Fly Fishing and Rock & Roll


Judging from my conversations with anglers over the years, the overriding question burning in the minds of people everywhere is, “What are the connections between rock music and fly fishing and how significant are these connections?” Let’s explore this important issue. To begin, defining rock music is far from simple when you consider that “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets (1954), and “Back in Black” by AC/DC (1980) are both lumped into the genre of rock music. Granted, there are a few years separating these hit songs and if you go to YouTube and watch both performances you will notice slight differences in the style and dress of these bands. Obviously, music has evolved and with it, fly fishing. You’ll notice that Bill and the boys seem quite happy during their performance, and maybe with life in general, which is curious considering that they had to fish with fiberglass or bamboo rods at the time, rods which weighed so much that they were routinely stored in the back of pickup trucks during winter months because the extra weight helped people get better traction on ice and snow. The AC/DC crew looks a bit less cheerful during their performance, some would even say pissed off, which doesn’t fit with the fact that they already had access to graphite fly rods and fairly strong, monofilament tippet.


It could be that it wasn’t the fly gear that was bothering the AC/DC crew as much as it was the 80s in general. The 80s are generally considered a troubled time in the history of music. It was a time of excess and extremes, a time of big hair (mullets especially), leopard pants, synthesizers and syncopated drum beats. My now adult offspring like to ridicule me for defending this decade, especially when I make them listen to 80s music stations in the car. To be fair, I probably listen to 70s music more often, but this doesn’t seem to trigger family members. Once, on a road trip with the family, I made the mistake of flippantly saying, “It’s time to hear some real music,” as I switched the radio station to channel 8 (80s on 8) on the XM station. My timing was poor, as the first song that came on was called “Obsession” by the band, Animotion. My teenagers glanced at each other grimly as they listened to the following lyrics,


“I will have you, Yes, I will have you

I will find a way and I will have you

Like a butterfly, a wild butterfly,

I will collect you and capture you.”


So maybe music didn’t reach its pinnacle during the 80s, but many feel that fly fishing fared better. Based on the leopard pants that rock stars wore, neoprene waders were invented. The first generation of these waders did not have a fabric lining on the inside, so you had to roll them on like a wetsuit. Neoprene manufacturers, trying to emulate the leopard-pants-look of rock stars, kept the fit on the tight side. David Lee Roth, former lead singer for Van Halen, is an example of someone who could pull off the tight-pants look as he engaged in his on-stage acrobatics. So could many other rockers who were mostly slender due to the use of amphetamines and other “energizing” drugs. Many anglers could not. There were somber meetings in the corporate board rooms of neoprene wader manufacturers as they discussed their product’s failure in emulating rock star fashion. Finally, they decided to forego the leopard-pants-look entirely, put lining on the inside of the waders and enlarge the cut. As a result, anglers had to look to other fly fishing products to connect them with their rock star idols.


Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler had a huge impact on the fly fishing world. Aerosmith was really good in the 70s, by the way. Steve is credited with starting the feather, hair-extensions craze that financially enriched many of my fellow fly tiers a few years back. Tyler had worn feathers in his hair for years, but nobody noticed while Aerosmith was in concert, due to erratic lighting and a marijuana smoke haze that enveloped the crowd. But years later, while acting as a judge for the American Idol TV show, Tyler’s feathers were noticed by millions of impressionable, young people, and soon there was a huge demand for saddle hackle in the fashion world. The longer and narrower the hackle, the more desirable it was. Bright colors were favored, but a variety of colors were acceptable. Fly shops sold hackle like it was going out of style, which it was quite quickly, but not before feather prices spiked at ridiculous levels. Many fly tiers plucked their rooster saddles and sold just a few feathers in a pack for amazing prices. Tiers frantically searched their tying boxes for hackle that had sat unused for decades. Chicken farmers had to hire security to protect their stock. Uber hackle-raiser, Tom Whiting, bought several beach houses from the profits garnered during this fashion craze.  Alas, as with all fashion crazes, people eventually moved on and fly shops ceased selling feathers to attractive young women and went back to catering to overweight, middle-aged men. Yet, the preceding story proves how rock-n-roll and fly fishing are firmly yoked.


Which brings us to rock stars who fly fish. I’m sure there are plenty of them, although a lot of it goes unnoticed or unreported. Here in Montana we have Huey Lewis, who owns a place on the Bitterroot River and is a serious fly fisherman. Unfortunately, on occasion Huey has aroused the ire of native Montanans because of stream access issues and duck baiting.


Roger Daltrey, front-man for The Who, is one of the more serious rock-star, fly fisherman. Daltrey actually owns a fishing reserve called Lakedown Trout Fishery which is located at the most British of addresses – Swife Lane, Broad Oak, Near Heathfield, East Sussex. The place advertises itself as “a visual assault on the senses“ and I noted with great interest that Lake 4 has “a few roach fry that the trout give a good bashing to in late autumn.” Here on the Bighorn our trout “give a good bashing” to emerald shiners, so I hope to use the expression in the future. But regarding the words “visual assault”, this terminology seems not to work so much in American advertising, as the term conjures up images of landfills, or Nick Nolte’s police mugshot after a night of substance abuse. All this being said, Roger is obviously high on fishing because he once said, “When I go fishing, I come away feeling like I’ve smoked half a dozen joints.” Only a rock star could sum it up that way.


Speaking of fly fishing and joints, Jimmy Buffett is a well-known, fly fisherman. His primary target is saltwater species, preferably while fishing from boats that have onboard mini-bars. Bruce Springsteen has supposedly done some fly fishing, but I don’t know to what extent. Since Robert Plant, former lead singer for Led Zepplin, is good friends with Roger Daltrey, I assume he does a bit of fly fishing too, although I’m not sure about this. Incidentally, I really like Plant’s  song, “Big Log,” and I’ve tried to get my eldest son, who is a gifted guitar player, to learn it, but I am still waiting. Plant is often asked why he doesn’t play with Jimmy Page anymore. He has reportedly said that he “doesn’t want to disappoint the fans,” which makes sense for a legendary rock vocalist with aging vocal cords. Rock stars tend not to age well, not unlike salmon who use up all their energy leaping water falls and scurrying up rock-studded rapids. In the end, they are left with fuzzy gills and moldy flanks, and salmon develop similar issues. They are all left finning erratically in the current as they struggle to maintain equilibrium. Daltrey has said that he and Plant are from a “generation that didn’t cheat,” which can be interpreted in several ways, but certainly brings up the issue of Autotune. Autotune is a type of digital, audio processor which corrects “pitch problems,” so if you’re singing slightly off key, Autotune can fix it. Its use is widespread in the recording industry. When I first heard about Autotune, my feeble dreams of rock stardom were revived. After all, it wasn’t that I couldn’t hit the right note, it was just that after I hit it, I cruised right on by it to another note, kind of like a frisbee that catches an air current and sails on by the intended recipient. I mentioned my rock vocalist aspirations to my wife and she suggested that Autotune alone may prove insufficient in fulfilling my dreams, but I think she’s mostly worried about the paparazzi.


Anyway, I’m pretty sure the inventor of Autotune got the basic idea from fly anglers who fish out of drift boats using strike indicators. This boat fishing “system” serves to autotune imperfections in technique. If the angler can’t cast past the oars, the oarsman rows away from the strike indicator. If the angler fails to mend his line, the oarsman simply speeds the boat up or slows it down. When the indicator takes a dive, the angler sets the hook … hopefully. Just as Autotune allowed Cher to be a functional recording artist (that’s open to debate), the strike indicator/boat system allows us all a chance to consistently catch fish. That being said, we professionals are always looking for new angling equivalents of Autotune.


I had the privilege of guiding a man last summer who was an agent for a number of rock bands back in the 80s. This man has long since retired from the music business, but I recall that Motley Crue and Devo were two of the bands he represented. Regarding “The Crue,” maybe you should just watch the Netflix movie, The Dirt: The Unbelievable Story of the World’s Most Notorious Band.” Devo, on the other hand, knew they weren’t built to be bad boys or sex symbols, but they could certainly “out weird” everyone else. Many people remember Devo’s hit song, “Whip It,” which falls into the rock subgenre of “New Wave” music. I always thought that the strange hats Devo wore while performing were inverted flower pots that were purchased at Home Depot or some other home improvement store, but come to find out they were custom made, and are called “energy domes.” Apparently, I am guilty of seriously underestimating this headwear as Devo bandmember, Gerald Casale, claims the hat “collects energy [orgone energy] that escapes from the crown of the human head and pushes it back into the medulla oblongata for increased mental energy.” This makes sense to me, as just the other day when I went out to start the car on a bitterly cold morning, I could feel this energy escaping from the crown of my head.


Devo member, Mark Mothersbaugh, also touts the dome’s energy recycling qualities and predicts that if a person wears one constantly it could add up to 150 years to their lifespan. While Mothersbaugh doesn’t wear one all the time himself, he says “there are people out there who do, not many of them but there are some. We get emails from them, so we know they’re out there.” The Devo energy dome hats are available on Devo’s website, or on Ebay for $42.95 with free shipping, which is a hell of a deal all things considered.


Even more important as far as fly anglers are concerned is the fact that it was Devo that first came up with the idea for the Buff, that ubiquitous tube of cloth that anglers wear over their necks and faces to protect them from the sun. If you watch the “Whip It” video on YouTube, you’ll notice Devo’s drummer and guitar player wearing early prototypes.


Finally, I will mention a more modern band, just to bring us to more modern times, and to prove to my readers I’m not completely out of touch. I am out of touch, just not completely, as I have a teenage daughter, and she forces me to listen to current music on occasion. Twenty One Pilots is a music duo that has had a lot of success in recent years, and I have to admit I like their music, especially their 2015 song, “Stressed Out.” The lyrics of Stressed Out focus on why many of us choose to fly fish. We all want to “turn back time to the good old days” when life was simple, and we didn’t have to worry about making a living or maintaining social status. Speaking of making a living, the music business and the fly fishing business are similar today in that everybody seems to be flailing around regarding how to market themselves. Because of the internet, the world is awash in information, entertainment, and products. Things are a lot more diluted and complicated. Years ago, rock bands were signed by a major record company and the company did all the marketing. The band’s songs would play on the radio, they’d do some touring, and fans would go to a record store and buy a record. Now a band puts their music on a website or YouTube, releases their songs to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, or Apple Music, hopefully gets some radio airtime, plays a few shows, and sells some songs on Itunes, not necessarily in that order. Conversely, fly fishing lodges used to run a few magazine ads, do some sports shows and slide presentations, and call it good. Now our advertising efforts are scattered all over the place, social media being a big part of it. Like rock & roll, the fly fishing business is changing, evolving some might say. For the better? I don’t know. It’s definitely different. Like anything, it all depends on your attitude. In the end, I think the classic Rolling Stones song applies to fly fishing as much as music:


“I know it’s only rock and roll and I like it, like it, yes I do.”