An interview with a fly fishing artist in the USA

Shirley Cleary’s Fly-fishing Art

courtesy of “Fly Dreamers” website 

Fd: How did your career in fly-fishing art start?

 I have always loved to fish and watch others catch fish. When I was quite young I was always the one who wanted to go with my father (who was not a fisherman) on the tourist fishing boats on vacations to Florida. I also always loved art and won a lot of awards in grade and high school. I was a twin and my sister also loved art but not the fishing. Then, I studied Art Education at Washington University in St. Louis, taught two years and then went back for a masters degree in painting.

I met my first husband when I was teaching Art at a college in DC. He loved to fish and we would camp out in Virginia and West Virginia and would literally “follow the hatchery trucks”. We married and moved to Montana for what was supposed to be a year. Not a good marriage but I did finally learn to fly fish and love the sport. On a fishing trip to Yellowstone Park we stopped in Bud Lilly’s trout shop. Bud’s wife, Mary, had a gallery in the basement of the fly shop and when she found I was an artist she asked me to do some paintings for the gallery. At the same time, we were active in Trout Unlimited and I started doing paintings for their auctions. The marriage didn’t last but my fly fishing did, and I made sure I got to keep the canoe my parents had given us.

My husband of 33 years is an avid fly fisherman, even more than me; so I have a lot of time to sit on the bank when he is fishing and sketch fisher people.

Fd: Which other artists have influenced your style?

 Caravaggio, Russell Chatham, Nancy Bush, Monet and my twin, Manon Cleary.

Fd: Is there a particular message you want to give through your works?

 I always answer that my message is that I want to share a special place and special experience while fishing or just being in the outdoors.

Fd: Any time for fly fishing? What about your time in New Zealand?

 The only things that keep me from fly fishing are getting old and health issues recently. I was very sad to leave New Zealand. It was a beautiful place to paint and a wonderful place to fish. The people are giving and gracious. We had fishing friends from all over and I had 8 women artists I painted with at least every two weeks. We had a small but wonderful little flat and it was so difficult to sell it and not know if we would be able to come back after 15 wonderful winters. But the 36 hours trip each way was getting to be too much. I still have a gallery in Queenstown that represents my work. So, hopeful that can bring me back…

Fd: Any advice for the ones just getting in the fly-fishing world?

 It is important to know how to fish. I have seen a lot of fishing art where the rod isn’t placed correctly, for example. Just as in every sport, the person buying the work will like the scene but will reject the work if the angler is not facing the right direction in the stream, doesn’t have the rod in the right form, has on bright cloths instead of earth tones when fishing in New Zealand, etc. Talk to other fishermen, read fly-fishing books and magazines. Show your work to anyone who will look. Donate to conservation organizations.

Fd: Where can we all find your works?

 My website,, is almost up and running. I’m also one of the ten artists in the book by Diane Inman, “The Fine Art of Angling: Ten Modern Masters”. My work is also presented in several galleries in the US, and we just bought a winter home in Arizona so I will be pursuing additional representatives over there.

, An interview with a fly fishing artist in the USA

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