Fishing and Fine Art

BGSU alumna combines two loves into one unusual career

fish-and-art

By Matt Markey

When the season is right, she ties tiny fishing flies on to angel hair thin line and helps her clients cast them about the cool, clear streams that drain the Rocky Mountains. Detail is crucial—the selection, the presentation, the movement—in order to fool the wary rainbow trout that live in those pristine waters.

When inclement weather prevails, she takes oil paints and huge stretches of canvas and recreates those colorful and ornate flies in super-sized works of art. Detail is again critical, since her chosen medium magnifies the intricate patterns of the flies to the nth degree. Miniscule threads of yarn are exploded to the width of a steel suspension cable, and teeny beads take on the dimensions of baseballs.

Amanda Hertzfeld has merged her two passions—fly fishing and art—into a real 21st century, outside-the-box, custom career. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a job description quite like this,” the 2014 Bowling Green State University graduate said. “The two might seem very different, but realistically there’s a lot of art in fly fishing, and my artwork has a definite fly fishing theme to it, so there’s a strong connection there.”

Hertzfeld guides fly fishing anglers as a member of the pro staff at Minturn Anglers, a Colorado guide service located near Vail. The seasonal aspect of the job gives Hertzfeld the time to create her mega fishing fly artwork, and Minturn allows her to display her creations in the fly shop, where the distinct pieces are a magnet for curious customers. 

Hertzfeld, a native of Waterville, Ohio, said her unique career track was already taking shape when she earned her fine arts degree from BGSU. She found her penchant for painting monster-sized fishing flies while still in college.

“I wanted to do something different, and I had been fascinated with fishing flies since I was little,” said Hertzfeld, who got a fly-tying kit when she was just nine years old and started tying flies for her father to use on the rivers in Michigan.

“I remember looking through fly-tying books and thinking those flies were beautiful, so colorful, and so intricate,” she said. “I though it would be both interesting and challenging to portray them on a much, much larger scale.”

When Hertzfeld needed a subject for her senior thesis at BGSU, she opted to paint the large fishing flies, since that was a subject that would allow her to keep her creative edge for the duration of the project. While the other art students worked on more conventional pieces of clay, metal and paint, she chose to roll out the giant canvas. 

When the display of the senior artwork opened, it wasn’t difficult to find her creations in the exhibition.

“As it turned out, my work was completely different than anything else in the show,” Hertzfeld said.

Two of her unique pieces sold at the exhibit, and her art received what she considered the ultimate affirmation when the late fly fishing icon Chris Helm marveled at the detail in the paintings.

Helm, a master fly-tier whose work was in demand around the world for decades, purchased a huge rendition of one of his custom flies, blown up to more than six feet by three feet in size on Hertzfeld’s easel. Helm commented at the time that the detail was extremely precise, calling Hertzfeld “a phenomenal artist.”

To the painter and fly fishing angler Hertzfeld, that endorsement was almost overwhelming.

“To hear that kind of feedback from one of the legends of fly fishing—it was just extremely humbling,” she said. “It told me that I am doing this right, and his words inspired me to keep moving forward.”

Hertzfeld, who by the age of 14 was fishing the Maumee River and making occasional trips to fish the steelhead rivers in northeastern Ohio, said the fishing bug hit hard while she was working in the fly shop at Bass Pro while attending BGSU. She saw firsthand the dynamic growth of the sport, and the increasing number of women who were attracted to fly fishing.

Hertzfeld then took a leave from the Rossford store in 2011 to take a seasonal post at a fishing camp in Alaska, where she began developing her guiding skills.

“It was hard for a female to get a job there on the fishing side of the business, but I ended up taking people out fly fishing on the creeks in the area,” she said. “It was very informal, but it gave me the opportunity to teach people, and to find out that this was something I loved doing.”

Following her graduation from BGSU, Hertzfeld was hired by Minturn as a fly fishing guide and instructor. She has completed two seasons with the company, guiding clients in the spring, summer and fall, and spending the winters working on her art projects. 

"Things happened really fast once I got to Colorado, and even though I was new, I did a lot more guiding from the start than I thought I would,” she said. “There is a huge demand for women guides. Fly fishing is an upcoming sport for women, so we see lots of ladies come in on corporate outings or retreats. I take them out and teach them to fly fish. Sometimes it’s easier for them to connect with another female than with a male guide.”

Hertzfeld will usually guide groups of up to three anglers and fish with them for about six hours. She said entertaining the clients as well as instructing them, plus telling stories about the history of the mountain streams and the fish that inhabit them, is all part of her role.

“I remind myself every day that my job—fly fishing these beautiful trout streams—my job is someone else’s once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I never take it for granted,” she said. 

“It never gets boring, and that’s why I love fly fishing. And when it’s time to paint, I discipline myself and settle down and sit in front of the canvas. When people ask what I do, I say I paint pictures and I catch fish. For me, that’s a dream job.”