I’ll admit it. I came to the fly rod by way of Brad Pitt. When I heard Robert Redford’s overwhelming and compelling voice-over, it was too much to resist. Because one afternoon in 1992, while browsing the VHS titles at the local rental joint, I was drawn in by the cover photo of a man in brown pants and a wide brimmed hat, standing on a sunbathed, midstream boulder and drawing artful shapes with a fly line. I watched the tape five times in a two-day rental period.
“The Movie” gets a bad rap in the industry. It’s cliche. But dammit, it’s also a gorgeous film with a great story that matches or even exceeds the power of Norman Maclean’s classic novella.
Sure, I had fished a fly rod before ‘92, but I’d done so sparingly. Without much success, I kept going back to my strung minnows on a spinning outfit. You see, no one had really taught me to cast a fly rod. No YouTube video was out there to show me the basics, and I hadn’t learned much from the few Field and Stream articles about fly fishing.
But Maclean’s intro to A River Runs Through It changed all that. From this one piece of film, with Redford’s majestic speech carrying all the poignant melancholy that one voice can hold, I learned how to cast a fly rod from a Panasonic VHS player.
Ten and two. That’s the base. And it’s at the core of everything I know about fly casting.
. . . If our father had had his say, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him. . . . And, if you have never picked up a fly rod before, you will soon find it factually and theologically true that man by nature is a damn mess.
. . . Until man is redeemed he will always take a fly rod too far back, just as natural man always overswings with an ax or golf club and loses all his power somewhere in the air: only with a rod it’s worse.
. . . Power comes not from power everywhere, but from knowing where to put it on. “Remember,” as my father kept saying, “it is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.”
. . . My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.
— Norman Maclean, A River Runs through It
I guess I’ve taught a lot of people to cast a fly rod by now. (I’m happy to say that most have stuck with it.) And the assured weakness of every new fly caster is those stops at ten and two. It’s a counter-intuitive motion, I suppose. It’s easier to teach the skill to a kid who has no fishing experience than it is to break the habit of a gear angler who wants to sling the rod forward and point to the target in one flowing motion.
The stops at ten and two are important. And the acceleration between ten and two is just as important. Given those mechanics, your cast has definition and direction, power and accuracy. Without those mechanics, you’re kinda just pissing in the wind and hoping for the best.
Yes, every style of fly fishing. I use the ten and two principle to cast dry flies, tight line and indicator nymphing rigs, streamers and wet flies. And yes, it’s the best way to have control over the Mono Rig that I talk so much about on Troutbitten. Definition, direction, power and accuracy. No matter what rig you’re using, it comes from ten and two.
Adjust and Refine
Ten and two is the base for your casts. Of course, different styles, different fly sizes and weights, line types, lengths and more require refinement of the casting stroke. Weighted nymphs insist that you pause a little longer at each clock position before accelerating to the next. Heavier streamers may need more open loops by drifting the rod a little further past those clock-face positions. And a tiny Trico Spinner on the end of a long 6X tippet may demand a crisp, tight stroke that stops hard at ten-thirty before drifting the rod down and parallel with the water’s surface.
Whatever the adjustments (and there will be many), the base, the place to return to, is ten and two. It all starts from there.
It is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.
Remember that, and you’ll cast like Brad Pitt.
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N