Music to Fish To

Music to Fish to

I recently decided to hurl myself full-throttle back into saxophonist, composer and painter John Lurie’s intensely bizarre fishing program from the early 90s, Fishing with John, by binge watching every single episode in one sitting. This was not a difficult feat considering there were only 6 short episodes and each features a lovable celebrity guest fishing, or I should say struggling, by his side.

If you haven’t tried out this gem of editing, existentialism and utter absurdity, I urge you to find it immediately. But actually, Fishing with John is not really where I’m going with this.

Watching the show made me ponder what types of music would ideally suit an actual fishing trip and why? Spotify has a playlist called “Gone Fishing”, but that’s just a bunch of songs by dudes that wish they were fishing. So I took it upon myself to consult the natural orders of all irrelevant life information, Google and YouTube. Here’s what I found:


What happens when you Google something like, “What are the best songs to listen to while fishing?”, is that you find the people who talk about that stuff. The experts, as it will. One of the top results of my search was a forum on and it did not disappoint. Let’s hear it from some of the experts on what they listen to while fishing! 

“Jazz, Blues, Classic Rock, and Howard Stern.” 

“NONE. The noise of man is left in my wake, so I can listen to the music of nature.”


“I like both kinds of music, Country & Western.”

“None and I don’t want to hear yours, either!!!!!!!”

“Pink Floyd — Welcome to the Machine on repeat until I catch a fish.”

“A little Whitechapel and Impending Doom to get the blood flowing in the morning.”

“I listen to music when I’m fishing for cats. Bass fishing, I’m too concentrated for music.”

“I listen to the Eagles… not the band, but the birds.”

“The most beautiful music, the sounds of nature.”

“This nature you guys talk about must include guys in outboards doing 70mph across the lake, people in wave runners shooting donuts and people talking.”

“2 chains!”

“The whole Stadium Arcadium album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”

“There is something awesome about listening to great classical composers while on the lake as the sun is coming up and hooking into one of them chunky green fish.”


I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the range of answers I got from the forum, though a few styles did stick out. Classic rock and country were dominant, with metal and hip-hop following closely, yet it seems like most people prefer quietude. Nonsense! I turned to the ever-informative TV fishermen to further prod the conundrum. 

As I scoured YouTube watching every video I could reel in, I noticed a few patterns. Shows tend to start with an upbeat guitar-rock to pump everyone up. But then they’ll ease into a softer, acoustic guitar sound when the host explains where they are and what they’re out to get.

The pump-up seems to be an important part of fishing music. Some people literally get pumped up for fishing by composing their own fish-related rap music. This is a thing that happens.

Please also take a moment to enjoy the Wisconsin rap stylings of Shad-Rapp and their rendition of “Ice Fish Baby”.

Then of course, the show River Monsters upends everything since it’s basically Animal Planet’s own horror movie. Episodes feature epic hunts, searches for mysterious creatures and death-defying expeditions to the wild accompanied by pretty horrific sound design and eerie music.

However, most of our fishing experiences tend not to include stand offs with grizzly bears in the wild, so perhaps this is an outlier of sorts.

Casting back to Fishing with John

Do the Dance
Matt Dillon & John Lurie do a dance for the fish in Costa Rica.

Looking back to the Fishing with John soundtrack, which is almost entirely Lurie’s own stream-of-consciousness concoctions of sound and music with guest appearances by jazz personalities from his world, I need to briefly address its effectiveness as an accompaniment to the outdoors.

Afro-carribean infused jazz and instrumental musics make up the score to the show, likely in order to suit the viewer’s experience of the places he travels to. I can imagine that if you’re fishing in Thailand or Costa Rica for example, it’s probably appropriate to be listening to native music from that area…

However, very little of this music appears during the fishing sequences themselves. It is predominantly featured in montages, travel shots, and down-time moments.

Most fishing shows edit out the moments when they’re not catching anything. Fishing with John uses those moments almost exclusively, so in essence, it’s more true to the actual experience of fishing than other programs. The show is always three parts tongue-in-cheek, one part true documentary. And yet it focuses in on existential topics of life and death, innocence and experience, and morality, probably more than fishing itself. So, Lurie’s music needs to be able to accommodate that kind of material.

This isn’t really music meant for fishing, it’s music meant for thinking. But then again, doesn’t that also make it great music for fishing?

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