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Fundamentals of a distance or ‘big’ mend

By Fred Steynberg

In many instances whilst fly fishing upstream with a nymph, drag sets in, causing fish, especially the larger and wiser, to refuse the imitation.  The refusal is due to the unnatural appearance of the fly which in turn is caused by the imitation drifting faster than the speed of the current.  Situations such as this can often be seen in clear water where sight fishing is possible.  It is difficult for many fly fishermen to grasp the concept of a drag free drift because many retrieve flies in still waters or downstream on rivers.  Upstream nymphing is a pure and exciting way to fish for yellow fish and trout and if done correctly will result in a far more productive technique than any other.  Over many years of guiding I have seen that even experienced fly fishermen still battle with drag even though they may not know it.  I hope to bring about a clearer understanding of drag in this article.

A very important tool in preventing drag is by mending the line away from problem currants while it is drifting on the water.  Many fly fishers misunderstand the technique of mending, further aggravating the situation. Basic mending is executed when the line is moved in a lifting or rolling action of the rod tip.  The problem here is that anglers often only use the rod hand to execute this action and this results in an incorrect or insufficient loop created on the water, which will only suffice for a short period of the drift. This problem is accentuated when big mends need to be made all the way to the strike indicator.

A correct mend from the start should be executed by using both the rod and line hand (casting and non-casting hand).  As the casting hand starts to lift to begin the mend roll the non-casting hand should move away from the casting hand, parting the two hands. This movement creates line speed and at the same time collects excess slack line off the water surface, placing more tension on the line.  It is also very important to move the casting hand in a forward movement away from the body, to help the process of picking the line up from the water before the mend is executed.  This action should enable the angler to mend the line all the way to the leader/strike indicator if necessary.  It is of primary importance for an angler to understand that if the non-casting hand is stagnant during a mending process it will result in an inferior mend or insufficient mend. Incorrect mending methods can result in the line being pulled backwards, moving the fly away from the strike zone and also not mending the drag.  It is imperative to understand that when one makes lengthly mends to counter drag, that all the line should be lifted off the water and replaced.

For the whole mending process to function optimally it is important that the floating line and part of the leader, all the way to the strike indicator, floats.  If any of the above mentioned parts do not float and the mend needs to extend the length of the fly line, micro drag may set in and the mend would be ineffective.  A big mend is often effected to curb a conflicting current between the tip of the fly line and the thicker section of the leader.  It is important to execute the roll mend in the said manner and if practiced one will find it possible to mend all the way up to the strike indicator without moving the fly out of the strike zone.

I often find that in turbulent waters, my client’s lines sink causing the mend to be affected because the roll of the mend cannot lift the tip of the floating line and leader up to the strike indicator from the water.  A quick fix for this problem is to silicon (dry fly floatant) the tip of the fly line (last 4 or 5 feet) as well as the thicker section of the leader all the way to the strike indicator.  This is done by simply squeezing a little dry fly floatant between the thumb and forefinger of the application hand and running the line through it a couple of times.  The silicon eventually washes off after numerous presentations but can just be treated again.

Off-stream I try to clean and treat my floating line as often as possible to prevent the tip from sinking while fishing, although strong intermingling or turbulent currents can still force a well treated line below the surface. If this happens, it may be a good option to shorten the cast or to use the ‘high sticking’ technique so as to have less line on the water.

Process of an effective mend

As the casting hand lifts for the roll action of the mend, it should push forward and away from the angler.  The line hand or non casting hand pulls the line backwards through the line guides in one movement (as in a cast).

The backwards movement of the line hand allows the angler to stay in contact with the line which has been retrieved by the forward movement of the rod hand.  It is imperative that there is no ‘slack’ line between the line hand and rod or between the rod tip and water when the roll or lift of the mend is done.  When the rod hand reaches the most forward position the tip of the rod should be rolled up and around to the left or right depending on the desired position. This is a singular, fluent movement.  A big or distance mend cannot be done by using a wrist action to flick the rod tip into a roll.  This action will suffice for smaller mends, closer to the angler.  To effectively execute a big or distance mend, the rod hand should move forward, up and round, forming a large ‘O’.  The diameter of the ‘O’ being anything from a foot to a foot and a half.

It is quite an art to achieve the perfect mend, but with practice results will be achieved.  Many may view drag as of little importance and that fish are caught irrespective of the drag factor.  This will and can happen especially in instances where there are high quantities of fish in a river system. The chances of fooling a competing, opportunistic fish can be high.  In some larger river systems where large rocks and structures cause intermingling currents, and where various speeds of the currents occur at different levels in the water column, floating lines or strike indicators can then appear to be dragging the nymph below, but because the nymph is drifting in a different current in the water column it could be drifting drag-free.

This occurrence often fools the angler into thinking that fish, when upstream nymphing, don’t mind drag on the imitations.

Sawfly Wasp

Sawfly Wasp

Originator:  Fred Steynberg

Tied by:  Fred Steynberg

Hook:  # 18 – 16 dry fly

Thread:  # 10/0 – 12/0 light brown/golden yellow

Body:  Super fine dry fly dubbing FL chartreuse or pale yellow

Wing:  Medallion clear or flashback pearl (cut from sheet)

Hackle:  Light to golden brown



Sawfly wasp that can be found around streams and rivers in the Eastern Cape (South Africa) where willow trees are present.

Fishing method:

Fished as a dry fly with long leader and light 6X tippet to selective yellow fish and trout, especially under overhanging willow trees in summer.

Sawfly Larva

Sawfly Larva

Tied by:  Fred Steynberg

Hook:  # 16 – 14 thin wire sedge/caddis hook

Thread:  7/0 or 8/0 Chartreuse

Body:  Micro chenille, chartreuse



The larva stage of the sawfly that feeds on the leaves of the crack and weeping willow trees.

Fishing method:

Fished to rising fish under overhanging willow branches if larva are seen dropping into the water.

Fished greased as a ‘dryfly’ or in tandem behind a control fly as a submerged/sunken larva.

For use:

When sawfly larvae are present in willows trees that overhang the river, during summer in the Eastern Cape (South Africa).

Line control between fishing spots

Line control between fishing spots

Fred explains how to effectively control the line between fishing spots.

PVC Wing Spinner

PVC Wing Spinner

Originator:  Fred Steynberg

Tied by:  Fred Steynberg

(High floating spinner tied with a difference)

Thread:  8/0 or 70 black or brown

Hook:  # 14 – 16 thin wire sedge or dry fly hook

Tail:  Coq de leon cape fibres

Egg sack:  fine waterproof dry fly dubbing – yellow or pale yellow

Abdomen:  fine waterproof dry fly dubbing – grey, tan

Thorax:  CDC dubbing, black and tan mix

Legs:  Thin black or brown rubber – tentacles #1


Imitates:  Egg laying or trapped mayfly spinner.

For use:  Trout and yellowfish in rivers and streams.

Fishing method:  Dead drift when fish are rising for egg laying, spent or trapped spinners.


Beat/Farm: Clefthill

River: Lower Bokspruit

Owner:  Ronnie Small

Where to purchase ticket: Permits from info centre in Rhodes @ R150.00 per rod per day or R100 per rod for half day.

Restrictions:  Fly fishing only and strictly catch-and-release.

Access:  A high clearance vehicle is recommended for the road to Clefthill.


  • No dogs allowed
  • No littering
  • Keep gates closed
  • No fires
  • Place permit on vehicle dashboard for inspection

Scroll down for more information and a short video of Clefthill.

Target species:  Smallmouth yellowfish and rainbow trout.

Best season:  Smallmouth yellowfish best from October to March and rainbow trout best from September to May.

Suggested tackle:

Rods:  2 – 4 WT rods and floating lines

Leaders:  9’, 4X – 5X tapered

Tippet:  6X – 5X

Dry Flies: Beetles, Sawfly larva and wasp, Parachute Adams and RAB, hoppers etc.

Nymphs:  GHRE, flashback nymphs, PTN’s, Golden stonefly, Zak’s etc.

Suggested fishing method: Upstream dead-drifting.

PVC Wing Cricket

PVC Wing Cricket

Hook: 10-12 Terrestrial

Thread: 8/0 Black

Abdomen: Foam cylinder 3/32″-1/8″

Wing 1: 4+ Strands of black or pearl crystal flash

Wing 2: PVC packing foam

Wing 3: Stacked black deer hair

Thorax: Black squirrel dubbing

Legs: Black round rubber

Tag: Orange foam

Olive Full-Back Nymph

Olive Full-Back Nymph

Hook: 16-14 Nymph

Thread: 8/0 or 70 Dark olive

Ribbing: Medium copper wire

Back: Olive or light olive scudback

Dubbing: Olive squirrel

Weight: 0.15″ Lead wire

Tail: 6-8 Pheasant tail fibres

Wingcase: Black marker



Fred fishes with and reviews the SAGE 1, 2WT fly rod.

South African stonefly nymph imitations

By Fred Steynberg and Mario Du Preez

May flies, and to a lesser extent caddis flies, have over the years dominated the attention of fly dressers in South Africa – maybe sometimes disproportionately so. Stomach pumping exercises performed on trout caught inhabiting the fast flowing waters of the North Eastern Cape, as well as regular seine netting, have confirmed, at least in the minds of the authors, the importance of stoneflies in the diet of trout in these river systems. Dave Whitlock (see Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods) , for example, argues that the “… stonefly’s life cycle, habitat, and size make it highly compatible to fly-fishing and fly-tying … maybe even more so than the mayfly.” Careful scrutiny of local literature on fly tying has, however, revealed a paucity of South Africa-specific stonefly nymph imitations. This article presents a short overview of the stonefly life cycle, the stonefly nymph anatomy, the most important families of stoneflies found in South Africa, and a description of the materials required and tying procedure for an impressionistic, South Africa-specific, stonefly nymph imitation.

The Latin name for the stonefly is Plecoptera. The latter is broken up into pleco, which means “folded”, and ptera, which means “wings”. The “folded wings”-description refers to a unique physical characteristic present during the adult stage in the stonefly’s life cycle.(i.e. there is no pupal stage), and consists of three distinct phases, namely the egg stage, the nymph stage, and the adult stage. Unlike mayflies, stoneflies hatch all year-round. Hatching, however, occurs mostly during the night, and as such adult stoneflies and their imitations are of little importance to the fly fisherman in South Africa.

Stonefly nymphs live on the sides and undersides of stream-bottom structures, such as boulders, stones and plant detritus, in swift-flowing mountain and coastal streams and rivers. Stoneflies require unpolluted and swift flowing water with high oxygen content, and for this reason they are often used as an indicator of the relative water quality of a stream or river. Their conspicuous absence from a fast flowing stream or river is a strong indicator of compromised water quality. Stoneflies are seldom, if ever, found in stationary water (i.e. dams or other water impoundments) or very slow moving water – the reason for this absence is the limited level of adaptation of the stonefly’s breathing apparatus to changing water conditions.

Due to their limited ability to adapt to varying habitats in comparison to, for example, mayfly nymphs, the nymphs of the different families of stonefly show marginal variation in shape. This almost uniformity in shape across different families makes it easy to distinguish between a mayfly nymph and stonefly nymph. More specifically, the stonefly nymph exhibits the following physical characteristics: The body consists of 1) a head with two long antennae, 2) a clearly segmented thorax with three legs on each side, two well-defined wing pads on top and feathery gills situated on the bottom and between the six legs, 3) and an abdomen consisting of ten clearly defined segments, and two well defined tails on the final segment – gills are also found between the two tails.

Stonefly nymphs are easily confused with mayfly nymphs. The former, however, have large, feathery gills under the thorax and between their legs, whereas the gills of the mayfly are situated on the segments comprising the abdomen.  Stonefly nymphs have two sets of wing pads compared to the mayfly nymph, which has one set only. Moreover, stoneflies have two tails instead of the three found on most mayflies.

The two Stonefly families found in South African waters are the Perlidae family and the Notonemouridae family. The large and robust body of the nymphs of the Perlidae family is approximately 20 to 25mm long, with black and yellow or dark brown on their backs. The upper body is clearly segmented and the two antennae on the head and the two tails on the last segment of the abdomen are highly visible. The photograph below shows a Perlidae stonefly nymph.

The nymphs of the Notonemouridae family, on the other hand, are small with a body length of between 5 and 8 mm. The body colour of these nymphs is generally a dull grey or brown.

The two stonefly nymph imitations shown in the photograph above are fairly similar, the one tied in a realistic manner and the other impressionistic. They require the following materials:

Realistic Pattern:

  • Hook: curved stonefly hook # 14 to 8
  • Weight: 10 to 15 turns of 0.015 mm lead wire
  • Tail and antennae: X2 Cane rat skin fibres
  • Abdomen: Golden rabbit dubbing or similar
  • Back: Clear thin-skin back
  • Ribbing: 4X monofilament
  • Thorax: Golden rabbit dubbing
  • Wing case: Light brown thin-skin mottled with black or dark brown marker pen
  • Legs: Ring neck pheasant tail fibres


Impressionistic Pattern:

  • Hook: curved stonefly hook #14 to 8, or long shank nymph hook
  • Weight: 10 to 15 turns of 0.015 mm lead wire
  • Tail and antennae: X2 Cane rat skin fibres
  • Abdomen: Golden rabbit dubbing or similar
  • Back: N/A
  • Ribbing: Ultra wire copper
  • Thorax: Golden rabbit dubbing
  • Wing case: Golden pheasant tail fibres or mottled turkey fibres
  • Legs: Brush out dubbing with dubbing brush

These imitations should be fished in the cushioned boundary layer just above the stream bottom. Furthermore, both patterns are best fished in a drag free drift. The realistic pattern should work well in medium clear water current and the impressionistic pattern will suffice in fast currents where fish have little time examining the fly.