You get to the creek and the Pale Morning Dun mayflies are hatching madly. As you watch, trout noses poke out and eat the duns right off the surface. Consider the hatch matched! The fly shop up the road just sold you a heaping handful of “guaranteed to work” dun patterns. You confidently tie one on and start to fish. Nothing. 50 more passes over trout lips and you get only refusals. The guys at the shop are obviously idiots (even though they live and work on this water). So, the game begins…
Just about every Pale Morning Dun imitation in your box gets tied on and shown to the “highly educated” trout (which have an IQ of about 6). Duns, emergers, cripples, spinners, and so on, all grace your ever-shortening tippet. As you do work your way down the list, you realize that the game is actually quite popular, since the anglers in the pools above and below you are also hunched over their fly boxes.
Eventually, you start to work your way down in tippet sizes. About the time you lash on five feet of almost un-castable 7X, you start to hook fish—on a Pale Morning Dun pattern you bought three seasons ago, 700 miles away. Of course, you can’t land any of the fish because they break the 7X in the weeds, but at least you got a shot! Man, those [fill in the name of the spring creek here] trout are sooo smart! Sure they are. What was likely really happening?
Micro-drag. Nasty, nearly invisible micro-drag. It’s all about tiny, but still unnatural movements of the fly. It can happen in all presentation directions, but it seems to be most insidious when fishing up or up-and-across. From 40 feet away you may not even know that it’s happening. But from four inches away, the fish can see it clearly.
So, back to the conclusion of the fly-box game. After finally going finer and longer in tippets, you eventually reached a point where the leader *sort of* turned over and fell to the water in a bunch of little S-curves. Those curves in the very fine material meant the fly could move more naturally with the currents—-a drag-free, or at least drag-reduced drift. And just like that, no micro-drag! Your fly finally drifted like the real thing, and fish it was on.
If you like the fly box game, you can play it all want. Me? I prefer a different set of rules. I’ll go with a Puddle (a.k.a Pile) Mend and manufacture my own drag-reduced drifts. More specifically, I’ll sling a Reached Puddle, which has some added angling benefits. Here’s the deal:
The Reached Puddle is made as a combination of a vertically-oriented Puddle Mend and a horizontally-oriented Reach Right or Left Mend. It is done while the line is still airborne (in other words, it’s an in-the-air mend). In order to get the best results the forward cast needs to be aimed nearly at, or even above, horizontal. To get the most casting and mending control, use an Elliptical Cast when creating a Reached Puddle. This will allow you to very easily make a clean, high-aimed forward cast without having to deal with the constraints inherent to a purely overhead orientation.
Once the forward cast is made (after the “stop,“ but before the line falls to the water), quickly and smoothly reach the rod tip right down to the water’s surface. Done right, the line will fall in a series of “S” curves. The “S” curves are what fight drag. That’s a straight Puddle Mend (see the figure below). Now, cast again, but this time reach your arm to the right or left as you reach down. In other words, a diagonal move made down and over. This will again cause “S” curves in the line, but the line will also be moved right or left (though the fly will be aimed at the target). What you’ve got now is the Reached Puddle (see the lead photo). Be sure that you don’t reach so hard and fast that the fly gets yanked away from its intended target line.
There are two very important caveats to keep in mind as you make this mend. First, since you are aiming high and then puddling line down and back, you need to make certain that you have a long enough length of line to puddle and still reach the target. This first caveat is tied directly to the second: Since you are reaching the rod to the side as well as down, you may wind up pulling the fly back toward you and away from the target. The solution to both problems is simple: Shoot line as you reach. Shooting as you reach will allow you put the fly on target, while still getting the desired drag-reducing effect of the combination mend.
With the Reached Puddle you not only get excellent drag reduction, but you also place the line off to the side of your quarry, thus reducing your chances of “lining” the fish. The Reached Puddle also allows you to place the line to the side of an obstacle (like a rock or weed clump) while still getting the fly to the fish drag-free (or at least drag-reduced).
The basic Puddle Mend (see the lead photo for a fully reached example). 1) Forward cast (aim high!), 2) Actively drop (and reach as needed) the rod tip to the water as the loop unrolls. The end result should be "S"-curves. Be ready to deal with the slack line heading back toward you.