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Blues and fly fishing: two intertwined pursuits

An angler fishes the salt off of Vancouver Island.
Long-time Chicago blues man Keith Scott fishes the salt off of Vancouver Island.
Photo courtesy of keithscottblues.com

I have been a lifelong musician and fisherman, but it wasn’t until I really  seriously started fly fishing that I realized how closely the two pursuits are intertwined. 

Becoming a blues musician has been a lifelong learning process that never seems to end. I can say the same for my fly fishing life. By the time I learn all the different techniques and fly patterns I will have lived 10 lives. By the time I have learned all the guitar licks and chord structures I will have lived more than 10 lives. Of course, there’s no need — nor is it possible — to learn everything about the blues guitar or everything about fly fishing. That’s part of the challenge. It’s a never-ending process.

One of my favorite comparisons are the cases in which the rods and guitars are carried. I cherish my beat up fly rod cases much like I cherish my old Gibson SG case. Both cases purvey the same thing to me: experience.

Believe it or not, I like to get myself cleaned up and shaved before I head out fishing — just like I do when I get ready for a gig. A sloppy musician doesn’t respect the music and a sloppy fisherman does not respect the fish, in my opinion.

Keith scott

One day, I picked up Hubert Sumlin on Chicago’s south side. Sumlin is the guitarist with Howling Wolf, and when I met him, he was carrying an old beat up Les Paul guitar case with a 1957 Sunburst inside — just looking at the case was exhilarating. I have same that same jovial feeling when I load my car with my SG case or my bamboo rod in an old silver rod tube. Adventure and passion are contained inside both.

How blues and fly fishing go together

Musicians and anglers have lots of similarities. Here’s what I’ve noticed over time:

  • We love to travel. I’ll go anywhere for a gig and, more importantly, anywhere for a fish. I’ve told many tall tales to family, friends and work colleagues more times than I can remember about pursuit of trout, I have done the same with my music in order to keep my gigs a secret (making calls over the internet is a great way to help you shield your area code, and, therefore, your location). The fly rod and the musical instrument both seem to grant us this sacred privilege, the opportunity to see parts of the country, and parts of the world, we may not have the chance to see otherwise. Musicians and anglers can’t wait to get on the road to pursue their passions.
  • We also love to tell stories, both with the music and about the time we spend on the water. One time, at the Canadian border at Oosoyos, B.C., the border guard was particularly hard on me when I told him I was heading to Little Fort on the North Thompson to fish for bull trout. During this interrogation, another guard named Scotty, who was a big blues fan that I had previously met, came out and helped clear the way for the trip.
Keith Scott, live at the House of Blues. Photo courtesy keithscottblues.com
  • A good blues musician loves his or her hats. The same is true for fly anglers. I have lucky fishing hats and lucky gigging hats in all shapes and sizes — most of us do. And, chances are, we have way too many fishing hats and gig hats — headwear just seems to accumulate.
  • We also have way too many guitars and way too many fly rods. We may never use them, or at least not use as often as we should. I’m closing in on at least 30 rods and about 30 guitars.
  • Another similarity, and this has been a staple of my music and fishing life, is that I find I always want to be in the company of more experienced musicians and anglers. I feel this has worked to my advantage in the learning process for both pursuits. I also love to meet famous people in both fields and I have been lucky in both those areas.
  • We like to keep our egos in check, but sometimes we have to relish in our accomplishments. I like recalling the wild steelhead that came up and ate my caddis fly on the Campbell River in British Columbia or meeting Robert Plant at Blues on Halsted Street in Chicago.
  • We have special bonds with the places that are steeped in both musical and fly fishing history. As musicians we like to visit the sacred grounds  of our heroes such as Eric Clapton’s London, or B.B. King’s Memphis. As fly fishers, we like to visit the sacred waters our angling heroes plied and made famous, like the rivers Roderick Haig Brown or Steve Raymond spent time fishing in the Pacific Northwest. I had to visit the plaque located on the Au Sable River in Michigan where Art Nueman and George Griffith founded Trout Unlimited and pulled conservation into the angling conscience. I once purposely booked a concert in Wausau, Wisc., so I could invite the legendary angler Gary Borger to my show. We have been great friends ever since.
Keith with Gary Borger. Photo courtesy of Keith Scott.

I find that blues musicians and fly anglers all possess great appreciation for their crafts. Whether I’m playing at the Trout Hunter Lodge in Island Park, Idaho, or the House of Blues in Chicago that appreciation endures, and the passion exudes. I approach the blues and fly fishing with the respect both deserve.                              

Keith Scott is longtime Chicago blues artist and a dedicated fly angler. You can read about his life at keithscottblues.com or @fishing_blues on Instagram.