Talk long enough with seasoned anglers and eventually you’ll hear someone say, “there’s an art to fly fishing.” That’s a curiously poetic phrase. They’re usually talking about technique, presentation or tying, but it’s interesting to see the correlation one makes between angler and artist. The Black Gnats are equally interested in this connection, so we’ve started a recurring section called “The Art of Fly Fishing” to highlight the unique stories and individuals that bring these two worlds together.
For our first entry into “The Art of Fly Fishing” we highlight an emerging artist from Indiana, PA – Andrea Larko. We first noticed Andrea’s work on her Instagram account and immediately became followers and fans of her stuff. Her illustrations of aquatic life – everything from insects to fish – stand alone in their minimalist concept and extremely intricate design. Her color palettes are as bright and stimulating as the primary colors found in nature.
The Black Gnats tracked Andrea down (by email, we’re not that weird) for our very first “The Art of Fly Fishing” interview. Enjoy!
Black Gnats: Who or what inspired you to get into fly fishing?
Andrea Larko: Well, I’ve fished my whole life. My father taught me and my three sisters all we knew about fishing and every time we would be on a stream I would see people fly fishing and it always looked like so much fun. As I got older, I looked into pursuing it, but it seemed like more of an investment so I didn’t have much of a choice but to put it off.
“Whether I’m drawing, painting, or out on the water, I can’t imagine my life without [fishing].”
After graduating from college, I moved back to Pennsylvania and met my current boyfriend, Zeb. He knew of my love for fishing and we started fishing together when we had time. I told him how I always wanted to fly fish, so he took me to the local fly shop and bought me my first rod and reel.
The next time we went on the stream I made a cast with a fly rod for the first time outside of my yard and I fell in love with fishing all over again. I told Zeb he had to try it, and soon after we were both hooked. We started tying our own flies with a little kit that my mother had when she used to fly fish, but her supplies dwindled so fast that we ended up at the the local fly shop – the ‘Indiana Angler’ – a few days a week buying more and more supplies. Before I knew it, we had a full-blown fly tying studio that seemed to have sprouted overnight. We’d spend hours reading books and watching YouTube videos on tying and casting.
Soon after, Zeb made me a fly rod (which I still cherish to this day) and so began his fly rod business – Snowman Custom Rod Works.
So, my father began my love of fishing, my boyfriend supported it and started my obsession with it, and 5 years later it’s become part of my everyday life. Whether I’m drawing, painting, or out on the water, I can’t imagine my life without it.
BG: Who or what inspired you to get into art?
AL: As an artist, I obviously have classic masters that have inspired me – Mucha, Beardsley, Monet and Van Gogh – but no one in particular inspired me to pursue art as a living. It was always something that I loved to do, and my mother always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I went to college at Rochester Institute of Technology where I got my BFA in Illustration. It hasn’t helped me find a career though, as illustrator positions are now few and far between. I knew I’d always have to do it as more of a hobby than a living.
I currently work at my town newspaper, the Indiana Gazette, doing advertising a few days a week and laying out pages of the paper. I had another part-time job as a graphic artist at a local screen printer, but once my art began picking up I realized I needed more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep, so I had to call it quits.
My biggest inspirations now are the fish I catch when I’m out on the water. It’s hard not to be inspired by something so beautiful.
“My biggest inspirations now are the fish I catch when I’m out on the water. It’s hard not to be inspired by something so beautiful.”
BG: When did you realize that your passion for art and fly fishing could be combined?
AL: It happened as a happy accident. I made three oil paintings of some trout that I had caught and photographed for my fly tying area. At first, people wanted prints of those paintings and then a few logos, some t-shirt designs, tattoos and it just kept multiplying. I feel so grateful for being able to pursue my dream to the point where it’s now half of my living. It’s more than I could have hoped for.
BG: What’s the most inspirational body of water that you’ve fished and why?
AL: That is a very difficult question to answer! Every time I fish I’m inspired. I just love being in the outdoors and away from everything. I usually fish 4-5 days a week and for three seasons out of the year, but the times that stand out the most are days I get to fish with my father and sisters. Especially now, since they’ve all begun fly fishing the last few years.
We all go on a trip to Oak Orchard, NY in the fall to camp and fish for browns and salmon. Some years we’ll catch them one after another. Other years we’ll go the whole weekend without a single fish. Either way, it’s what I look forward to every year. I’ll remember the stories of those fish – and the ones that got away – for the rest of my life.
BG: Do you consider yourself a role model? Also, what do you think about the advancements in women-specific fly fishing gear?
AL: Well, I don’t consider myself a role model for the sport. My sisters and I have always fished, so I grew up with the notion that more women fished than was actually the case.
I’m excited there are advances in gear for women, although it’s still a very small market. Up until last year, I’ve always worn men’s waders and the sizing has always been an issue. I still wear men’s wading boots. Most of the wading boots on the market now are labeled as “unisex” for women with a high arch and those that are accustomed to wearing shoes that fit very well. Even high-end boots leave my feet incredibly uncomfortable, especially if I have to hike to where I want to fish. There are also a few wading jackets available to women now, but I still own a men’s jacket. I’ll be looking to change that this year. I just saw that Patagonia came out with one at this month’s Fly Fishing Show.
I’m hoping that businesses see how many women need gear for the sport and more will be produced, because even though there’s some women’s gear it’s still very limited. I usually end up purchasing men’s stuff just because I have more options.
BG: If money were no object, and you could do only one thing, what would it be?
AL: I would open my own gallery/cafe in an old Victorian house. The second floor would have huge windows with lots of natural light and I’d make it a studio for art, fly tying and rod building for my boyfriend. Of course, there would have to be a trout stream within walking distance. I would draw, paint, tie, fish and have awesome coffee. That’s all I could ever ask for!
“I would draw, paint, tie, fish and have awesome coffee. That’s all I could ever ask for!”
Please check out Andrea’s website [www.andrealarko.com] to learn more about her work. If you’re interested in purchasing her art, head on over to her Etsy shop [www.etsy.com/shop/andrealarko]. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.