by MaryAnn Dozer
I ended my last article with the line “fly fishing is a wonderful sport as the learning curve is perpetual”. A critical and large part of that learning curve is line management. Line management is the skill that separates out the really good fly fishers from just all the other fly fishers.
What is line management? To me, it is the art of manipulating the fly line to 1) reduce the slack in your fly line from the reel to the fly; and 2) get a natural presentation of the fly. In this article I discuss line management techniques for moving water.
On moving water the goal is to get the longest natural looking drift of the fly. In other words it is about getting the longest drag free drift possibly. The longer the natural drift; the more fish will look seriously at the fly thus increasing the possibility of a fish taking the fly. And yes, we are out on the water to hook and land a fish.
How you do you know if there is drag on the fly. If the fly is making a wake you definitely have drag. More times drag is more subtle than this and you’ll see debris (leaves, foam) moving at a different pace than the fly. That pace could be slower or faster than the fly.
Now that I have your interest my small print on this article “is that there is no way an angler can effectively learn line management from reading one article”. It takes many articles, conversations, and lots of time on the water to master line management. This article just taps the surface of line management techniques by introducing a few core fundamentals. These core fundamentals are 1) Managing Slack and 2) Line Mending
Why is slack line bad? The easiest answer is any slack in the fly line increases the time to set the hook on the fish. And we all know how quickly a fish can spit out the fly. Thus for an effective hook set, slack must be kept to a minimum.
There are two places where slack will occur. The first is between the reel and the stripping guide the second is between the rod tip and the fly.
Slack between the reel and strip guide
The simple solution to ward off slack is to have the fly line under the trigger finger of the casting hand (Figure 1). Having the line under the trigger finger allows you to quickly gain control on the line and to quickly pull in line – essential to keeping the right tension on the fish as you fight it. It is also a lot easier to reach and pull on the fly line when it is between your casting hand and the reel.
I just don’t understand why so many anglers have the line in their left hand but no line in their casting hand (Figure 2). This technique doesn’t allow you to quickly set the hook or keep pressure on the fish.
Another simple way to ward off slack is to only allow slack between the trigger finger and the reel and to not have any slack between the trigger finger and the stripping guide (Figure 3).
I’m seen it so many times and for a long time did it myself – a huge loop between the stripping guide and in front of the rod hand (Figure 4). Having a loop near the reel isn’t bad; however there is a correct place and an incorrect place for the loop. Between the trigger finger and stripping guide is incorrect (Figure 4).
It is correct to have a loop between the trigger finger and the reel (Figure 3). Having a loop between your trigger finger and the reel creates no slack and it allows you to quickly pull on the fly line to get the right tension on the fish.
Managing slack between the rod tip and fly
The next area where slack gets introduced is between the rod tip and fly line. This is where this topic gets difficult quickly, so be patient and read slowly. Another disclaimer – these mending techniques are applicable for dry flies. Mending nymphs is another article.
The fly drifts naturally if the fly is leading the fly line. It is not a perfect rule but you should strive to have either a straight line or arc between the rod tip and the fly. Having a horse shoe shape in the fly line or multiple curves of the fly line between the rod tip and the fly is not what you want (Figure 5). To get the “good line” shape between the rod tip and fly you will need to mend the line.
The easiest solution to this is to ensure the cast fully extends the fly line and doesn’t puddle up in a clump on itself. Next as you fish you will need to pull in line as the fly comes close to you and then to feed this line back out as the fly travels below you. With this fundament in hand, let me now speak to ways to manipulate the fly line to minimize the slack between the rod tip and the fly.
Line Mending – Positioning the line to fit the “current” situation
The classic mend is the mend that you do just after the fly lands on the water. This is moving your hand in a slight semi circle so the rod tip moves in a semi circle to re-position the fly line in relation to the fly and the current. The direction of the semi-circle is the direction you want to move the fly line. The size of the semi-circle determines how far you move the fly line – big circle lots of movement, little circle little movement. Key mending principles are:
- If the current is the same between you and the fly, you can get away with a very slight up-stream mend.
- If the current is slower between you and the fly you want to re-position the fly line down stream, as the fly will catch up with the fly line.
- If the current is faster between you and the fly you will want to re-position the fly line upstream above the fly as the fly line will catch up with the fly.
- If you do nothing you will get a bit of a drag free drift, but not as long as it could have been with a mend.
Anglers can become too reliant on “on the water” mends. Yes, they get you longer drag free drifts – but it comes at a risk. Anglers can over mend and then move the fly off the target line and/or splash the water with the line scaring the fish under the line and all other nearby fish upstream.
Fly lines can be mended in the air – reducing the possibility of splashing the water and moving the fly. These are called aerial mends.
The simplest aerial mend is a reach cast left or reach cast right. This cast is executed by simply pulling your rod to the left or right and to the water surface after you have stopped the rod, but before the line hits the water. (Figure 6) The result of this is the fly will land on the water leading the fly line appropriately positioned relative to the current. The speed of the current determines which way you reach:
- If the current is faster between you and the fly you reach upstream
- If the current is slower between you and the fly you reach downstream
In closing I hope you gained a few ideas on how to improve your line management. Most importantly, I hope you will place a higher priority on line management and looks for ways to learn more techniques and apply your newly learned techniques. Again line management is about manipulating the fly line to get the longest drag free drift possible. It is about keeping slack from your reel to fly at a minimum and mending the line between the rod tip and fly.