Major Solutions to Minor Problems

A Series

Many times in our angling anguish when we are feeling most dis-heartened, and are at the height of our frustration with our performance, we finally throw our hands up in despair and curse the fishing gods, our gear, ourselves, our dumb awful luck or occasionally and at times justifiably…our guide.  We are subject to looking for Major Solutions to Minor Problems, but many times it is something very small that we can easily correct that will turn our day around.  You the reader may not have this issue but I have seen it happen in many a client, fishing parter, and myself.  I've blamed, and seen blamed, everything from the angler just upstream, to the very alignment of the moon and the stars.  While on the rare occasion these may in fact be the culprit, most days the universe is not conspiring against us and what is really wrong is a minor movement, misunderstanding, or misplacement that when corrected can turn a slow day into a salvageable one, if not a phenomenal one.  In this series I'll be covering some of the many minor fly fishing related problems that I see everyday in both other anglers and myself.  I will be mentioning some of you (though certainly not by name) but many times reflecting on my own fishing when I had those days of it all finally clicking and the scales falling from my eyes to reveal what I had been doing wrong for so long. 

Everyone fishes correctly different.

Everyone fishes wrong the same.  

Part 2 The Mend

In Part 1 we covered the hook set which, as stated before, is where many anglers struggle, and happens at the most crucial moment.  In this part we will discuss another crucial moment where we struggle and simply need to rethink, reset, or make a minor adjustment to get past this sometimes frustrating and confusing move.  

Let’s first begin with a few simple questions. 






And finally how?

Any good detective will tell you that this is the method to solve any mystery.  

The answer to Who is pretty easy.  Who needs to mend?  We all do.  Mending is fishing.

What is mending?  What is a mend?

Webster’s dictionary defines as such:

verb (used with object)

1. to make (something broken, worn, torn, or otherwise damaged)whole, sound, or usable by repairing:

to mend old clothes; to mend a broken toy.

2. to remove or correct defects or errors in.

3. to set right; make better; improve: to mend matters.

verb (used without object)

4. to progress toward recovery, as a sick person.

5. (of broken bones) to grow back together; knit.

6. to improve, as conditions or affairs.


7.the act of mending; repair or improvement.

Mending is repairing or recovery and what one repairs or recovers is a damaged, disturbed, defective, or incorrect DRIFT.

The need to mend may happen on the water or in the air depending on the situation.  For now lets stick with on the water, as mending is the air is more a topic for an article on casting. 

Why mend?  

When you cast your flies into the water your fishing has just begun.  For a fish to take a fly, the fly must not only imitate the form of the food, but also the behavior of the food form.  Ill say that again.  For a fish to take a fly, the fly must not only imitate the form of the food, but also the behavior of the food form. 

A river has many different conflicting currents.  Water does not flow uniformly down stream.  When we look at a river we see this in broken lines and faster and slower currents.  This is a giant tangled mess that we must learn to “read,” and there will be a future article on “reading water,” but for now lets keep this simple.  When we observe a river the water is generally flowing the fastest in the middle.  The slower water will be found on the banks.  Obstructions within the river will act as little banks, but for the most part, the water is fast in the middle and slow on the sides. This is due to resistance to the downhill flow of water from the banks.  Water is made up of polar molecules.  That is to say that a molecule of water has both a positive and a negative side.  It likes to adhere to other objects as well as itself. (Keep this property of water in mind as it will come into play later on.)  When water encounters an object in the river, such as the bank, it slows and doubles back on itself.  Where the full weight of the water rushes by unobstructed, as in the middle of the river, the bottom is eroded and a deep slot can begin to form.  This further funnels the weight of the water into a narrow channel and increases its flow in a feedback loop until something in the stream bed changes.  

This fast rushing water contributes to the helplessness of the food riverine fish feed upon.  A drifting insect, arthropod, or wounded bait fish will find itself caught is this ripping flow struggling to reach calmer water.  The calm water is on the bank.  The fish is on that line between fast and slow water.  It is waiting for one of those food forms to come tumbling by.  

Now that we understand that water is slow on the bank and fast in the middle, and why, lets move into the third dimension. Just like us, trout, smallmouth, and other riverine fish, do not live in a two dimensional world.  Current (the buffet line for riverine fish) also does not exist in two dimensions. If you are a dry fly fisherman then yes, you are operating on two dimensions only.  However, if you are nymph fishing you must also consider the current in the up and down as well as the across.  Since we know that water is slow on the sides and fast in the middle due to resistance from the bank we can deduct that due to resistance from the bottom, that water is fast at the top and slow at the bottom.  The bottom is another place a riverine fish will sit to stay out of current and in a position to intercept its food. 

Armed with this knowledge imagine you have cast a nymph rig or a dry dropper rig across the current to the softer water on the other side.  Two forces are acting on your fly and line.  The fast current in the middle begins to quickly form a downstream belly in your line and the fast current on top is keeping your nymphs from sinking.  If we reverse this belly, by placing the line upstream of our indicator or our dry fly, our nymphs are now falling through the water column and are being pushed to the bottom of the river.  Provided you have allowed the rig enough line to reach the bottom, or a proper depth, the flies are now in the zone where the fish are feeding.  

When you moved the line to create a belly upstream of your indicator or dry fly you performed a mend, and you are likely to get an eat.  

That seems simple enough but as I’m sure you the reader have guessed by now there is more to consider.  Much more. 

We understand the two dimensional aspect of dry flies on top and the differences in current from bank to bank.  We understand the third dimension of nymph fishing, getting the flies to fall through the water column and get down to the fish.  Now lets discuss the fourth dimension which is of course time.  

If you are nymph fishing your flies much reach the place that you have determined a fish is holding not only at the correct depth but at the correct time.  Timing brings two things into play.  Neither of which can be easily explained here.  There is somewhere, I’m sure, a complex equation that would answer all of this. But with many things in nature that are explained by complex calculations we can usually perform these task more effectively with art rather than science.  That is to say, our wonderful mathematical machine of a mind can learn to “feel out” things like timing and when to mend or not to mend, or how far to cast upstream so that our flies have time to fall. The most I can say here is that when fishing with a guide many of us get into the rut of waiting on the guide to tell us when to mend, when to set the hook, etc.  This is good for the first bit of a trip when you are learning, but the guide should see at some point that you have begun to feel this out for yourself and move on to another angler, or into the bushes on the bank, allowing you to fish and forget that the guide is even there.  

One more note on timing before we move on: this is where weighted flies and split shot come into play.  In a fly rig there is usually not enough weight to get the flies to the bottom and keep them there.  The purpose of weight is to slow the drift down so that the flies have time to fall on their own and you have time to make your mends.  Again, how much and where on the leader is a product of experience. Experience will allow you to be able to feel out the required amount according to your ability to mend properly, on time, how fast the current is moving, and how aggressive the fish are at the moment.  This is really the part that your guide is, or should be, doing.  This is why he/she is there.  He/She has the on the water experience to make those minor adjustments and be better at feeling out a run, how far the fish are moving to eat, and how well you are performing at the moment with your mends, casts, and drifts.  


Now for how.

For all the bloviating paragraphs above if the mend was not performed correctly none of it matters.  The concepts previously discussed are wonderful to know but useless to us if we are mending incorrectly.

Everyone fishes correctly different.  Everyone fishes wrong the same. 

So lets discuss common errors when making a mend.  The most common error that I have seen is too much movement, and when I say movement I mean the rod.  Everything comes back to the rod.  In Part 1 we discussed the importance of rod position in setting the hook .   Again the rod comes into play here and its position when mending makes all the difference.  Remember when we talked about the properties of water and how it likes to adhere to things?  That includes your fly line and leader.  When making a mend we must have the rod on the opposite side we are mending to.  If we are to mend upstream the rod must be downstream of our rig, and if we are to mend downstream the rod must be upstream of our rig.  If we are nymph fishing or dry dropper fishing we want the rod downstream of the rig anyway, so that we can set the hook.  We must also lift the rod before the mend to break the adhesion of the water to the line. We must lift the entire rod keeping it in a flat position, parallel to the water. We must not lift the tip of the rod by breaking the wrist, as this will move the flies away from the fish and not allow us to properly set the hook. Most modern fly lines come with an initial coating that helps reduce the ability of the water to adhere to the line and your lines should be cleaned and well dressed to keep this coating up.  Another product I like, but line manufactures sometimes do not recommend, is Mucilin.  It helps greatly to reduce water adherence to the line, but is still no substitute for proper technique. 

When we mend the rod should not move upstream of our rig.  I’ve seen many a fisherman mend with the entire rod only to have a fish eat just after the mend.  This of course usually does not work out as the rod is now upstream of the fish and the reaction is to set the hook upstream resulting in a momentary hook and a quick release. 

NOTE: You will get a lot of eats just after the mend when the flies fall into the strike zone.  You want to be ready for this. 

Mending is performed with the tip of the rod.  After the rod is lifted to break the adhesion of the water, the line is “kicked” up stream with a quick flick of the rod tip.  The rod does not move upstream of the rig, only the line moves upstream.  This is quick, effective, and allows the angler to be in a position to set the hook should a fish decide to eat. I have even taken to saying the words “kick it” rather than “mend” as it seems to convey to the client more clearly what is required. 

Try this “kick mend” next time you are on the river.  Or go down to a local pond and practice moving line around without moving the indicator by kicking it around with the tip of the rod.  

For tight line nymphing, with or without an indicator, we will move back into the second dimension and turn the plane on its side.  From there we will learn to be a one dimensional fisherman and pick out a line.  This is where “reading water” comes into play.  More on that later and thanks for reading.