Pro skateboarder turned frothy fly fisher David Gravette spoke to The Mission about sucker love, catastrophic injuries, cyberphobia and toe pin Clousers. From The Mission Issue 45 (May/Jun 2024).

The Beats: Issue 45

David’s love of country music is well documented in his skateboarding videos so for this issue of The Mission he has put together a playlist of his favourite country tracks. Listen at Spotify.

david gravette fishing

“Embodies everything fly fishing isn’t.”

I’ll never forget that comment on the video behind our first cover of The Mission, shot by Oliver Kruger at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. The cover featuring Conrad Botes holding a carp caught on a stompie (cigarette butt) fly in the Castle’s moat was a guerrilla operation, and both the image and the video were shot the way skateboarding videos are, rough and ready, dodging the authorities, pulling off the trick. The comment came from a guy who I had seen around club events. He seemed OK, regular trout guy, dabbled in tying some salmon flies, etc., but he clearly did not appreciate the direction we had embarked upon with The Mission.

I’ve thought about that comment so often since then. It can be seen as criticism or a compliment. I prefer the latter even if it was not meant that way.

“It’s fishing, don’t take it so seriously.”

Pro skateboarder David Gravette makes me think about it too. Watching what he does for a day job – skating and performing insane tricks in the underbellies of cities or ramping through what looks like the bowels of hell (but is in fact Florideah Swampfest, a muddy extravaganza that looks like the bastard offspring of the X-Games, Glastonbury and the now defunct Testy Fest) – there’s little doubt that by our YouTube Karen’s traditionalist standards, David “embodies everything fly fishing isn’t.”

But, if you can let go of any pre-conceived proprietorial bollocks over who fly fishes and how they do it, it immediately becomes clear that David Gravette is a fly fishing fanatic of the highest order. He might be several solar systems away in time and space from the likes of Halford and Skues (unless they too had “Thrasher King of the Road” tattooed into their eyebrows), but fly fishing permeates David’s life from the rod that goes everywhere in his van when out skateboarding to the artwork on the decks of his sponsored skateboards.

david gravette fishing skateboard decks

“And anyway carp are just assholes, man. They’re there one day and then gone the next.”

When we interviewed him for this issue, David had recently moved out of Portland, Oregon to a town 20 minutes way. It was a push and pull thing. Portland’s tweakers (meth addicts) were making it uncomfortable to leave his partner at home to go on skate trips. In their new home, he has deer in his backyard and a small lake within walking distance where he can catch bluegill and bass in the summer. The rest of the time, in between skating, he’s either trying to swing out winter steelhead, catch trout in high mountain lakes, or land bass and his beloved carp in less savoury water sources.

The Mission (TM): David, you’re a fascinating character, mainly because you obviously excel in the skateboarding world, but now people see you coming to prominence in the fly fishing scene, a world traditionally associated with old men with extreme ear hair who pick up roadkill and wear tweed OR wanker-bankers paying big bucks for high-end fishing. How did you come to fly fishing?
David Gravette (DG): I’ve always been into the outdoors. I was in tracking class when I was a kid, my family did backpacking and stuff like that. I did do fishing as a kid, but it was mostly gear. My dad fly fished. We’ve recently been talking about it and I said, “Damn dad, why didn’t you get me into this earlier?” He said, “I know, I’m sorry, but we’d get to the lake and I just wanted to fish. I didn’t have time to fish either, so I’d let your mother deal with all your snags.”

“Sometimes what it takes is to be so wrong that you’re offering the fish something different to anything that it’s ever seen.”

In 2017 I went through some real bad injuries. I had mega shoulder surgery and had two years off. As soon as I got better from that, my hips started dislocating and I had to get hip surgery.

TM: We heard you earned the nickname Captain Dislocate.
DG: Yeah, it kept dislocating and I thought skating was over for sure so I was real low. I’d started kayaking for a bit of rehab on my shoulder when one of my roommates at the time, Nick Kenny, said, “You have to troll a fly line if you’re going to kayak.” I didn’t know what he meant because I thought that fly fishing was super-complicated and it was going to be too much to learn. He explained that you just drag the line behind you. So we went out to the lake, did that and caught five fish. From there I just started learning, doing a bit of casting from the kayak.

It’s great to learn about fly fishing from a kayak or any floating thing, because if you get discouraged with your casting, you can just paddle around the lake and explore and catch fish every now and then. Never thought I would find something that I cared about as much as skateboarding, but yeah, I’m incredibly frothy. I love fly fishing so much.

david gravette fishing

“I don’t think there is any better cross training for skating than wading rivers.”

TM: Did fly fishing help you find your confidence after the injuries?
I’ve been hurt a lot my whole life. I’ve had like 14 surgeries now, with tons of time off. It used to be really difficult to come back; it would take me a couple of weeks, maybe even a month to feel like I had board control again. Since I’ve started fly fishing all the time, if I get hurt and don’t skate for six months, that first day back on the board, I’m filming like four or five tricks. I don’t think there is any better cross training for skating than wading rivers. You’re learning to be light footed; every foot you place down triggers all these different muscles that don’t really know what kind of balance they’re going to find. Those constant little adjustments are exactly what you need in skating.

TM: Talking to other skateboarders about this, have you converted any into fly anglers?
A lot of people who have struggled with being able to skateboard on a regular basis, have picked it up. But also, some people just seem to get the bug and others don’t. They don’t get how powerful it is. I think it’s a great excuse to be in nature for a long time while you’re also trying to be quiet and cover ground. So many times, the highlight of your day fishing has nothing to do with catching a fish but something cool you see.

“So many times, the highlight of your day fishing has nothing to do with catching a fish but something cool you see.”

TM: Would you say that skateboarding and filming difficult tricks can be similar to fly fishing? Like the challenge of catching a fish where you’ve got to pull everything together in a very specific way?
I haven’t experienced anything that comes closer to the feeling I get when I accomplish something really hard in skating – either something I had to really scare myself into doing or something that took me hours and hours. That feeling of “I can’t believe it!” is one of the greatest feelings and the only other way I’ve like felt that is when I get a really good fish. Something you’ve worked so hard for. Like catching a 10 pounder on like 5X or getting through some crazy battle or the first time I swung up a winter steelhead. There’s no skate trick that I tried for as many hours as I did trying to catch a winter steelhead. That took eight months, mostly because I was fishing the wrong river.

TM: What are the best and worst parts about being on a Thrasher King of the Road tour?
DG: Best part is watching somebody else do something absolutely ridiculous and painful and suffer. Worst part is being the one who’s doing the totally ridiculous, painful suffering thing. It’s a rollercoaster for sure. Some of the most extreme fun I’ve had and the hardest I’ve ever laughed was on King of the Road. Thereare times when you’re so sore and beaten up that if you weren’t on tour, you would not skateboard that day. There are all these ridiculous tricks that on the list you go out and try something that you wouldn’t ever try even when feeling your best. You do everything you can for your team.

“There’s no skate trick that I tried for as many hours as I did trying to catch a winter steelhead. That took eight months, mostly because I was fishing the wrong river.”

TM: Tell us about your obsession with carp.
The most important thing with carp fishing are the conditions. My friend KC Badger always says the three things you really want are 1) fish, 2) vision to see the fish, and 3) the fish being willing to eat. Usually, you get to pick one out of three. Often you’ll see them a bunch, but they’re hard to get to eat. They’re hard in general, but sometimes they’re just willing to eat anything. Other days you’ll find willing to eat, but it’s windy as hell, and you can’t see anything. You can see the shadows and you know you’re in the vicinity, but you just can’t see them eat your fly, which is so important.

Around here in the summer, it’s really hard to get a clear day when it’s sunny and also not windy, or the other way around. The dream is to walk the flats and sight-fish carp like you do permit or bonefish. I’ve experienced it but not very often.

“I catch a lot of carp with just a foot of line out.”

More often than not I’m being extremely sneaky walking around the edges of really muddy water where there is zero clarity. I’ll see a fish feeding right on the edge and I’ve just got to make a really short stealthy cast. I catch a lot of carp with just a foot of line out and I’m just sneaking up to it, extending my arm and dipping the fly next to its mouth. It’s the coolest thing, they’ll literally quick turn, suck it in and you set. It’s also really fun to make a far cast at one that you can actually see and watch it break its path and come over. I love when you’re walking the bank and you see some coming and you can run up ahead and cast where you think they’re going to be and just leave your fly there till they get closer.

Then you start popping it a little bit and then they’ll swim down and suck it up. In those situations, when you can fish them on the flats and the bigger water, you have way more room to let them run than when you try catching them in slews and ponds where it can be tight-quarters war.

“You don’t need to have all the gear to go catch fish.”

TM: How did you get hooked up with Redington?
Really early on when I started fly fishing, I was becoming friends with KC Badger through biking because I also like the BMX scene. The first day we went fishing together, I still had my dad’s old rod, a 70s Fenwick. KC gave me a complete Redington Crosswater setup and it was way easier, I loved it and I fished the hell out of it. KC’s obviously sponsored by Redington and we’re all homies, so I was just tagging Redington, and they started messaging me, sending me stuff and it grew from there. It’s been incredibly beneficial. I don’t know how I would fish as much as I do without their support. I go through things and fly fishing is too expensive. Luckily, Redington has got a lot of quality stuff at an affordable price.

I think for many people their favourite part about fishing is buying gear. Like every time they go fishing. It’s probably the only thing keeping fly shops in business so I guess that’s good, but you don’t need to have all the gear to go catch fish.

Read the rest of our interview with David and see more pics in The Mission Issue 45 below – completely free.

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