Our Man In Canada
June 6th, 2005

Drift 'n Drag - Work with it not against it
By Chris Chinn

Drift & drag – Mending the fly line

When I first started out fly fishing, a typical salutation from many was "tight lines!"

I was a bit confused at that time (well, I often still am today,...) as I found that as soon as the line between me and the fly was 'tight,' the fly would drag. Drag, that being, not dead drifting with the current in an utterly unencumbered manner.

I learned most of my bad fly fishing habits all by myself casting from the shores of the Blackwater River in Central BC (while working summers in one of the worst logging camps in the Province). As the public library in Quesnel had very few books on fly fishing, one of the only ones I could find was on dry fly fishing. Classic stuff,...It was very well written,...However, the problem was I thought that was the only way to fly fish,...and having no one of experience around to show me the errors of my ways, I grew more and more frustrated.

Evening after evening I tried to get that #14 elk hair to drift dead. Couldn't do it. Worse, I would see nice 'Bows charging up from the depths only to turn away at the last instant in a splashy refusal. I made a decision that has since helped me on many occasions. I figured that the guy who wrote the book knew what he was about,...note taken, but just maybe, maybe,...he had never fished for Rainbows on the Blackwater. Let's try something else.

Of course the only flies I had in my little match box were dries, so I decided to skitter 'n skate them about on a high stick. Worked like a charm. Then I got to trying to skate the fly farther out in the run. Hmmmm, how to do that. Well, I started USING the drag to get the fly to do what I wanted. And voilà, my journey began.

Since I'm no good at eliminating drag, I learned to use it. Later, the line mending I learned helped me to get reasonably drag free drifts on dries too.

Mending (for me) is throwing a curve into the fly line (either upstream or downstream to make the line react to the current in an appropriate manner (and thus, the fly).

Sounds more difficult than it really is. Let's imagine we're standing on a perfect run, even flow of uniform current running from the right to left. You want to dead drift a fly over a lie 45 feet out in the middle.

We all know from (unpleasant) experiences that if we cast slightly straight away to the lie (say 5 degrees), that by the time the fly passes the 'target,' it'll be swimming it's way TOWARDS us as the line gets 'bowed' downstream by the current. Its even worse when the lie is in a pocket of water and there is current between you and it.

Mending is simply looping a 'belly' of line UPSTREAM so the fly can drift 'freely' for a few moments (or instants) while the belly gets pulled downstream by the current. I do this with a flick of the wrist which transmits out the end of the rod and forms a belly of about 2-6 feet in the middle of the line (Another reason I like using DT lines over WF ones).

When everything is right, Jupiter lines up on Mars and the full moon has passed 72 hours earlier, the mend gets eaten up, I pull in the slack at the same time, the fly passes over the lie the same instant that the line becomes perfectly straight, the trout rises out of it's lair and I can set the hook correctly as there is no slack in the line.

In the photo above, Renee has mended her line twice to get it to drift to the right spot and her line is straight as it passes over the noses of two 20 lb salmon lazing amongst the rocks.

That's mending for dries. Since I'm not very good at that, I'll usually revert back to wets, streamers and such. How does drag affect these flies?

The drag on the line will make the fly cut across the current and (hopefully) through the kill zone of a fish. Depending on the intensity of the drag, the fly will "swim" faster or slower through the water. Ever see a trout follow your fly all afternoon and not take? I have.

To incite the fish to take, especially in "normal" flows, I like to make the fly swim faster than it would on a traditional streamer swing.

Side bar:
A traditional streamer swing is when we cast across and down stream about 45 degrees, the fly will carve an arc through the water back to the bank. You take 2 steps downstream and do it again. Standard classic Atlantic Salmon strategy. One can efficiently and systematically cover a run this way.

Most of the time, I will want the fly to swing a bit faster than if I'd simply laid out a normal swing. One can do this by casting farther upstream and letting the line belly downstream more before the fly gets to the prospective lie. OR,...you can mend a belly DOWNSTREAM in the line to get the same reaction faster.

This is a lot of help...like when you're bombing the banks from a drift boat, the guide's yelling out targets, you're trying to line up the next shot, but your fly still hasn't had time to get to the first one. By working the mends and mastering line control, you can make shorter drifts do what you want them to do.

In low water conditions on those post card sunny days, I'll mend upstream to slow down the fly and let the fish see the fly a very long time. In my limited experience, this 'in your face' tactic of stalling the wet fly in the fish's face can provoke a strike.

Controlling the speed of the swing is crucial when the target is Salmo salar (IMHO). When I'm guiding, I'll usually be downstream from the angler, watching the fly and the fish, trying to see reactions (or not). Before heading out, we'll straighten out communication.

  • If I want the fly to "trot," that means, do that same cast again, but mend downstream a tad.

  • If I say "hurry up," that means point the rod tip UPSTREAM to accelerate the fly even more.

  • "Whoa," means point downstream to stall the fly (or slow it down),...usually just as it gets on the salmon's nose.

  • Finally, "strip" means pull in about two feet of line as the swing is progressing, ...This will give even more acceleration to the fly.

There many other tricks we can use to fish a fly using mends and drag.

One favorite is to use a sinking tip on a woolly bugger (no bead please). On the release, I'll mend a good shot upstream. As the fly sinks and gets to some depth, the mend will only start to be eaten up by the current. Just as the fly gets to a lie, the mend is no longer efficient, the line tightens, the fly heels in, changes slightly direction and swims UP in the water column. Great for slow moving runs (or faster moving pools).

Line mending is one of the fun parts of fly fishing. That is to say, I feel I'm no longer just "standing in a river waving a stick." Mending to get the fly to do what you want is Fly Fishing.

Tight Lines. ~ Christopher Chin – Jonquiere Quebec

About Chris:

Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops, British Columbia. He has been fly fishing on and off ever since he was 10 years old. Chris became serious about the sport within the last 10 years.

"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in central Quebec. I've been fishing this river for about 10 years now and started guiding about 5 years ago when the local guide's association sort of stopped functioning."

Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon. "I often don't even charge service fees, as I'm more interested in promoting the river than making cash. I like to get new comers to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around here makes some of the old clan see Salmon fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack Daniel's."

Chris is 42 years old as of this writing. He is of Chinese origin although his parents were born and raised in Jamaica. He has a girlfriend, Renée. "She and her 12 year old son Vincent started fly fishing with me last October 2002."

To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River, visit Christopher's website http://pages.videotron.com/fcch/. ~ Christopher Chin

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