Painting Rivers with a Fly Rod, a Unique Art Form

Ben Miller is the world’s only fly cast painter. Instead of a regular paintbrush, he dips his special flies in paint, attaches them to a fly rod and flings them against a canvas from dozens of feet away.

Fly fishing and painting don’t really seem like a match made in heaven, but then again, you probably haven’t seen Washington-based artist Ben Miller at work either. He is regarded as the world’s first and only fly cast painter, meaning he uses a fly rod and the art of fly casting to create thought-provoking artworks designed to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the world’s rivers. Growing up in central Washington state, Ben was introduced to the beautiful rivers of the region early on in his life, learning to fish from his father. As a young adult, he got the idea to combine his love for fly fishing with his passion for art in a unique art form that has come to be known as fly cast painting.

Photo: Ben Miller Art

Each fly cast painting session begins with finding the right outdoor location, right next to the river Ben Miller is trying to paint. Depending on weather conditions, the artist chooses from a number of paint tubes he always has in a big plastic bin in the back of his truck, squeezing the paint onto an aluminum palette. He then dips his unusual ‘paintbrushes’ – flies he makes himself out of various materials – in the paint, attaches them to the end of his fly rod, and begins to paint.

Instead of careful brush strokes, Ben Miller uses broad swinging arcs to smash the paint-covered fly against a plexiglass panel a few feet away. Having mastered the art of fly fishing at a young age, Ben Miller is able to hit his mark with every cast of his fly rod, for hours on end until he completes his artwork.


To produce various types of marks on the canvas, Miller uses different materials – wool, cotton, rubber, plastic, and nylon – shaping them into all sorts of flies, by hand. Some are designed to reproduce the course of the river, others are used to paint the stones, and some are great for river grass and algae. The artist shapes every one of the dozens of flies he uses in his art and is constantly experimenting with new shapes and materials.

In winter months, Ben Miller often gets visits by the police, because people see him flinging his fly rod on the edge of a river in the wild and presume that he is fishing out of season. So far, policemen have been understanding and he has never been told to cease and desist.


For more unusual painting styles, check out the German artist who paints with cow manure, and sun-burnt masterpieces of Michael Papadakis.