The Back Bend

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT

My first bend back pattern

My first bend back pattern

You might think “The Bend Back” is some esoteric, magical cast that guarantees long, accurate casts each and every time you try it. Or it’s a great exercise to get ready for a long season of fishing. Wrong, “Bend Backs” are really just a somewhat obscure type of fly, unless you are a regular Florida Keys angler. I was introduced to “Bend Backs” about 15 years ago when I first got the opportunity to fish in the Tampa Bay, Sarasota area for redfish and snook. For many years, TMC had a hook model called 411S. The 411S was essentially an 811S with the 1st 20% of the shank bent approximately 15 degrees up and away from the hook point. Unfortunately, TMC discontinued the “Bend Back” hook so now you’ve pretty much got to do the bending on your own.

Back Bend 2From everything I’ve learned, bend back patterns were originated by Chico Fernandez, a prominent Florida Keys outfitter and writer, sometime around the 1970s. The bend backs proved effective for all sorts of flats and estuary species and were especially effective when being fished tight to Mangrove thickets and over coral bottoms. That’s what I found I’d be doing on my first guided trip into some of the Mangrove estuaries in Tampa Bay. After an early morning on the grass flats catching speckled trout and with a rising tide, my guide headed up back into some remote estuaries on the east side of the bay.

Bend Back Territory

Bend Back Territory

At a spot called Mary’s Lake, we poled through a very narrow and shallow passage into a lake-like estuary of several acres that was rimmed with thick Mangroves. As the guide tied on a gold bend back he explained that the best redfish were going to be holding and feeding inside the Mangrove thickets. My job was to put the fly just inside the edge of thickets underneath the Mangrove limbs and between the tangled roots. He explained that the bend back flies were good for such tactics because they resisted getting hung up when one failed to make the most precise casts. Indeed he was correct, if tied correctly the hook point generally rides up and as such resists snagging on limbs, coral and other such things.

As we poled slowly along around the edge of the estuary, I cast the fly as directed, managing both to hook a few nice redfish as well as the occasional mangrove root. Overall, the gold bend back had proven its worth and I started tying a few to put into my saltwater boxes. Unlike specific patterns, the bend back is merely a style of wet fly or streamer that can be adapted to almost any baitfish, shrimp or large nymph pattern.

BAck Bend 4Tying a bend back pattern is relatively simple but the key is getting the right bend in the hook. The old TMC 411S hooks were perfect as they didn’t require any bending by the tier. I usually use a pair of bullnose pliers to make the bend. With the hook in one hand with the hook point up, use the bullnose pliers to grasp about 20% of the hook shank and bend it downward about 15 degrees. A straight line from the bend in hook shank should fall underneath the hook point.

Once you have the hook bent, tying follows a typical routine. Add any weight you want. A little lead wire right at the bend of hook makes this style of fly ride hook point up all the time. Tie in a body, sometimes a tail and then tie in any winging material you desire. Bead chain eyes can be tied in either at the hook bend or at the head of the fly. There’s no end to the variations that can be tied on a bend back hook.

Olive Bend Back Bugger

They are not restricted to saltwater use either. Most traditional large freshwater wet fly, streamer or nymph patterns can be tied bend back style. I always carry a few “Bend Back Buggers” with me when I know I’ll be encountering a lot of tight cover or fishing areas in lakes with a lot of weeds.

The Bend Back is not an everyday fly unless maybe you are fishing mangroves and coral on a regular basis. But the style is effective whenever you encounter conditions likely to snag a typical fly. Tie up a few Bend Backs and give them a try.

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