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.