10 americana fishing songs

Fishing is the second most popular outdoor recreational activity in America (behind running). It is estimated that around 50 million Americans fish regularly. Despite being associated with the older generation, 60% of American anglers are under 45 and 22% are under 18. In many parts of rural America, fishing is an integral part of the culture. It therefore seems appropriate to reflect that in this series. So, fetch your fold-out chair, pack your beer and sandwiches and cast into this little lot.

Pee Wee King – ‘We’re Gonna Go Fishing’
Best known for writing ‘Tennessee Waltz’, Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski or Pee Wee King as he rebranded himself, was also a great western swing performer. From 1950, here is his, the first recorded version, of Tex Atchison’s song, which was later a hit for Hank Locklin in 1962. The song places fishing before courting in the singer’s list of priorities. The lyrics might not cut it in these more enlightened times but it’s still a rockin’ little tune.

John Prine – ‘Fish and Whistle’
Although the song originally appeared on Prine’s 1978 album ‘Bruised Orange’, this version comes from ‘Souvenirs’, Prine’s 2000 album which featured new recordings of some of his early songs. Prine wrote the song after reflecting on a bad day when everything seemed to go wrong, nothing major, just those little irritating things. It made him think of some of the humdrum moments and experiences of life and escaping from them.

Elvin Bishop – ‘Fishin’
Although he made his name on the southern rock Capricorn label, Bishop is actually a Californian who first came to prominence as a member of Paul Butterfield’s Blues band for five years in the 1960s. His high energy brand of blues and country rock made him a big live attraction. He is mentioned in Charlie Daniels’ song ‘The South’s Gonna Do It’ in which Daniels sings “Elvin Bishop sittin’ on a bale of hay; he ain’t good lookin’, but he sure can play”. This song comes from Bishop’s 1974 album ‘Let it Flow’ and extols the virtues of fishing with a fierce rebuttal for those who would frown upon him pursuing his passion on a Sunday.

Robert Earl Keen – ‘Five Pound Bass’
Keen’s introduction on this video explains the origins of the song which first appeared on his 1989 ‘West Textures’ album. Few songs more convincingly portray the sheer unbridled joy of catching a fish.

David Allan Coe – The Fish Aren’t Biting Today’
Of course, one of the least predictable aspects of fishing is whether or not the fish are going to actually reciprocate in this pastime. David Allan Coe, the controversial prisoner turned country singer, addresses this issue here and realising that “the fish aren’t biting today” decides that “I’m gonna lay on my bunk and get drunk as a skunk”, thus confirming suspicions that for many, fishing is all about stopping up late and getting drunk anyway.

Tab Benoit – Sac-au-Lait Fishing
The introduction to this feature alluded to the popularity of fishing in the USA. Nowhere is this truer than in Louisiana, which perhaps unsurprisingly, has the highest proportion of anglers of any state. Given this, it was imperative that we had a cajun fishing song in this list. This 2011 acoustic performance from Tab Benoit is taken from a TV fishing programme called ‘Cajun Fishin’ – what else?

Greg Brown and Bill Morrissey – ‘Fishing with Bill’
When these two great songwriters got together to make an album in 1993 you would be forgiven for thinking that it would be a collaborative song-writing masterclass. In truth ‘Friend of Mine’ turned out to be an album of covers, all except this Greg Brown composition that is.

Taj Mahal – ‘Fishin’ Blues
Written by Chris Smith in 1911, the first recorded version of this was in 1928 by Henry Thomas and appeared on the ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’ in 1952. Since then it has been recorded by a number of artists including The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Martyn and this man – the great Taj Mahal.

Darrell Scott – ‘Pay Lake’
Taken from Scott’s seventh album ‘Long Ride Home’ released in 2012. Scott is a very talented musician who has worked with Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant. However, his prowess as a guitarist and steel player has sometimes overshadowed the fact that he is also a very accomplished songwriter.

Otis Gibbs – ‘Big Whiskers’
There is a joke that asks, “How many fishermen does it take to change a lightbulb?” The answer is “None, but you should have seen the size of the lightbulb -it was THAT big…” Well no amount of exaggeration could overstate the size of Otis Gibbs’ achievement in producing this epic, in my opinion, the greatest fishing song ever. That is unless of course you know different. Let’s hope that some of you will take the bait, cast around in your memory and serve up a big one.

Author: Clint West

From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,

2 thoughts on “10 americana fishing songs”

  1. Great list, to which I can add a couple of bonus tracks – Doc & Merle Watson’s “I’m Going Fishing”, a variation on “Fishin’ Blues” with the same chorus but sufficiently different verses to justify its separate mention; and “Fishin’ Pole”, another blues from the late 1940s by (singer and saxophonist) Tom Archia & His All Stars, whose lyric, “I’m going’ fishing’, baby, and I’ve got a long, long pole” will give you some idea of its double-entendre-strewn theme.

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