Fly Fisherman Dave Whitlock's Story

How fly fisherman Dave Whitlock made his passion a career

Posted by Jim Mize on March 29, 2016

Dave Whitlock has made a career of writing about fly fishing, teaching others fly fishing techniques and creating artwork inspired by great catches. But he started out in an entirely different field.

Dave Whitlock is known to many in the outdoors for his fly-fishing innovations, his artistry, and his ability to transfer that knowledge and passion to fly-fishing newcomers. Although his early interests led him in this direction, he took one detour before coming back to it.

“I loved to draw as a kid,” says Dave. “I was handicapped as a teen and used art as an outlet.”

Dave grew up fishing and hunting, getting fly-tying materials from animals that found their way to the table. One of the fly patterns he is best known for is the Red Fox Squirrel-Hair Nymph, partly because he hunted them in his teens. Squirrel hair was in surplus in those days for Dave.

When it came time for college, Dave wanted to major in art and journalism. When he told his family their response was that this was “a waste of time and a hard way to make a living.” So instead, Dave studied the sciences and became a research chemist, pursuing this field until he was in his thirties. Then he found his way back to the outdoors.

A new career

“In 1964, I submitted my first article to Field & Stream,” says Dave. “It was a piece on fishing the White River in Arkansas.”

Field & Stream bought the article and Dave pursued his new career.

But those science degrees didn’t go to waste in Dave’s new venture.

“I have a good strong command of the outdoors,” he says. “Science made me look more objectively.”

When you look at his art and his writing, you will see this in his work.

As Dave progressed, his fields of interest expanded from that first magazine article. He has written five books, contributed to many more, and illustrated at least twenty books including President Jimmy Carter’s Outdoor Journal.  He also continues to use his science degrees to work with stream owners, improving their fish and wildlife habitat, stream stability and natural beauty.

Dave Whitlock displays his artwork and signs one of his books during a fishing show.

A perfect partnership

His partner in business is also his partner in life.  Emily, who learned to fish on her grandparents’ farm in Arkansas, has degrees in botany and biology. An accomplished fly-fishing instructor and photographer, she has won a number of conservation and fly-fishing awards. Her photos have graced both magazine covers and books.

Today, Dave teaches both fishing and fly-tying techniques to others with a passion that’s contagious. You can read it in his books, watch him tying at fly-fishing shows or load one of his DVDs for a detailed lesson.

Dave has settled on a ranch in northeast Oklahoma near Tahlequah. He describes it as the edge of the Ozarks, not far from trout, small mouth and other fish he can chase with a fly rod. Over the years he has proven his family wrong on one point: that a career outdoors would be “a waste of time and a hard way to make a living.” Perhaps it was just a matter of the skill and passion brought to the job.

You can view his artwork and read more about Dave at his website,

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Jim Mize

Jim Mize has written humor and nostalgia for magazines including Gray's Sporting Journal, Fly Fisherman Magazine, Field & Stream, and a number of conservation magazines, picking up over fifty Excellence In Craft awards along the way. His most recent book, a collection of humor for fly fisherman entitled A Creek Trickles Through It, was awarded best outdoor book in 2014 by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. More on Jim and his writing activities can be found at

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