This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

March 31st, 2003

Controlled Slack
(Line Mending)

The mist was just burning off the water. Early June, the hatch would come soon. Just wait it out. Sitting on a log, perched not unlike a heron looking for breakfast, the rises would appear slowly at first, then with increased tempo with the warming of the water. A little overcast would help, too much sun would retard the hatch. Watch and wait.

There - a gentle sip rise. Dun Mayfly rise. Can't tell the size of the fish 'tho, the rise was so gentle.

There it is again. What was the time interval? Two mayflies won't make a breakfast, the fish must eat. How many nymphs has it taken in this time frame? Again! That's a good fish. Time to go to work.

Tie on a nice fresh fly, looks like a good match. Flick out a little line, false cast or two...

Fish on!

Nice story, but unless you've been fishing a while, probably not too likely.

There are just to many variables left out. If you had timed the rise interval, where in that time do you make your cast? Did you mentally mark something and see how long it takes to get from there to the fish? What is the water speed? Any idea?

How long a float can you get with your fly? You may have a great fly, well treated with floatant, but is that all?


What about drag? What makes the fly sink? It's probably not the quality of the fly or the floatant. It's the line and leader moving with the current which forms a 'bow' in your line/leader and produces drag. Drag is the fly anglers enemy. Big time.

A straight line cast rarely works, because drag is nearly instant. The fly must travel as naturally as the natural. At least as close to that as one can manage. You still need to keep a tight connection to your fly - in other words, line control, controlled slack.

So how do you accomplish all of that?

Line mending.

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive, especially from new fly fishers, is about mending. And just in case you aren't an 'old pro' I can't over-emphasis the importance of line mending.

In simple terms, mending line is using the tip of your rod to move, flip, manipulate the line so the fly is floating in a natural manner. It can be a simple "C" move with your rod hand, or a half-roll cast. The idea is to move the line/leader without sinking/moving your fly. (We are discussing a dry fly method here, there is also a use for nymphing and streamers.) The idea is to stop the causes which make the fly drag - or wake. (A little "V" appears around your fly, like the wake of a boat.) There is a place for 'waking' a fly, it is used for steelhead with floating flies, and for Atlantic Salmon too - but not something used for trout, at least not on purpose.

Picture the stream, you facing upstream, the water coming toward you, your fly line, leader and fly have been cast upstream, quartering toward the left-hand bank. If you had made the cast straight upstream, you would need to gather in line as the whole combination is coming downstream toward you. In this specific instance, you will have no drag on your fly because it all is traveling at the same rate. The problem is you probably won't catch any fish either because you've just lined them. (The fish are facing upstream, remember?).

Back to the quartering upstream cast; by moving the line so it is behind the fly (upstream of the fly), instead of dragging the fly or even worse sinking it, you can get a longer drift, drag-free and increase your odds of catching a fish. Why? Because the fly is behaving more like a natural insect. You can do more than one mend too!

That slack-line cast I mentioned also puts squiggles of line and leader across the fastest part of the current, again giving the fly a longer drift.

Mending line really is something you have to practice. Next time you are on moving water, experiment. Tie on a bright fly you can easily see and try different casts and mends to see exactly what they will do. Watch for drag! You will find a method which works for you - and it will become instinctive. You won't have to think about it, you will just do it.

And, the other place mending is used? When fishing nymphs and streamers you can throw a little line into a half-roll cast and your nymph or streamer will go deeper in the water column. Very helpful if you need to fish the bottom and you don't have a weighted fly, or it isn't weighted enough.

Since we live on saltwater, you might not think we mend line. But there are currents, tides, and all sorts of reasons to mend line to keep the fly where the fish are. Our salmon aren't rising to a dry fly, but the fly still has to be presented in the same way a natural bait fish would appear in the water.

Fish may have a brain the size of a pea, but their instincts will tell them it's a phony when it doesn't look right. ~ The LadyFisher

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