The art of painting rivers with a fly rod has been a process in not only technique but also in the development and testing of different materials to make it possible. There isn’t a lot to chose from as far as there being competent equipment that works when it comes to applying paint with a fly rod especially in Montana weather conditions but the satisfaction in testing and creating the tools of the trade is its own reward. The stories to boot that come from the abuse of the brush ends and the ability to lug a 100 lb.+ easel through the brush and across river didn’t happen overnight.
Winston Fly Rods- When casting a Winston Fly rod, it is the lightest most efficient rod I have ever felt. There is a bailout at the end of the rod that allows for pin point precision with the fly line that shouldn’t feel possible with how light the rod is. When starting this adventure and life of painting rivers with a fly rod I was very excited to explain to Winston that I would be using their rods for the process. The quote that sticks with me is the fact that at the end of my pitch or explaining what I do: Adam Hutchison (Winston Manager) “I am sure you make beautiful paintings of rivers with a fly rod but we don’t make fly rods to paint with.” They are kind enough to allow me to work with them and their rods covered in paint shows the innovation and understanding that is the spirit of Winston.
Easel- I find myself down on the Gallatin River with an easel from Michael’s that has three legs and an adjustable slide that allows for it to hold different size painting. The wind would pick up and the next thing that happens is the line is wrapping around one of the legs that constantly needs to be undone and the wind is blowing it over. I lost two poly carbonate paintings in the Missouri River when the wind was so strong that no amount of rocks would hold the easel in place. the flat surface would hold up the wind like a sail and paintings would fly away. After some consideration and getting tired of the the line wrapping around the legs it occurred to me that line wrapping around the legs could be avoided if the painting was created on a flat surface. The idea of an A frame to paint on was created for a fly cast painting. As a bonus when the wind blows really hard it actually pushes the easel against the earth and the chance for the wind to knock down the easel is almost non existent. The first A frame easel was made out of wood and when the temperature drops an attempt to put a heater behind the surface of the easel was effective for the strikes to maintain their integrity of the strike and not drip, but after awhile the easel was on fire!! Investing in a metal A frame allows for the metal to be heated and not burn and has a number of holes to allow for the changing of different sizes of Poly Carbonate to fit on the surface.
Painting Surface- While in college we would take painting classes that would be all about stretching a canvas and setting a platform for the idea of what was the artist’s concept or idea of art to be presented. The first fly cast paintings were made on such a surface. This comes along with the idea of using a fly to hold the paint as the hook would always catch on the canvas. As if trying to work on one of these paintings wasn’t hard enough put a hook slapping against canvas and imagine it not catching. The surface was changed to Plexiglas and an experiment with layers of Plexiglas over other layers was a failure with the Plexiglas not allowing for holes to be drilled and while hauling it around it would end up cracking. It was a short lived test as poly carbonate was found that had the same properties as a window and more durable than plexiglas. After one of the paintings was set up a professor turned one of my paintings around and said the other side was beautiful. I was a little offended but one day out in front of the Simms store it occurred to me that when I got the the dark side of the painting and was confronted with the dark surface to make the painting go from dark to light and the two sided painting was discovered. One has a glossy look with a watery effect and one has a textured side that is more in line with a traditional painting.
Brush ends- the fly cast paintings began with trying to throw a fly against the surface of the canvas. After a number of casts with a fly it would absolutely be destroyed and catch on the surface. It was an annoyance and ineffective. Take a step back from a fly and look at what materials make a fly possible. Yarn has been the predominant material that is durable and will last for many hits as well as hold the paint. One of the failed moves in trying to establish a paint brush it was quickly found that it is imperative the end be able to hold paint the length as well as the circumference of yarn vary in the idea of making different swatches on the surface as the river’s properties dictate or trout side being represented.
Leaders- The leaders for the fly cast painting is at least of the 15 lb. strength variety with a tapered leader format. Stiffness in the the leader is imperative to control in battling windy conditions and maintaining accuracy of where the brush will hit the Poly Carbonate. Even when the leader hits the side of the easel there is a lot of wear that can happen on the monofilament material thus having a strong leader leads to better accuracy in its stiffness as well as being able to handle the velocity of slamming into a hard surface at the end of a whip.
Paint holder- It made the most sense to have a box made of wood to assemble on the river bank. It was worth a couple of trips and made mixing the paint on the top of the box easy to work with and convenient when set on the left side of the fly cast performance. One day when getting the paint out it occurred to me to use a traditional creel to hold the paint in. The tubes are a silver material as if a fish were hidden in the creel and about six inches long. The camouflage of being seen as a fly fisherman was a little bit closer to being true.
Palette- The palette for fly cast painting used to be a plate set on top of the box where the paintings would be mixed. It was imagined if fly fishing and painting are the same to convert a fly box to be used as the palette to make decisions with the color. It allows for the hand to be available for the casting process with the left hand to hold the line as the palette is lashed to the fore arm. When evaluating the shirts worn when these paintings take place there is a huge paint spot on the left side were the palette splashes up or rubs against the shirt. As far as this process goes it is totally worth the camouflage to represent the culture of fly fishing in the fact that the tools of the trade are worn while being utilized.