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 …
Interview by Garrick Dorsett
Amy McMahon is a biologist/entomologist whose need for accurate illustrations of insects has turned into an amazing relationship between pen and paper. Much like fly fishing, Amy’s illustrations eloquently combine the disciplines of science and art. These detailed studies are extremely elegant renditions of the subjects. Her need for accuracy is crucial, and there’s a beauty in her ability to recreate each minute tone, line and detail made by mother nature.
We’re super stoked to chat with Amy by email for this week’s interview.
Black Gnats: Who or what inspired you to get into fly fishing?
Amy McMahon: Growing up, I loved spin fishing with my family and as I got older was attracted to fly fishing. When I started working with aquatic insects on a daily basis, it made me even more stoked to try a fly rod. So much of fly fishing, in my opinion, is spending time in nature and observing both the patterns and spontaneity – water is fascinating. I think that’s what drew me to the sport.
BG: Who or what inspired you to get into art?
AM: I think that everyone has a creative side (even people who claim they don’t) and part of being content is the trial and error of discovering a creative outlet. Not all artistic outlets are “traditional” art forms, but I’ve personally always been interested in drawing and painting.
“I think that everyone has a creative side … and part of being content is the trial and error of discovering a creative outlet.”
BG: When did you realize that your passion for art and fly fishing could be combined?
AM: I don’t think it was a realization, so much as it just naturally happened. My job in environmental consulting has exposed me to an increased knowledge of aquatic insects and streams in general, which has made fly fishing that much more fun (and sometimes frustrating!). When I started working on fly fishing and insect-inspired art, it was a natural fit because it complimented my other passions.
BG: What’s the most inspirational body of water that you’ve fished and why?
AM: I don’t think that I have one body of water that would be the most inspirational for me because I feel like I get excited about fishing regardless of where I am. I love getting absorbed with what’s going on under the water with the bugs and fish and all these interactions with each other. I guess that’s the scientific side of me talking, but those dynamics inspire me more than one particular body of water.
“I love getting absorbed with what’s going on under the water with the bugs and fish and all these interactions with each other.”
BG: If money were no object, and you could do only one thing, what would it be?
AM: I would probably invest in a nice camper so that I could follow some of the classic dry fly hatches (Salmon Fly, Green Drake, Pale Morning Dun) as they progress north through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, fishing streams like the Gunnison, Wind River, Snake River, Henrys Fork, Madison, etc. In the late summer, I would switch gears and backpack through the high-country of Colorado and Wyoming with my dog Rio, searching for large cutthroat and golden trout that may be tempted by the right dry fly. When the weather turns, I would be interested in volunteering to educate young adults about the importance of protecting our natural resources (while fitting in some snowboarding on the side).
“… I would be interested in volunteering to educate young adults about the importance of protecting our natural resources (while fitting in some snowboarding on the side).”
BG: If you could fish with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
AM: Tom Petty. Next question.
For real though, I would fish with my Grandma. I’m pretty sure she’s never been fly fishing and I could see her absolutely soaking it up! She is an incredibly dedicated and patient fisherman. I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like and I think it would be a pleasure to spend some time on the water with her.
BG: Where do you see the future of fly-fishing?
AM: I think a lot of fly fishing companies are expanding their marketing and trying to appeal to both the younger and older crowds. It’s just kinda exciting to see people finding their passion in this sport. I love being around and hearing about people discovering and doing what they love.
“It’s just kinda exciting to see people finding their passion in this sport.”
BG: How does your medium accentuate your artwork and how does it relate to your style of fly-fishing?
AM: Black and white ink is kind of a classic looking medium, in my opinion, and I think it lends itself really well to the small details that distinguish different aquatic insects. I think I’m a pretty detail-oriented person, which crosses over to fly fishing, too.
“… I think [black and white ink] lends itself really well to the small details that distinguish different aquatic insects.”
BG: What would you say to someone interested in fly-fishing but is too intimidated to start?
AM: Everyone, at some point, had to start from the beginning. I think that’s important to keep in mind pretty much regardless of what new activity you’re starting. The fly fishing community is a very passionate group of individual when it comes to the sport, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to and often excited to help newcomers. My advice would be to spend as much time on the water as possible, that’s where the real learning happens.
“My advice would be to spend as much time on the water as possible, that’s where the real learning happens.”
Be sure to check out Amy’s website [AmyMcMahonIllustrations.com] to see more of her killer work and order your own print. Amy also shares a lot of her work and process on her Instagram account. Be sure to give her a follow. She’d be stoked!