An interview with watercolor artist and fly angler Dan Sharley.
FLM: Where were you brought up?
DS: I was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn. My high school years were spent at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis. In college, I played football at the University of Dayton – graduating in 1991 with a BA in Journalism. Stymied with what to do post-graduation, I went back to school and earned a MBA from the University of Memphis. For the past 18 years, I’ve lived in middle Tennessee.
FLM: Who got you started fishing and and what turned you onto fly fishing?
DS:I was born into a fishing family, and my grandfathers were the ones most responsible for introducing me to fishing. My first fish was a tiny bluegill caught on a worm-and-bobber combo on the Kankakee River in Illinois. Grandpa Sharley was my deckhand and guide that day and can probably be credited with kick starting an addiction. Along with my uncle, Grandpa taught me a great deal about fishing. But, it certainly didn’t stop there, as my other grandfather (my Mom’s dad) and grandmother were heavily into fishing. Some of my greatest fishing memories are from my adolescence, where I spent many a summer day motoring up the muddy Hatchie River with my “Pappa,” pulling up trotlines full of blue cats and bowfin.
Dad fished a little bit back then, but was more predisposed to pull out a Sears and Roebuck fly-rod (Ted Williams model) and flail-away for bream and bass. He didn’t catch much, but looked cool doing it.
After moving to middle Tennessee in the mid-90s, I was smallmouth heaven. Most nearby streams offered great opportunities for good-sized, hard-fighting bronzebacks. Before long, I was spending most afternoons flinging soft plastics into gentle riffles in hopes of fooling a big smallie or two. I got fairly good at it and had some nice fish to show for it.
The trout fishing came next. I began to explore the area tailraces and seasonally-stocked spring creeks. That led to a full-fledged obsession, punctuated by multiple rods (some of which I never use), a fly-tying area in a spare bedroom (littered with wisps of marabou feathers and snips of tying thread), leaky waders, didymo-free boots and trout net with multiple holes in it.
FLM: Who would you say was your mentor and how did you get started in art?
DS: I’m blessed with great parents, and they’ve always been my key mentors. Throughout my life, Mom has encouraged me to explore my art; she pushed me into art classes as a kid (sometimes, quite literally as I preferred to spend my Saturday afternoons watching basketball and not learning how to paint flowers), and has always been my biggest fan. Dad’s has always has been my idol, and my drive, work ethic and attention to detail all come from him.
As life moved on, my wife Betsy became my mentor. She constantly inspires me to pursue my art. She’s my muse, my reliably-honest critic and my motivation on just about everything I pursue artistically.
As it turned out, I was fortunately blessed with artistic ability and I’ve been exploring it since childhood. I honestly cannot remember an age when I wasn’t drawing or painting something. It’s just in my soul, and I don’t think I could do without it. And, for that, I’m extremely thankful. Ultimately, my fishing works hand-in-hand with my painting. They actually inspire each other.
FLM: Any awards? Gallery showings?
DS: I won some awards when I was younger and my art has been selected to adorn a poster for an art festival, but haven’t entered many competitions since then. I paint because it’s just what I do, and I’m very grateful others enjoy it, too. My greatest satisfaction comes from working with a customer on a commissioned piece, and seeing their eyes light up when I deliver the finished painting. It’s ultimately worth all the stress and self-doubt that occurs up until that point.
I’m pretty proud that one of my paintings adorns the cover of the fly-fishing guide, Home Waters. This book is one of the most helpful and informative guides on fly-fishing, and it’s a must if you’re planning on fishing for trout in the mid-south. Knowing that there are dog-eared and coffee-stained copies of Home Waters in the back seats of beer-can-littered, fly-gear-stuffed pickup trucks and on the shiny wooden tops of fly-tying desks throughout the south, really makes me smile.
Over the past several years, my artwork has been featured in several galleries throughout the south. Several of my paintings and prints can be found at B.McNeels restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at the Ellen Hobgood Gallery in Heber Springs, Ark., and in the Emporium Center in Knoxville, Tenn. Online galleries have been very good to me, as well. Currently, my website (dansharley.com) provides a good look at many of my original paintings and all of my limited-edition giclee prints, while you can also purchase prints from Shallowfish.com. Marshall Cutchin’s wonderful site, MidCurrent.com, also includes me as a featured artist.
FLM: How many fishing outings a year?
DS: I have no idea … but, it’s very, very rare for me to go more than a couple of weeks without fishing. And, there will be a handful of trips during the year that feature some pretty intense fishing. One of my favorite spots is on the Little Red River in Heber Springs, Ark., where I get the chance to spend several days each year fishing alongside my Dad, my brother and my uncle.
FLM: Have you traveled to fish? Where?
DS: So far, I’ve wet a line in most of the southeastern states, nymphed in the snow in Colorado, double-hauled for bonefish in the Keys and heaved spoons at pre-spawn salmon in Ketchikan, Alaska. Probably my favorite place to fish is the panhandle of Florida during the fall. It’s mainly a light-tackle – and particularly fly-tackle – affair, but I never stop longing for the opportunity to chase little tunny, redfish and ladyfish up and down the beach. It’s stupid, I know, as there are far more glamorous species out there; but it just never gets old to me. All that being said, my list of places I’d like to fish is infinitely bigger than the list of places I’ve fished. That’s probably how it should be.