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Fly Fishing Jazz: Casting… A Note on Tempo

by Kirk Deeter
photos by Kirk Deeter

Fly Casting Tempo

I relish (through my ears) anything “Marsalis” much (so much) more than anything “Marsala”… be that veal, chicken, whatever.

My little brother, Drew, doesn’t fly fish at all, so I’ve already caught more fish than he’ll ever dream about. But one thing he has me insanely jealous about is the fact that he has played golf with Branford Marsalis. The sax player.  Son of Ellis, brother of Wynton.  When “Bran” (my brother calls him that) is in the Philly area, they sometimes hit the links.  I’m told Bran has some serious game.

Which doesn’t surprise me much, because golf, like fly fishing, is very much about timing and tempo.  And yet, in jazz, and golf… and fly fishing… while the standard rules about timing and tempo are important to help you get in the game, it’s the ability to improvise beyond a straight “1-2-3-4” rhythm that separates the artists from the rest of the crowd.

Mo’ Better Blues, “Say Hey” by the Branford Marsalis Quartet is an example.  Some notes linger for effect, but the beat remains constant.  Wynton Marsalis also recorded an album called Standard Time, which was an irony, because no beat on the entire recording was anything close to “standard.”

Okay, let’s bring the lesson back into our fly-fishing wheelhouse.  We fly anglers are taught all about the “four-count” rhythm when it comes to casting: back on one, pause on two, forward on three, back again (to load the cast more) on four.  And that works, if only because most of us fly guys are middle-aged white men.

“When you syncopate, and drive that casting rhythm, in the jazz style… well, that’s when the loops get tight, and the cast cruises for distance.”

In truth, the good cast, especially in a moving, roiling river current, actually revolves around a syncopated rhythm.  A jazz rhythm.  It’s one, and two, and three, and four, with the extra “oomph” and emphasis on those “and” marks between the beats.

When you play a cast according to a straight march tempo, you get plain (often open) loops in the air.  But when you syncopate, and drive that casting rhythm, in the jazz style… well, that’s when the loops get tight, and the cast cruises for distance.

So if you want to add another 10 (accurate) feet to your cast, next time you’re on the water, take “John Phillip Sousa” out of the equation, and put a little “Marsalis” into it.  Syncopate, and emphasize that on both the forward stroke and the backcast, you’ll add a little more jazz tempo… and you’ll be surprised where that fly ends up.  Odds are, you’ll be right on target, right on tune, and right in tempo to hook the big brown trout slurping along the bank.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Anonymous

    Lost me after the first 3 paragraphs.

  • Elkhair1

    slo……… you need to stop listening to so much country-western. Then it’ll make sense to you :o)

  • friday26

    I agree with sloflyfishguy, lost me immediately.  Come-on, we need to hear the tune and see a visual, otherwise it’s just waisted space in Midcurrent.

  • Crashq

    I understand syncopation – accenting a weak beat as opposed to the normally accented strong beat, but the author does little to explain his concept…if left me saying Whaaa…? It could have used something as simnple as an example of the rythm like “bum-bum-BUM- bum-bum-BUM”

    It seemed more like a Marsalis family love fest, than an article on casting.

  • Dave R

    I have read this twice now and am still scratching my head. I am not sure what the author is driving at, but perhaps the next time he should set up a camera, pop in a CD and demonstrate is theory.

  • Sayfu

    If I could sycopate like that Morsale’s does that guy have some attractive rhythm !  I listened to his group do an XMas Special several years ago, and that is all I could think about duplicating at the stop lights.  I can cast my arm away listening to that guy, and his group! I am right on your wave length Deeter!..Not often do I get your vibes, but I did on this one!  Makes me think I can throw a 100 ft. cast with one hand tied behind my back!  YOWWWZA!  Who needs drugs?!

  • Ron

    Makes sense if you understand the principle used. The back again ( to load the cast more on 4, throws me for a loop, I have always cast 1 back, 2 pause, forward on 3, quick stop and ahead on 4 and lower line. Am i playing Rock and Roll here?