What is Drag and Why is it Bad?

Having a "drag free" drift is crucial in order to consistently catch trout. Unless you are swinging wet flies across and downstream or stripping streamers, you should be striving for a drag free presentation with your nymphs and dry flies. There are a few situations when nymphing or dry-fly fishing that you can tight line or skate flies to imitate specific bug habits or characteristics, but you'll more commonly find the most success with making sure you present your flies in a drag free way.

Having drag on your flies basically means that the fly line and leader are in such high tension when in the water that your flies are being pulled in an unnatural way. Bugs in the water column are drifting in a natural way, at the same pace of the water. You need to present the flies in a way that duplicates the insects' natural drift. Tiny bugs do not swing and swim at such high rates of speed that typically happens when a fly is being dragged around the surface of the river with an un-mended cast.

Try This Quick Experiment

  • Cast a fly across a stream without mending the line and watch as the fly line creates a belly, pulls tight and your tiny fly will create a wake as it skates across the surface of the water just like a boat would; that's drag.
  • Make the same cast, but introduce some slack into the line by adding a large upstream mend and you'll see the difference. The flies will float at roughly the same pace as the surface current.

Why is Drag So Bad?

When your flies swing through the water at a greater speed than the surface current they are no longer properly mimicking the habits of the natural insects. Trout that are eating insects, both nymphs and duns on the surface of the water, will situate themselves in a good feeding lane where the natural pace of the current brings them a good and constant selection of bugs to eat. When your flies race through a feeding lane at a pace greater than the current, they often don't even recognize it as a food source. Nothing other than poor fly choice will garner a refusal from a trout like a fly dragging across the surface of the water.

Mending Your Fly Line is the Key

Mending is the act of effectively controlling your line on the surface of the water so that the surface current of the water is not directing where your fly is going. Mending is critically important to getting a drag free drift and the two go hand in hand. When you are fishing for trout, almost all your fly casts should be immediately followed by a mend in the line to prevent drag.

Tips For Mending

  • When presenting flies downstream to fish, always mend your line upstream.
  • The less line you have on the water, the less you need to worry about mending. "High Sticking" your rod helps keep as much line off the water as possible.
  • You may need to mend periodically throughout a drift as the fly moves into a variety of water conditions.
  • Try "aerial mends" if you are worried about spooking fish as you are mending line. To aerial mend, simply lay the rod off to the side that you want to mend before the cast lands on the water.
  • Keep the larger belly portion of your fly line from arcing too much and creating drag; try to constantly be aware of and cognizant of your mending of the line and its placement.

A good drift is easily the most important part of presenting flies to trout. Sometimes you'll find that you just can't achieve a good drag-free drift in your present location. Try moving about in the hole and finding a better spot to both reach the fish with your cast, and mend the line properly to achieve a drag free drift. Look at the surface of the river and the bubbles or debris floating downstream; you want your flies to float in that same way. Less drag always equals more fish!

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