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Mending short head spey lines

6410 Views 32 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  L A Smithers
Some time ago we discussed and perhaps failed to resolve the dilema of mending short heavy head spey lines without pulling on the fly and causing it to lift in the water column.
It is always difficult to know what has happened ,because we are unable to see the behaviour of the fly to know whether it is lifting or not.
I believe that when we try to mend a heavy head with a light running line we inevitably create tension in the line causing the fly to rise.Indeed I know no other way except by creating tension we can lift a heavier object with a lighter line. I know that Per for example disagrees with me on this and is sure that he can mend such a line without tension.
I suggest that the most practical way to determine whether the line is pulled or not is to use a floating fly ,perhaps a Mirimachi Bomber and having cast straight across stream with a windcutter or similar line attempt to make a mend with fully lifts the heavy head down to the leader;and to watch the fly carefully .If ripples occur around the fly it is a sure indication that tension was applied to the line and the fly was drawn forward. If it had been a sunken fly it would have risen in the water possibly taking it out of the strike zone.
How about it Per tell me what you see when you try this.
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Mending with heavy heads

Bud, Maybe the question shouldn't be is the fly lifted in the water column or not when mending a short heavy head, but should be, does it really matter. I'm pretty sure that Per, Dana, and lots of other people that fish with heads catch their fair share of steelhead so it would seem that the fish (some at least) don't seem to care.
Your right MJC The ultimate answer is catching fish. However if you choose your water with care you can catch fish on a pulled fly even though it is rising. Tailouts are a good example the water is shallow and current is usually slack fish will rise even to a waked fly so you can mend if you need to and pull the fly and you will still catch fish. The same is true of deep slackwater pools the current ids often negligable so the fly rises very little even when you strip retrieve. Indeed the fly has very little action if it is not stripped.
There are also long drifts with very even current in which there is no need to mend ,if you simply lead the fly with the rod tip it will stay deep and swing slowly.and you will catch fish.
You can also take your share of fish by casting upstream ,getting a deep drift and by using a long rod and taking in all the slack as the fly comes downstream you will take fish .
The water I am baffled about are those 8 foot deep drifts with 4 foot per second current and mixed current patterns that require serious line mending.
all sound advice will be appreciated.
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Bud. I agree with MJC, whether the fly is pulled on the mend or not is a moot point. The purpose of the mend in steelhead fishing is to turn the fly and set the depth of the drift. This is done immediately after the line settles onto the water, at this point a moving fly during a vigourous mend is irrelevent. The point is to set the rest of the drift not to in the perfect fishing position during the mend.

In most fishing situations the mend should be done only once and the fly fished around on the swing. Only occasionly, in complex currents would a secondary mend be called for. If you ask flyfishing guides about the most common fault they see with their guests too frequent mending tops the list.
Yes Kush,
I get so tired of hearing all about mending. I dont even hardly think about it . I do just what you say. I usually cast straight out 90 degrees; give a flick to my rod that sets the line at the correct angle; take 2 stepsdownstream and never mend again. I see so many people overmend; after you set up the angle you can adjust by where you hold the rod and how you follow or lead the drift of the line. It definately cost overmenders many pulls.I also think a lot of people miss pull opportunities by casting to close to a 45 degree angle.It is easier lots of times to make a better looking cast that way and easier for those that think they have to mend out every wrinkle, but it costs them pulls. I fished behind a very good well known caster once who was making nice looking single speys in a high wind situation. as we rotated many time thru this short section I was throwing sloppy singles trying to emulate his good form. however I was throwing 90 degrees ,doing one mend and hooking fish about where his fly was landing on his cast. my fly had already moved 20 ft and was fishing the zone; 5 to 0!!
Last time out I fished Ed Wards 32ft head wth a 10 ft sinktip and a large intruder; did not notice doing any different mends then with my airflo and i had a lot of line out. do one mend as Kush says!!!!
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I`m afraid I have some trouble with Kush`es single mend approach. I agree that one should mend immediately since it provides slack line to sink the fly. However assuming that one feeds about 15 feet of line into that first mend, the faster current speed at the surface will sweep the line down stream of the fly by the time it has dead drifted about 10 feet. One can of course go into the swing at this point however many experts will tell you that you should try to maintain the dead drift untill the fly has reached the 45 degree downstream from you. in order to do this you need to make at least 2 additional mends in which you throw about 15 feet of slack line into the mend.
This is the only way in which you can fish the full length of most slots .
To make a comparison the float fisherman would seldom fish only 15 feet of a slot and then pull his float out of the slot. Taking a leaf from the float fishermans book you need a drift of about 15 feet to get your lure down into the fish zone ,and then you need another 20 feet of dead drift down th slot to get a take.
why should a fly fished off a flyrod be any different.
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One of the reasons why it is difficult to visalize the behaviour of a sunken fly is that many fishermen fail to understand the variations in current speed between the surface and the bottom where their quary lies. We seldom if ever dicuss the vagaries of current and indeed there is very little information on flyfishing lists with regard to this.
As a result of having to study and practise hydrology ,and having had to make many current speed profile measurements I am perhaps more concerned with current effets than most.
Current speed in most good steelhead water at the surface is about 4 to 5 miles per hour or about five to seven feet per second. On average the drift will be about 6 to8 feet in depth and will have a bottom structure varying from coarse gravel to large boulders. Current speed within a foot of the bottom will therefore in all likelihood be from 1 to 2 1/2 mph .
Assuming that your line is being carried along at surface speed and that your fly is within a foot of the bottom your fly is being dragged along at about twice the speed of the water in which it is swimming. Added to this if the belly of the line gets below the fly the tension on the line will pull the fly at aneven faster speed across current.
How does the fish react to this unusual behaviour .He is used to things close to the bottom moving relatively slowly but now he sees this feather thing racng along. maybe he says its a live thing trying to escape i`ll chase it .often he cant even catch up with it untill it finally slows down as the line hangs straight downstream. more often than not he merely says to hell with this its going too fast to be worth catching anyway.
I have always believed that the slower the fly moves the more likely it is to catch a fish . The only way I know of to slow the fly is to mend line throwing it back upstream so it cant drag the fly.
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LA, your point regarding the variation of current speed from bottom to top is well taken. When I began steelhead fly-fishing I spent many a Winter afternoon watching dry-line master Bill McMillan fish his Winter’s Hope fly using a deep wet-fly swing. I remember distinctly that he made several slack mends during the course of the swing until such time the fly came under tension. At that point he would either begin leading the fly or would hold his rod tip back thereby causing the fly to hang momentarily during the deepest part of the swing. That said, I think the use of a fast sinking head somewhat obviates the need to do several mends. The head will pull the fly down without the use of multiple mends. Once the fly is sunk and the line is properly positioned upstream, line tension will slow the fly down and the head will offset somewhat the tendency of the fly to climb up in the water column.

"I know no other way except by creating tension we can lift a heavier object with a lighter line." are you suggesting a lighter object can be moved by a heavier object without creating tension?

I agree that it would be difficult to mend without moving the "cork". However, I believe that 95%+ on the anglers using DT's or long bellied lines would also ripple the surface. Those anglers capable of presenting the fly as required by the run, pools, slot... are going to be th emost successful.
If we agree that rippling the surface causes the fly to raise in the water column with either line system. To fish any fly under any type of tension the fly cannot truely "dead drift". The fly "properly" led still fishes under tension and therefore is "up" in the column. I believe that fishing "in the film" is a very successful method of presenting the fly.

"The water I am baffled about are those 8 foot deep drifts with 4 foot per second current and mixed current patterns that require serious line ending."

Method One, Tie a tampon size float on and call it fly fishing.

Method Two, Long shallow casting angle immediate mend or two after feeding a little line 5-10ft lead fly through swing. I prefer sparse flies tied on heavier iron.

"Current speed in most good steelhead water at the surface is about 4 to 5 miles per hour or about five to seven feet per second."

How does this compare with A/S holding water?

"Assuming that your line is being carried along at surface speed and that your fly is within a foot of the bottom your fly is being dragged along at about twice the speed of the water in which it is swimming."

Assuming the line is being carried at surface speed for the drift of the fly assumes it is not connected to my reel otherwise i will have tension. This tension is cause my line to swing laterally across the flow rather that downstream at the rate of the current (surface).

Unlike Dana, I fish the short belly lines in the winter as I'm not a great caster and am finding tips a bother with the long belly dry lines I prefer.

thanks for the vine!
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Wow, this is starting to become far too complicated. I do this fishing stuff to catch fish - not to worry about fps rates and the angle of the dangle. Mostly, I just chuck it out there and after a while a fish yanks on it. You know for such a simpleton - I catch a suprising number of fish.
Hey Kush: Thats not stricktly true; I`m sure that you are one of fortunate fellows who posess the fishermans sense. I have know quite a few who seem to have the ability to catch fish under any and all circumstances.
It is I think partly a special sense which tells you ,even when you cant see the fish that he is there and that he has takedn your fly without any pull on the line,or even a slowing of the line a telltale giveaway that the fish is there.
it also the distilled experience of much fishing which without analysis or theory allows you to fish effectively.
but pity the rest of us that do not have this extra sense;we must try to disect what is happening and try to make theory do what our senses refuse to do.
good fishing kush
Hi Andre: You make a number of excellent points. I am particularly taken with your method 1 "a tampon sized float" In fact on many fast moving rivers with a narrow fast central channel I find it the easiest and most effective way to fish.
With a good centerpin reel and a long rod I am able to lift light lines out of the water and with minimum drag keep the fly moving down a seam at ideal speed. While I doubt if you will agree I find that good casting with a centerpin is just as challenging as spey casting. I also find that a good 14'double handed rod makes an ideal float fishing rod.
The trick I have found is to build my rods so that I can fish either a flyreel or a centerpin from the same rod;that way i can fish all the water not just the good fly water.
A good example is the graveyard run on the Thompson. All the flyfishers gather shoulder to shoulder at the tailout and march downstream in lockstep , thus leaving the whole half mile of the upper run to guys like me that fish flies from a float and centerpin. When I get to the tailout I merely switch reels and lines and flyfish the bottom of the run.
It pays to be versitile.
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I really try not to think too much while I fish.

While I have never fished a center pin I think they are pretty cool (and almost fly-fishing) and wouldn't mind giving it a shot at sometime. Although, I'm sure I would get lost in the backlash. It would be difficult not to agree with a mono line you can mend in the manner you suggest with little disturbance to the fly (glad you are not fishing bait on the T). You are correct that in long narrow slots it is (IMO) the most effective way to present a fly.

With the FFer's shoulder to shoulder on the graveyard in the tail allows a number of options. If the upper run is plugged as well I will drop in well below the corner and make the long pain-staking trek down the run. Although the frog water is a pain in the ars (w/ a fly) it holds fish. I know I've never followed directly behind you through the run, as I would have asked about your switching gear actually pretty cool and progressive for and old guy (tic).

Anyway, I view fishing and my annual trips to the Thompson as an escape. It's a time for a little conversation on the banks, bull ****, burgers and beers in the pub (with John and Lori telling me to get my foot off the chairs every night), and a little site seeing and picture taking when the sun is hard on the water.
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Andre, If you're gonna start talking about old guys steelheading here is something on the subject. I read it on Mark & Patty's flyfishusa.com newsletter.

The Old Steelhead Fly Fisher
An 80 year old man went to the doctor for a check-up and the doctor was amazed at what good shape the guy was in.

The doctor asked, "To what do you attribute your good health?"

The old timer said, "I'm a steelhead fly fisher and that's why I'm in such good shape. I'm up well before daylight and out chasing steelhead up and down the Sandy River."

The doctor said, "Well, I'm sure that helps, but there's got to be more to it. How old was your dad when he died?" The old timer said, "Who said my dad's dead?"

The doctor said, "You mean you're 80 years old and your dad's still alive? How old is he?"

The old timer said, "He's 100 yrs old and, in fact, he fished steelhead with me this morning, and that's why he's still alive... he's a steelhead fly fisher."

The doctor said, "Well, that's great, but I'm sure there's more to it. How about your dad's dad? How old was he when he died?"

The old timer said, "Who said my grandpa's dead?"

The doctor said, "You mean you're 80 years old and your grandfather's still living! How old is he?"

The old timer said, "He's 118 yrs old."

The doctor was getting frustrated at this point and said, "I guess he went steelhead fly fishing with you this morning too?"

The old timer said, "No... Grandpa couldn't go this morning because he got married."

The Doctor said in amazement, "Got married!! Why would a 118-year-old guy want to get married?"

The old timer said, "Who said he wanted to?"
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Hi Andre: I havent fished the Thompson as much in recent years .I spend more time on the Vedder these days.I`ll be going down next week and will stay for the last month of the winter steelhead.
Fifteen years ago there used to be a great crowd on the Thompson.A lot of guys including Harry Lemire used to gather there. We used to have a big BYOB party down at the Y before the railroad got antsy .
There were a couple of brothers from the states that used to fish in tandem .They used double handers with baitcaster reels and wool flies with a corky. What interested me was that they always cast one after the other in the same seam and almost every time it was the second fly through the seam that caught the fish.
I seemed as though it took the first fly to get the fishes attention and then the second fly he made a grab for.
There was an old guy who was from Oregon who used to be a Tuna Boat captain who fished the graveyard every day .There was a deep small hole just above the tailout and he caught a lot of fish in it.
Jim Green from Fenwick used to be there every fall He was fascinated when I first brought a home built double hander to the river and started spey casting.
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LA that sounds like Gary and Al Hershey from Bellingham. Don't seem to remember a Tuna boat Captin but there were a few boat captins around then!
Like others, I am with Kush.

For those that have the experience and knowledge to understand every side current and back eddy and such and to understand exactly how, where, when etc. to mend based upon that current, that maybe mending is better...

But I (like most) do not fully understand all these variables and I (like most) understand them more than enough (some better than others, most better than myself) to catch fish and properly present a deeply sunk fly. ;)

I generally cast 90 degrees across, throw a strong initial mend to turn the fly around and give the tip and fly time to sink. The excess slack that is pulled out of the cast on my initial mend, is fed into my drift before the swing has begun.

If I am having trouble getting down but am too lazy to switch to a differnt fly or differnt tip, I will throw farther upstream and take a couple steps into my drift to give my tip and fly extra time to sink.

These tactics are based upon experience that does not come close to many many others on this board...so take it with a grain a salt. :)
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Its very interesting to hear how most of you rely on just a single mend to get your fly deep. However usually you will be fishing across a faster current and landing your fly in the slower water of the seam between the fast and the slow.
Obviously the faster current in which the belly of your line is resting will move that part of the line faster than the fly will move.a major bend will develop in your line .Now what do you do do you do just let the line bend or do you throw in another mend to move that belly upstream.if you dont tension will build up in your line and will pull the fly causing it to rise ,possibly out of the fish zone.
Kush says that guides say many poeple mend too much however I think what they mean is that many people just keep flipping the line straight what you realy want is to throw a fair curve upstream to overcome that faster current in the center of the run.
Obviously if your approach is to start stripping in the line as soon as your fly gains depth as per suggests he does then there is no further point in mending. But if you believe that your fish is lying somewhere in that seam then you want the fly to continue straigh down the seam at depth.
Effectively this is what the float fisherman is doing and he catches a lot more fish than the flyfisher.It isent because of bait its because of the drift he gets.
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Why do you assume that we are mostly casting across faster water to fish softer water. Nearly every piece of water I fish is the opposite. the fast water is on the outside, i am standing in the soft water that progressively gets faster. the fish are usually lieing in the water from the faster edge in to where your fly stops swinging or where it gets too shallow.
Bud -

Your opinion holds much merit in the spirit of maintaining depth, yet would you agree that depth is only one coefficient and speed i.e.: tension is another important part of the presentation?

For example, I've had a summer fish outright torpedo a caddis pattern that had not yet stopped skating forward (upriver) from an over-zealous mend. But we must be talking only about winter steelheading here if water column is a problem...

Even in winter (spring) I've always enjoyed holding a lively fly to dance in a higher column to move a fish to strike much more than letting a fly proceed downriver quickly in the same water column as the fish if I had to make that choice. Of course holding a fly at the right tantalizing speed at the optimal depth is better than either but if forced to make a choice I would opt for the right speed and a reasoable depth than the wrong speed at the right depth, personally.

If tension (hence depth) is problematic in deep winter flows then you can't have both speed and depth without a seriously heavy tip, and the exagerrated short head permits even 15' chopped lengths of 550 grain DWE to be cast reasonably well, which then can be held at the right tension at the right depth in high winter flows. I don't do it, but the line configuration supports it. So in a sense the head achieves the desired goal of depth and speed.

I much prefer to use a long (18-20 ft) tapered tip, the tip usually one line weight down from the rod rating, and a cut/looped long belly Spey line or a DTF with a loop using a shorter tip (12', etc).

Much of the bobber fisherman's advantage is the one you note in the brother's post... repetition. If two equivalent anglers worked alternately through choice pools I would contend that the bobber angler would hook no more fish than the fly angler unless he "camped out" in a hole. If they moved courteously with each other I believe they would have the same shot at success.

In summer fishing, all bets are off. I use some very bizzarre fly leading techniques and they definitely elicit responses from fish. On the surface, tension is everything. Different topic.

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