To calm our minds experts suggest becoming still, maybe finding a peaceful spot by a creek, and focusing on the present moment. Perhaps closing ones’ eyes, drawing inward. They call this “meditation.” In Montana, we just call it fly fishing.
John Piacquadio, artist and owner of Zen Fly Art, understands both. As an artist, fly-fisherman, and former counselor, he knows how meditation can help us let go of our worries and how creativity can help the worries let go of us.
John grew up in the Bronx. After discovering fly fishing, he found a book and did his best to teach himself.
“It took me about a year to catch my first trout. When you go that long and finally catch one it’s like a religious experience,” said John.
In college, John majored in Religious Studies and Fine Arts. Fishing got him in trouble with campus police more than once.
“Connecticut College had a large arboretum and I would sneak in at night to fish. The biology department did aquatic surveys so I guess I was messing up their experiments,” John said.
After college, John stayed in New York and worked at an Orvis® fly fishing store.
“Just about my entire paycheck went back to that shop,” John joked. “That’s where I learned to tie flies. I found out how meditative it was. It felt almost surgical. It seemed that, no matter where my head was, tying had the ability to ground me.”
In 2008, John decided to move to Minnesota and enroll in the Masters of Addiction Studies program at Hazeldon Graduate School. After years working as a drug and alcohol counselor, he began to feel burned out. That’s when he met Bob White.
“Bob was a respected artist in the sporting arts community. He saw that I was bringing my work home and encouraged me to make a change. He also bought one of my first paintings so that was a big booster,” said John.
John’s early work contained simple lines with dervish strokes to highlight large and small details. His creative method is more meta than perfectly planned.
“I learn the fly in and out, from how the hackle looked before it was palmered (covered/wrapped), to where the lead-free is positioned under all that thread and dubbing (material for the bodies of artificial fishing flies). The actual tying of the fly gives me a good feel for the painting. Though, when I go fishing with that fly, that can change. Sometimes fish like chewed up flies, instead of pristine. When I paint, I work with all that, see where it goes, and build on it.”
Today, John’s work decorates The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg where he works as a guide and permanent artist-in-residence.
“Western Montana is like the Vatican of fly fishing. There are just so many types of water that make it the best. I want people to have a special experience, especially when it’s their first time fishing. After a catch we take a picture and I cut the fly from their line. Then, I paint that fly. We mat and frame it all together. Instead of a fish on the wall, they have an original, one-of-a-kind piece.”
At the same time he’s creating mementos for new casters, John finds his addiction to the strike waning.
“It’s more about the act of fishing for me now. Being in the present moment. You need to focus so you can react before the fish spits out what it just discovered isn’t real. That moment has become a sacrament and gets me into a meditative way.”