Bob’s Fly Casting Wisdom

by | Dec 11, 2019 | 19 comments

In my early twenties I drove a delivery van for a printing company, while finishing the last few semesters of my English degree. Life was pretty easy back then, and I spent much of my leisure time playing guitar and fishing small backcountry streams for wild trout. It was a tight-quarters casting game. And making the transition from the five-foot spinning rod of my youth to a much longer fly rod gave me some trouble. Until, that is, I received one of the simplest and most transformative pieces of fly fishing advice . . .

— — — — — —

Bob sat on a rusty chair, basking in the sun and surrounded by a cloud of Marlboro smoke. He watched while I backed the Ford Econoline van toward the loading dock. From the side mirror, I saw Bob wave me back before casually raising his hand to signal my stop. Then I cut the engine.

I crawled through the back of the empty van and popped the doors open from the inside, ready to take on the next pallet of posters and prints from the whining forklift. It would arrive within the hour, but I knew I had some downtime. And I was glad to see Bob on the loading dock.

He was the only other fly fisher I knew. Sure, I had a few other acquaintances who owned fly rods and fished the hatches every year, but Bob was a dedicated fisherman. At sixty-something, he’d given a large part of his life to the river. Wading and casting had been part of his daily routine for a long, long time.

I jumped from the bumper and onto the dock. Bob reached over and offered up a cigarette. Then he took his own burnt-out butt and crushed it on the concrete. He lit his replacement and tilted the lighter toward me in one fluid movement. I watched Bob fish one time, and his unique motions stuck out to me then too. Bob never moved fast, but he got a lot done. He wasted nothing. And he got the most out of life.

“What’s the creek look like?” Bob asked, looking toward the road.

“Getting low,” I replied. “Too bad there’s nothing in that water after June. I’d love to fish for trout around here all summer long.”

“Meh,” Bob grunted. “Warms up. All the stockies are gone now anyway.”

He leaned back in the chair and stroked his salt and pepper beard a few times. Bob had almond-shaped eyes and a furrowed brow that forced him into a permanent squint. Under his faded cotton ball cap, Bob always appeared deep in thought.

“Did you check out that little stream? The one I told you about?” he asked, turning my way.

Bob smiled big when I nodded and began to tell him that I certainly had checked it out, and I caught a bunch of wild brook trout mixed in with a few browns — all on top, and all on the simple Adams that he’d recommended for me.

“See, now!” Bob slapped his knee a few times. “So it was worth the wait, wasn’t it?” He took a long satisfied drag on the cigarette and nodded with approval.

It had taken a few months for Bob to warm up to the young college kid that arrived last September. He’d surely seen a bunch of delivery drivers come and go. And a full winter passed before he offered me any fishing advice. But by early spring, I’d gained the trust of a man whom I’d grown to respect. Because Bob was just the kind of fly fishermen I wanted to be. He was patient, persistent and passionate. So when he gifted me the information about our nearest overlooked wild trout water, I was grateful. And I protected it.

“Man, it’s tight in there, though.” I said to Bob, crushing my own cigarette and tossing it in the empty coffee can near the dock wall. Bob did the same with his and grunted, “How’s that?”

“I feel like a fly rod is too long for that stream,” I complained.” In some places, I mean . . . It feels like I have nowhere to swing it.”

Bob chuckled a bit as he rose from his chair and glided to the propped open door.

“Here’s the thing . . .” he said, standing silhouetted by the fluorescent light beyond the doorway. The clamoring sounds of the warehouse echoed behind him.

Bob raised his casting arm, elbow tucked comfortably to his side while his weathered hand grasped the cork of an imaginary fly rod. He gazed off beyond the treeline to a river that I’m sure he easily imagined every part of.

“Don’t cast the whole rod, Dom.” Bob took a deep breath as he put in two false casts with a crisp, effortless wrist motion. “Cast the rod tip.”


— — — — — —

That evening, after my last delivery, I drove far back the dirt road and deep into the woods to fish the headwaters of the same stream that ran through town — the one that was stocked too heavily and warmed too much by early June. The whole drive in, I thought of Bob’s words. I practiced my cast as he had. With my left hand on the steering wheel, I cast an invisible rod with my right hand. I made the stroke crisp, tight, short. And I imagined the tip. An hour later, when I finally shot my first cast to the ten foot wide trickle, everything about the way I cast a fly rod changed.

I felt the tip. I controlled it. Instead of focusing on where my hand held the rod, I imagined the position of the rod tip. I noticed the rod flexing and loading on the backcast. I felt it stop on the forward cast, unloading and forcing loops into the line. I was finally in touch with the rod tip. And I could control any length of rod among any tangle of trees, because I knew where the tip was.

From that day forward, no matter where I fished, no matter the size of the river, the type of fly or the length of the cast, Bob’s words were the truth — the keystone to the casting puzzle. They still are.

“Don’t cast the whole rod. Cast the rod tip.”

Thanks, Bob. That changed everything.

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Hmmm….looking forward to giving that one a try! My colleagues always eye me a little funny, now I must look ridiculous false casting my finger. If only they knew.

    • Nice

  2. Ahhh – it came together for me. An english major! That’s why you write so well. God made you an english major so you could inspire the rest of us with your passion for this corner of His creation. I have to think God has the heart of a fisherman too. He sent His Son to be and to inspire us to be fishers of men, revealing the ultimate application of the calling.

    Keep writing! It not only makes me a better fisherman, but touches the heart of why we fish, and reveals part of the beauty of God’s creation and His plan for us.

    • Cheers.

  3. Good tip (no pun intended). Small stream bushwhacking is a specialized game that I love. Other things I have found helpful is to use a rod that loads easily with very little fly line out of the tip (my tool of choice: 2wt glass rod with only a moderate action). One can overline a rod as well to load the tip more easily but I’d rather use a slower action glass rod and keep the line weight true. Short leaders with powerful turnover like Joe Humphrey’s tight brush formula also help. This is all assuming we are talking fishing dries w/traditional fly line – I save the tight line nymphing game for larger streams.

    • “This is all assuming we are talking fishing dries w/traditional fly line . . .”

      Well, again, I use this tip for all casting and drifting. Basically, the message is to think of the tip while casting and not the whole rod.



  4. grabbing a fat pencil now to try out this short but crisp motion ….

    • There ya go, Mike.

    • And after all these years that’s what I thought I needed my 366-3 custom glass rod for. LOL

  5. Sometimes it’s the little things. A refocusing, attention to something overlooked, a moment of insight–that take us up a notch. Thanks again, Dom.

  6. Yep. Amazing how visualizing one thing makes a huge difference.

  7. Most excellent advice! So much is explained and taught by so many that keeping simplicity in the forefront of any advice is necessary and easily understood for any level of expertise.

  8. As a brand new fly fisherman this year and no young guy (62), I am always looking for tips, suggestions, etc… seems I’ve read a tip like that from another long time Pennsylvania legend who says cast the tip. Thanks for the story!!

  9. If you are interested in ultra smooth flycasting check out YouTube’s “In search of a perfect loop”. It’s only about 3 minutes, but the loops are pointed and the upper and bottom lines are straight and free of wavyness!

    All symptoms of the masterclass technique…..see for yourself……

    just jim

  10. Dominick, I’m thinking I will like it here on Troutbitten! My good friend in trout fishing sent your connection to keep be inside during threat of C 19 given to the whole world, by the Communist leadership in China

    I’ll be 81 years old on May 6, 2020. I live on the top end of the Jersey Shore a block away from Sandy Hook Bay 20 miles south of the mouth of the Hudson River as it flows in to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Highlands,NJ has 5 beaches that are along the shore that river herring, moss bunker, sand eels, bay anchovies, Striped bass and blue fish to move into the Shrewsbury & Navesink Rivers to feed on the spring migration repast god gave us. I’m a salt water fly Fisher here and a fresh water fly Roddersi in the Catskill Mountains and PA’s “Endless Mountains “ in the NEPA Counties!

    I fly fish The Lackawanna and Susquehanna rivers and the tributaries that flow flow into the Susquehanna.

    I was a contributing editor to Nor’East Saltwater Magazine for about 7 years.

    I love the way you have created “Troutbitten’”Design!

    My grand children live in Clark’s Summit and the Abbingtons.

  11. Hi Dom,
    Love to hear more of your thoughts on fishing in tight quarters? Maybe expand a bit on Bob’s wisdom?
    I fish in South Devon in the UK, and many of are rivers look similar to some of your PA blue liners, although a tad shorter…..30miles Sea to Source as the crow flies!….and lots of it wooded!
    Loving Troutbitten! Keep it up.

  12. THAT’S IT!

    thank you again Dom,

  13. A ‘greatest generation’ classic article Dom. Thanks for sharing this. I bet we have all known a few “Bobs” in our time. A similar friend, in the mid-80’s here in State College, smoked continuously while he fixed or rebuilt anything that had electricity running through it. He had served in the Army during WWII and been one of the uniformed electricians in Macarthur’s underground headquarters in the Philippines. After he warmed up to me, he was always ready to share a fascinating story or lend a hand with our home’s electrical system.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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