Tell me a little about yourself.
My Name is Ben West, I am a Fly Fisherman and Artist. I live in Bloomington, Indiana where I chase a variety of fish. Some of my other interests include bowhunting whitetail deer, spring turkey hunting, mountain biking, gardening, cooking/grilling, live music, mushroom hunting, training my chocolate Labrador.
Do you paint full time, or do you have a 9-5?
I have several other jobs that I do aside from painting. I am a fly fishing guide. Last summer I was up in Alaska working as a guide with Deneki Outdoors; Alaska West Lodge. I love guiding and being on the water every day. It is my true calling. I have spent a few summers guiding out in Wyoming in the past as well. When I am back home in Bloomington I juggle my time between Carpentry, Farming, and Artwork.
Tell me a bit about your home waters. Outside of that, what’s your favorite place to fish?
In the early spring I fish for Musky, they are a mean predator of a fish that really capture the imagination and are quite a challenge to catch on any tackle let alone fly tackle. I also chase after early spring carp in my favorite creek. In the past few years I have really grown finatical about carp fishing with the fly rod. It is a ton of fun, they live everywhere and are a challenging fish to catch. They are great practice for saltwater flats fishing and even backcountry stealth trout fishing. I fish a lot in Lake Monroe which is the largest lake in Indiana and luckily it is very close to home. My favorite species to chase in the lake is the Hybrid Striped Bass. We call them Wipers cause they are a hybrid between a White Bass and a Striped Bass(Striper). Once they start up in the spring that is all that I chase after because they are an amazingly strong fish that run in schools. I have had incredible days fishing for them catching dozens of fish in the 10-12 lb range. They are a fish that will give you a workout and really peel off some backing from the reel. I also enjoy fishing for smallmouth bass in a scenic small stream. Smallmouth bass are an awesome fish, they are aggressive predators and sometimes impressive acrobats. As far as favorite place to fish outside of the home waters I have to say Alaska. I spent 4 months last year living on the remote Kanektok River in the Western Alaskan Tundra. The fishery is absolutely incredible. We caught all 5 species of Pacific Salmon, Leopard Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden, and Arctic Grayling. The whole Alaskan fishing experience would take a lot of time and words to describe. The fishing is just astounding up there in so many ways.
What led you down the long road that is fly fishing?
In Middle school my wood shop teacher was an avid tournament bass fisherman and he always had bass magazines around the classroom. He was a great resource for getting me into bass fishing. We fished a tournament or two and quickly I became obsessed with bass fishing. I was soaking it up like a sponge. I read everything I could about techniques and lures. I got up early to watch the bassmasters classic on the weekends, when a show came on and they were fly fishing for brown trout. I thought that looked like a lot of fun. So I borrowed a fly rod from a friend, and taught myself how to catch bluegill and bass on the neighbors farm pond. I grew up in the country in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The pond across the street was where I really learned a TON about fishing. It was close enough to ride my bike there and I did, every single day after school. The farmer must have thought I was crazy as hell cause it would be pouring down rain or blowing like crazy and I would be on the dam, casting into the wind! I am just really fortunate and grateful to have grown up in the country and to live so close to a pond. I believe that is truly how got hooked on fly fishing.
What’s your favorite fish to target?
Tough question... there is a fish for every season. There is also something about every species that captures my interest. Big gnarly brown trout would probably have to be my answer though. They are the perfect fish. I love how aggressive they are as predators and how colorful and amazingly stunning they are as well. They will charge down you streamer and crush it with authority or they might come to the surface and slurp your hopper.
What's your greatest fishing memory, good or bad?
I think the strongest memories in fishing are of those big fish that you get to see JUST ONCE before they shake out the hook, or pull you into the wood and break you off. I think its that quick glimpse of that fish right before it gets away that we all remember, and will never forget. Losing a big fish hurts, but it just fuels the fire even more and really captures your imagination.
How long have you been painting?
I sold my first painting for Two dollars to my Kindergarten art teacher. It was a painting of a troll under a bridge. I come from an artistic family. My Mom is an artist, she works in oil and paints landscapes around home in the mountains and valleys of Virginia. My dad works with wood, he is a carpenter and wood carver. They always encouraged me to draw, paint, and be productive. I studied art at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. I graduated in 2010 and my senior thesis was a series of large oil paintings of trout.
When you’re first considering a new painting, where do you find your inspiration?
I primarily paint fish that I have personally caught myself or helped someone land. I will sort through my own photographs and get excited about the memory of that fish or that place and start from there.
What other mediums do you work in? Water colors, colored pencils, etc?
All of my paintings are Oils, but I do work with watercolors and pens for sketching. I usually do several small sketches to work on composition and to practice drawing a fish before it goes onto a larger canvas.
Tell me a bit more about your guiding
I love guiding. It's great to share and teach this passion of fly fishing with others. I enjoy spending a lot of time outside and on the water. Last summer I was guiding at Alaska West Lodge. I was up there for four months. I lived on the Kanektok River and was on the water about 12-14hrs a day. When you spend that much time on any body of water you start to understand it. I really enjoy sharing that knowledge and creating fishing memories with people.
How does guiding influence or impact your painting, and vice versa?
I am able to take a lot of fish photographs when I am guiding. It's a great way to collect painting references. I also am able to do commissioned paintings for clients. If they catch a fish of a lifetime and want a painting of it I can make it happen.
Who are your favorite artists?
Winslow Homer, Derek DeYoung, Paul Puckett, Tim Borski, Robert Bateman. Truly inspiring artwork.
For everyone looking to see more of your art, where can they learn more?
I have a blog were you can see some of my images. westriverart.blogspot.com also check out my Facebook page Ben West Art.
I look forward to creating a website and also making prints available. Rght now all the pieces I have for sale are original oil paintings. You can contact me about paintings or commissions at firstname.lastname@example.org