great video resources that will help you visualize these techniques, but nothing will replace time on the water, and practicing these techniques. Patience is key with fly fishing.
There Are 5 Steps To A Good Mend:
- Generally, mending as soon as possible is best. As the line sits on the water longer, it may be more difficult to get the line to do what you want. Mending earlier may help.
- Use your rod length to reduce the amount of line you need to mend. The less line on the water, the easier your mend will be.
- Pick up any slack in your line before you mend.
- Lift your rod tip high, potentially even over your head to reduce the amount of fly line on the water as much as possible.
- Flip the tip and the line in the intended direction to mend the line. Remember that you are often trying to reverse the “U” that you see in the fly line.
Flipping The Tip
To flip the tip, you need to flick it either upstream or downstream with a slight rotational movement in the wrist. This is the same movement you would use to turn a jump rope. This is similar to roll casting, although it’s not as large a movement as a full cast. The amount of movement you need to put into the line depends on how big or small of a mend you need to make. Depending on the speed differences in the water, you might only need to move the line a little bit, or you might need to move it quite a lot. The best way to figure out this movement and how to control it is to practice. Smaller mends from shorter distances tend to be easier.
It can also be helpful to watch somebody mend. Sometimes it’s best to watch someone explain their movements as an example of what to do. There are plenty of good videos out there for anglers of all skill levels. Whether you’re new to mending or want to learn new techniques to up your skill level, seeing an expert at work can be an excellent way to improve your mending abilities.
Ultimately, mending is a necessary skill for the fly fisher to have in their inventory. With practice and good observational skills, mending can make the difference between catching a few fish and catching a lot of fish. Just remember that no two streams are identical, and you will need to vary your techniques from stream to stream if you want to succeed.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about