Drift 'n Drag - Work with it not against it
By Chris Chinn
Drift & drag – Mending the fly line
When I first started out fly fishing, a typical
salutation from many was "tight lines!"
I was a bit confused at that time (well, I often
still am today,...) as I found that as soon as
the line between me and the fly was 'tight,' the
fly would drag. Drag, that being, not dead
drifting with the current in an utterly
I learned most of my bad fly fishing habits all
by myself casting from the shores of the Blackwater
River in Central BC (while working summers in one
of the worst logging camps in the Province). As
the public library in Quesnel had very few books
on fly fishing, one of the only ones I could find
was on dry fly fishing. Classic stuff,...It was
very well written,...However, the problem was I
thought that was the only way to fly fish,...and
having no one of experience around to show me the
errors of my ways, I grew more and more frustrated.
Evening after evening I tried to get that #14 elk
hair to drift dead. Couldn't do it. Worse, I would
see nice 'Bows charging up from the depths only
to turn away at the last instant in a splashy
refusal. I made a decision that has since helped
me on many occasions. I figured that the guy who
wrote the book knew what he was about,...note taken,
but just maybe, maybe,...he had never fished for
Rainbows on the Blackwater. Let's try something
Of course the only flies I had in my little match
box were dries, so I decided to skitter 'n skate
them about on a high stick. Worked like a charm.
Then I got to trying to skate the fly farther out
in the run. Hmmmm, how to do that. Well, I started
USING the drag to get the fly to do what I wanted.
And voilà, my journey began.
Since I'm no good at eliminating drag, I learned
to use it. Later, the line mending I learned helped
me to get reasonably drag free drifts on dries too.
Mending (for me) is throwing a curve into the fly
line (either upstream or downstream to make the
line react to the current in an appropriate manner
(and thus, the fly).
Sounds more difficult than it really is. Let's
imagine we're standing on a perfect run, even
flow of uniform current running from the right
to left. You want to dead drift a fly over a
lie 45 feet out in the middle.
We all know from (unpleasant) experiences that
if we cast slightly straight away to the lie
(say 5 degrees), that by the time the fly
passes the 'target,' it'll be swimming it's
way TOWARDS us as the line gets 'bowed' downstream
by the current. Its even worse when the lie is
in a pocket of water and there is current between
you and it.
Mending is simply looping a 'belly' of line
UPSTREAM so the fly can drift 'freely' for a
few moments (or instants) while the belly gets
pulled downstream by the current. I do this
with a flick of the wrist which transmits out
the end of the rod and forms a belly of about
2-6 feet in the middle of the line (Another
reason I like using DT lines over WF ones).
When everything is right, Jupiter lines up on
Mars and the full moon has passed 72 hours
earlier, the mend gets eaten up, I pull in
the slack at the same time, the fly passes
over the lie the same instant that the line
becomes perfectly straight, the trout rises
out of it's lair and I can set the hook
correctly as there is no slack in the line.
In the photo above, Renee has mended her line twice
to get it to drift to the right spot and her
line is straight as it passes over the noses
of two 20 lb salmon lazing amongst the rocks.
That's mending for dries. Since I'm not very
good at that, I'll usually revert back to wets,
streamers and such. How does drag affect these
The drag on the line will make the fly cut across
the current and (hopefully) through the kill zone
of a fish. Depending on the intensity of the drag,
the fly will "swim" faster or slower through the
water. Ever see a trout follow your fly all afternoon
and not take? I have.
To incite the fish to take, especially in "normal"
flows, I like to make the fly swim faster
than it would on a traditional streamer swing.
Most of the time, I will want the fly to
swing a bit faster than if I'd simply laid
out a normal swing. One can do this by
casting farther upstream and letting the
line belly downstream more before the fly
gets to the prospective lie. OR,...you can
mend a belly DOWNSTREAM in the line to get
the same reaction faster.
A traditional streamer swing is when we cast
across and down stream about 45 degrees, the
fly will carve an arc through the water back
to the bank. You take 2 steps downstream and
do it again. Standard classic Atlantic Salmon
strategy. One can efficiently and systematically
cover a run this way.
This is a lot of help...like when you're
bombing the banks from a drift boat, the
guide's yelling out targets, you're trying
to line up the next shot, but your fly still
hasn't had time to get to the first one. By
working the mends and mastering line control,
you can make shorter drifts do what you want
them to do.
In low water conditions on those post card
sunny days, I'll mend upstream to slow down
the fly and let the fish see the fly a very
long time. In my limited experience, this 'in
your face' tactic of stalling the wet fly in
the fish's face can provoke a strike.
Controlling the speed of the swing is crucial
when the target is Salmo salar (IMHO). When
I'm guiding, I'll usually be downstream from
the angler, watching the fly and the fish,
trying to see reactions (or not). Before
heading out, we'll straighten out communication.
There many other tricks we can use to fish
a fly using mends and drag.
- If I want the fly to "trot," that
means, do that same cast again, but mend
downstream a tad.
- If I say "hurry up," that means point
the rod tip UPSTREAM to accelerate the fly
- "Whoa," means point downstream to stall
the fly (or slow it down),...usually just as
it gets on the salmon's nose.
- Finally, "strip" means pull in about
two feet of line as the swing is progressing,
...This will give even more acceleration to
One favorite is to use a sinking tip on a
woolly bugger (no bead please). On the release,
I'll mend a good shot upstream. As the fly sinks
and gets to some depth, the mend will only start
to be eaten up by the current. Just as the fly
gets to a lie, the mend is no longer efficient,
the line tightens, the fly heels in, changes
slightly direction and swims UP in the water
column. Great for slow moving runs (or faster
Line mending is one of the fun parts of fly
fishing. That is to say, I feel I'm no longer
just "standing in a river waving a stick."
Mending to get the fly to do what you want
is Fly Fishing.
Tight Lines. ~ Christopher Chin – Jonquiere Quebec
Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops,
British Columbia. He has been fly fishing
on and off ever since he was 10 years old.
Chris became serious about the sport within
the last 10 years.
"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time
guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in
central Quebec. I've been fishing this river
for about 10 years now and started guiding
about 5 years ago when the local guide's
association sort of stopped functioning."
Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout
and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon.
"I often don't even charge service fees, as
I'm more interested in promoting the river
than making cash. I like to get new comers
to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for
anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around
here makes some of the old clan see Salmon
fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our
shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich
side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack
Chris is 42 years old as of this writing. He
is of Chinese origin although his parents were
born and raised in Jamaica. He has a girlfriend,
Renée. "She and her 12 year old son Vincent
started fly fishing with me last October 2002."
To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River,
~ Christopher Chin
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