Fly Fishing Mending: What is It and How to Do it Effectively

Fly fishing mending feature image

 Mending is one of those neglected skills in fly fishing that anglers should focus more on.

Put simply, mending is the act of arranging the fly line on the water’s surface to cater for different currents to eliminate or avoid drag.

When you remove or avoid drag, you fly looks far more realistic and it is more likely to fool the fish.

It is best to think about whether you need to mend before you make a cast so you are prepared. Look at the water one rod length out from you, and then look at the water where your fly will land. Is the water travelling at the same speed in each spot? If so you won’t need to mend. But if there is a significant differential in current speed, you are going to need to mend to get a drag free drift.

Of course a dead drift is vital when you are dry fly fishing, but is also important when you are nymph fishing too. The growing success of Euro nymphing techniques has taught us that our flies really do need to be close to the bottom when nymphing and for this to occur, they need to drift drag free through the strike zone.

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How to Mend with a Fly Line

Say you are fishing a run with big rock in the centre of it. In the slower water behind the rock is a good spot for a fish to sit, but on either side there is a relatively swift current.

Unless you can step into the current and get close to the rock, you are going to have to mend the line because pretty much as soon as your fly lands, the swift current will suck the fly line downstream pulling your fly with it.

That will result in the fly skating unnaturally across the near-still water behind the rock and spooking the fish.

Use the Fly Rod Tip for Make an Upstream Mend

This can be fixed with a basic upstream mend as soon as the line hits the water.

You use the rod tip in a mini rollcast like motion to flip the fly line upstream.  It is really a lift and flip – you need to lift the section of line that you are mending off the water and into the air before you execute the flip.

You must aim to to do this with as little disturbance as possible to the actual fly. This upstream mend will buy you a second or two of extra time before the drag kicks in, and that might be all that’s required for the fish to take the fly. You can also repeat the mend to give more time in the strike zone.

Here is a video example of a simple upstream mend.

Or Make an Aerial Mend (Reach Cast)

The problem with the conventional mend is that, try as you might, there is usually a bit of movement imparted to the fly as you flip the line over.

One solution to this is an aerial mend. It is complex to explain and is one of the more advanced mending techniques, but it basically involves make the upstream fly just before the fly touches down.

This allows you to get a drag free presentation without causing any initial movement to the fly as is almost inevitable with a conventional mend.

 The aerial mend, or reach cast, is performed by a subtle alteration to the standard cast. All you need to do is, as the line is unfurling move your arm horizontally sideways in the direction of the intended mend (usually upstream) and hold it there until all the line falls to the water.

Sometimes you need to “shoot” or release a little line with the non rod hand to avoid ripping the fly towards you as it lands.

The aerial mend is not too difficult and in many cases is superior to a conventional mend as it can be done before, or just as, the fly hits the water. Whereas with the conventional mend, you do run the risk of giving the fly a bit of jerk as you execute the mend with the rod tip. This can spook trout and makes the fly look unnatural.

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 A Downstream Mend

Sometimes you want to do a downstream mend, or a series of them, to get the fly in position.

Usually you perform a downstream mend when you are above the fish (ie upstream) and you want the fly to drift down naturally to where the fish is holding, say at the bottom of a fast run.

In this scenario if you don’t do a downstream mend, the line will tighten and the fly will start to swing (sometimes when you are fishing with nymphs or streamers this is exactly what you want as the fish will often take the fly on the swing). If you are trying to get an inert or dead drift presentation, a series of downstream mends means you are essentially feeding line out as the current takes your fly downstream.

It is usually best to make a series of small downstream mends rather than one big one so that you can stay up tight to the fly. Remember to closely watch the fly or strike indicator when you are downstream mending and strike if it goes down! If it is floating naturally, then the take can come at any time.

Multiple Mends 

Sometimes with a section of river with multiple currents, you might have to make several mends over the course of a drift as you constantly strive to avoid drag.

 You will get better at flipping the line both upstream and downstream as required to keep that fly drifting along at the speed of the current where it is situated.

Mending skilfully will result in many more takes and many more fish landed.

Line Management when you Are Mending

It is important when you have mend to strip excess fly line off the water to keep up tight to the fly to ensure you hook up when the fish takes it. With an upstream mend the loop of line that you’ve thrown upstream has to be collected as it comes down so you will be stripped that off as the fly stays stationary or drifting slowly in the slower current. 

See also:

Avoiding mending

Sometimes the speed differential in the currents is just too much for mending to be effective, or the section of fast current that you need to correct for is too far from the rod tip.

This means you have a couple of choices to fish that spot well: reposition or cast without a mend.

Sometimes you can get a dead drift with no drag for just long enough for the fish to take the fly, whereas a clumsy mend might risk disturbing the fish.

Repositioning to get a bit closer and take out some of the trickier currents is often a good choice, provided you remain stealthy and don’t spook the fish.

The other option is to just cast anyway and hope the fish takes the fly the instant it lands. That’s always worth a try if you have no other option, as often they fish will strike immediately, especially in faster water.

One trick to just buy a tiny bit more time is to do a wobble cast by jiggling the rod tip a bit as you lay the cast down. This creates a horizontal wave in the line putting a bit of slack into the mix. The result is that it takes the offending current a bit longer to straighten the lien and drag the fly downstream. Check it out in the video below.

Common Mistakes when Mending Line

 Here are a few traps to avoid when you are learning to mend your fly line.

1.Waiting too Long To Mend

Many anglers wait too long to mend, which usually means the fly is already being dragged before the mend is made. You really need to make the first mend as soon as the fly hits the water (or earlier if you are using the reach cast or aerial mend!)

2.Dragging the line rather than flipping as a loop

As you practice mending the technique will become second nature. But generally when you are starting to learn how to mend a fly line, you will tend to drag it upstream with the rod tip with lifting it off the water. This means the fly will start to skate defeating the purpose of what we are trying to do. Remember to lift the line by swinging the rod tip up then making a little flip either upstream or downstream depending on the direction you are mending.

3.Having too Much Fly Line Out

Even if you master mending skills, that’s not the end of the story. I often see anglers with too much slack line out from their rod tip. When you mend, you obvious introduce a kink into your fly line. That means it takes slightly longer for the line to pull tight when you strike.

And if you have poor line management – and you aren’t taking up the slack line with your non rod hand – then that is going to delay things even further.

This means the fly rod tip needs to be lifted even higher to set the hook. That translates to the fish having more time to spit the fly out before you get a chance to set the hook.

4.Not Mending Multiple Times

Particularly when you are dry fly fishing, you want to achieve the longest drag free drift possible. This often means mending several times. The first mend is the most important, and usually the biggest. But often there is a need for a series of corrective mends – smaller mends made as the fly floats down to keep it floating naturally.

Final Thoughts on Mending in Fly Fishing 

 Every fly fisher should spend the time to learn effective fly line mending techniques. If you can mend effectively, you will catch more fish and fool those larger fish that just won’t bite if they sniff even a hint of drag.

Fly fishing mending is simple to learn. Take the techniques explained here, look at the videos in the article and then get out and practice your mending.

Mending improve your fly fishing, whether you are fishing wet or dry fly, and expand the range of spots on a stream that you can target effectively.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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