"Cast for show, mend for dough!"

This is how one helpful guide put it, spinning it off the old golf saying. You could be the most graceful fly caster in the world, but we slide our poker chips “all in” on a world class mender.

Your casts are in the air. Fish live in the water. Fly fishing is a game of presentation!

The cold hard truth is, 20% of the anglers catch 80% of the fish. Many of the other 80% of anglers are skilled casters, but have overlooked the importance of mending.

Learning how to mend properly is what separates the boys and girls from the men and women in fly fishing. It’s a fundamental skill that will help you smash through the learning curve from a beginner to intermediate and beyond.

Many fly fishermen fail to understand the why behind the mend. Why should I move my line while it’s in the water - won’t that make my presentation worse than if I don’t touch it???

While the logic of the mend might sound counterintuitive, you must put yourself into the fish's fins. Fish spend 24/7 (yes, they don’t even sleep!) doing one thing and one thing only - looking for food and eating it. What if you had practiced a skill for that long? You would be pretty incredible at it, right?

Well, that perfectly describes the challenge of catching a trout - they are picky and most of them can decipher between the tiniest of details of what to and what not to eat. And if you’re fishing at the same river as everyone else, using the same local-fly-shop-recommended flies, then it’s all going to come down to a game of presentation. That fish has seen your Copper John before!

Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to fish on a “drift boat”. Or maybe you’ve just seen someone fishing out of one before. If not, take notice when you see one. Typically, when you’re using a drift boat, you might catch 3x more fish than if you fished from the bank. Why is this? Your guide might be getting you into some good holes with a proven pattern, all other things equal, it’s because of your flawless presentation to the fish.

We’ve fished from the shore in the same hole, with the same pattern, at the same time as a brand new fly fisherman. He caught dozens to our few. In a drift boat, you are “drifting” at the speed of the current, for extended stretches of the river. You’ll cover more river, be in front of more fish, with near perfect presentation. Of course you're going to catch more fish! You don’t need to buy a drift boat to get into fly fishing. In fact, drift boaters still have to mend - just not as often.

The purpose of the mend is to achieve a “dead drift” / “drag free drift”. You’ll hear these terms often and can use them interchangeably. A drag free drift in dry fly fishing means that the fly does not drag against the water’s surface. In nymphing, it is letting the nymph freely flow, without tension from the fly line, allowing it to get to optimal depth and speed. These are the natural ways the fish are used to seeing their food, and if you’re going to have luck catching them, you’ll need to present it this way.

How Do I Mend?

First things first, before casting, observe the different currents and position yourself accordingly. A good rule to keep in mind is “only mend when you have to”. If you can’t get close enough, then mend. This is usually determined by the accessibility of the water (how deep/fast the water is), and the spookiness of the fish.

If you are unsure of how your fly line is going to react with the currents of the river, there is only one way to find out for sure! Give it a cast, and see what happens. Then mend accordingly.

up/downstream mend

Situation: You will need to mend in nearly every scenario you face as a fly fisherman. Rivers are seldom ever a single current/speed.

key points to understand

Reverse the Curve: When the fly line starts dragging your flies, mend “upstream”, or “downstream”. Remember, you are trying to achieve a “drag free drift”, not just mend to mend. About 90% of the time you will mend upstream; however, there will be times where the water is slower and a downstream mend will help get the flies pace up to the current speed.

Raise the Rod Vertically Before Horizontally: Most fly fisherman mend. Most don’t do it correctly. The biggest mistake we see is going straight for the horizontal movement. Your fly line is fused to the water’s surface. You’ll have to exert more force, get less line upstream/downstream, and likely jerk your fly in the process. To counteract, MOVE VERTICALLY, THEN HORIZONTALLY. Getting your fly line into the air before you move it horizontally will be an effortless way to get you a drag free drift without disturbing the fly. ⁣

high stick mend

Situation: Any time you can get close to the hole. This technique will allow you to have a near, perfect drag free drift because your fly line will hardly make contact with the water’s surface.

key points to understand

Rod High in the Air: It’s a very simple, yet effective way to achieve a dead drift. Keep the rod tip in the air, and minimize the amount of fly line that touches the water. Follow your fly with the tip as it goes down current. If you’re in a small river, and can get close to the fish without spooking them, you should be using the high stick more times than not. You only mend when you have to.

Stack mend

Situation: This is very similar to a standard upstream/downstream mend, but requires some added skill. If learned, the main benefit is that you’ll be able to mend even more line upstream/downstream than a standard mend. Useful in any situation where there are 2 or more currents present.

key points to understand

1/2 Roll Cast: Start by having some slack line ready for use. Raise your rod vertically in the air to move the fly line off the water’s surface. 1⁄2 power a roll cast shooting your slack line upstream. Repeat as needed.