On the mend
Holding onto the top of the boulder with one hand and balancing my fly rod in another, my eyes lit upon three unsuspecting brook trout. Native brook trout in the high mountains, late in the summer held motionless in the deepest part of a shallow run. Without revealing my position, my tippet and nymph dropped into the mountain water above the fish. Holding my arm steady as possible, the water worked my nymph like an unsuspecting bug, much to the delight of the three brookies.
Each racing one another to the potential meal, I knew holding as steady as possible was required so as to not spook the fish until the moment my indicator disappeared.
Fly fishing – the graceful art form in the sport we call fishing. Romantic scenes of clear, spring-fed creeks holding vibrantly colored fish play in our heads. Many see the art form, the romance and the reward, but misunderstand the importance of presentation.
After a childhood of struggling to consistently connect with these stream beauties on the fly, I finally was taught why my presentations were subpar and how I could mend my problem – literally.
Regardless if you fly fish every day or just a few days each spring or summer, you want to make any time on the stream count and catch fish to make the effort and investment in gear worth the trouble. I was continually frustrated in previous years with my lack of catching fish. After a guided fly fishing trip in the greenest state in the land of the free, I understood what mending the line was, why it is important, and its simplicity.
Think about how natural food cruises along the bottom of a waterway. Especially when cold temperatures and crystal clear water bring a different set of cards to the table, presenting your fly or bait in the most natural form possible is the centerpiece of success. Looking back on my childhood, I never understood how unnatural my presentations looked to a fish since I was not mending the line. Essentially, my baits and flies had extra drag from my leader inhibiting the bait's ability to freely bounce along the bottom. A fly fishing guide in Wyoming once told me, "You wouldn't eat a burger with a rope sticking out from it, would you? Same with the fish; if they see or sense anything unnatural in your presentation it's just like having a giant rope sticking out of your food." The way I fished, I was putting extra drag on my line. Specifically, through making a cast and holding the extra line down, my baits were floating cross stream in an unnatural half circle.
Mending the line is a simple technique which allows your bait to bounce in a free and uninhibited motion through the water. My guide taught me these three steps.
1) Make the cast
2) Strip extra line from your reel
3) By flicking your rod, feed the extra line into the water.
4) Like a small roll cast,”mend” your extra line above that which is already in the water. This allows your flies to continue floating straight, without drag.
Keeping the line straight is the key to this operation for the maximum natural presentation below the surface. This is not just a one-time mend per cast; continue to mend the line until the entire drift is complete. Learning to mend properly does not take much effort to master. In one afternoon of guidance, three of us were mending the line perfectly and landing trout consistently.
While practice makes perfect, I also suggest watching tutorial videos on YouTube to pick up on timing and mechanics.
We know trout can be finicky creatures. Some days they can have the appetite of a lion, and others resemble a toddler defiantly refusing to eat. Learning to mend the line is worth the time because if you don't you could spend years casting for nothing.