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. This week’s featured artist …

Matt Zudweg

Interview by Garrick Dorsett

Matt Zudweg

Recently, I was thinking back on my childhood, trying to figure out what first gave me the urge to venture off the trail and into the wilds. Growing up, there was a constant flow of images from Boys’ Life magazine and its amazing advertisements for Remington and Winchester. Scenes of mountain men surprising a monster grizzly bear, cowboys riding across the plains yielding their lever-action rifles, and the lone fly fisherman in a wooden canoe battling the trout of a lifetime somewhere in the backcountry. These images have stayed with me over the past 40 years, keeping me excited about anything outdoor related.

So you could imagine my excitement when I found out about the work of Matt Zudweg. Matt has been a fly fishing guide and sign painter for the past 20 years. By meshing both his love of fishing and art, he’s been able to create nostalgic images as well as marketable products. As with the classic sign painters of the past, Matt uses traditional tools in his process – paint and a brush. By working in three dimensions – similar to sculpture – Matt’s hand-lettering allows him to have more of a connection with each piece. Matt’s work would fit well in any space, whether you’ve got a 30-million-dollar mansion or a studio apartment.

We caught up with Matt for this week’s interview. Enjoy!

Black Gnats: Who or what inspired you to get into fly fishing?

Matt Zudweg: I grew up bass fishing with my dad, but it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties before I picked up a fly rod for the first time. I had really never seen anyone fly fish before, so maybe it was just the thought of trying something I’d never done or seen before that inspired me. I’ve sort of always been the type of person that longed for a challenge. Fly fishing fit the bill. And, because there’s always a new challenge within the sport, it has stuck with me ever since.

Rainbow Trout 1420
“Rainbow Trout” 14″ x 20″ Used by permission. ©Matt Zudweg.

 

“I’ve sort of always been the type of person that longed for a challenge. Fly fishing fit the bill.”

BG: Who or what inspired you to get into art?

MZ: I’ve loved drawing since I was little. I was always drawing monster trucks and stuff. When I was in high school, my family moved to Grand Rapids, MI and I got a job at the sign shop next door to our house. That’s where my love for hand lettering began. The sign business gave me a great career for many years. I still do some limited sign work these days, and my love for that style of art has never ceased. Much of my art can be viewed on my website.

BG: When did you realize that your passion for art and fly fishing could be combined?

MZ: I don’t think I ever really even thought of it, my love for fishing just naturally inspired designs based around our sport. Originally, my angling sign art was just my way to economically decorate my own home and it just snowballed from there as others saw the finished pieces.

#120 Gerbubble Bug
“#120 Gerbubble Bug” 24″ x 36″ Used by permission. ©Matt Zudweg.

 

“… my love for fishing just naturally inspired designs based around our sport.”

BG: What’s the most inspirational body of water that you’ve fished and why?

MZ: As crazy as it may sound, my home river is the one that still inspires me the most. I’ve been guiding the Muskegon River since 2003 and still can’t get enough of her. Between steelhead, trout and smallmouth bass, I really never grow weary because of it’s beauty and diversity. I sure am blessed to call it home.

#143 Flies Only
“#143 Flies Only” 24″ x 24″ Used by permission. ©Matt Zudweg.

 

“As crazy as it may sound, my home river is the one that still inspires me the most.”

BG: If money were no object, and you could do only one thing, what would it be?

MZ: I would enjoy my wife and kids more. We spend a lot of time together right now, but if I didn’t need to earn money I would definitely make our time together even more of a priority.

BG: If you could fish with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

MZ: At the risk of sounding cliche, Jesus would be my number one pick to have in my boat. I mean, who has changed the face of history more than Him? And He really liked to hang out with fishermen.

BG: Where do you see the future of fly-fishing?

MZ: I’ve seen trends in almost every form of art (fly fishing included) that the more high-tech we get the more people long for something vintage or from a simpler time in history. It’s no surprise to me to see fiberglass rods becoming popular again for that reason. People like being connected to history, myself included. Conservation has come a long way and that is so good, but we must continue to keep it balanced. Like with all good things, there is a point where it could go too far.

#146 Trout Bum Cigars
“#146 Trout Bum Cigars” 24″ x 24″ Used by permission. ©Matt Zudweg.

 

“People like being connected to history, myself included.”

BG: How does your medium accentuate your artwork and how does it relate to your style of fly-fishing?

MZ: I’m most well-known for my antique-style fishing signs. I specialize in hand lettering, which is a must for them to look truly authentic. In my early days of fly fishing, my love for vintage things carried into my fishing style much more than it does nowadays. Back then, I loved fishing old school flies like Gerbubble Bugs, Micky Finns, Royal Coachman’s, etc. Although I absolutely love old school salmon flies, my personal style of fly fishing today is much more trendy – two-handed graphite rods and flashy streamers.

BG: What would you say to someone interested in fly-fishing but is too intimidated to start?

MZ: Fly fishing is definitely a sport that can be intimidating for the newbie. I remember the days of feeling like a dork in the fly shop. I would tell them the best thing they could do is find a quality guide with a reputation for being humble. You can learn so much from someone like that. The other thing is to start simple. Our sport is one that is a lifetime of progression, so don’t try to get it all at once … take the baby steps approach. My time is limited, but I try to answer any questions people ask of me personally. I also work hard to mentor someone if they seek mentoring from me. Those are not special things, but something we should all seek to offer.

Please check out Matt’s work on his website [Carved Fish] to learn more.

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