Rock & roll legend. World-class guitarist. Record-setting angler? Turns out that Eric Clapton, one of the greatest musicians of all time, is just as good with a fly rod as he is a guitar.
Clapton, while on a fly-fishing trip to Iceland last week, landed a 28-pound salmon on the Vatnsdalsá River, setting the record for reeling in the biggest salmon of the summer. The massive fish measured 42.5 inches. Working with Vatnsdalsá guide Sturla Birginsson, Clapton had to run over half a mile downriver after hooking the monster, and spent two and a half hours reeling it in. The local fishing association enforces a strict catch-and-release policy on the Vatnsdalsá River, but Clapton was able to snap a picture of his record-setting catch before setting it back into the river.
Reeling in this fish was no case of beginner’s luck. Clapton's love for fly-fishing goes back decades — from learning to fish on the Wey River as a school kid in Surrey, England, to utilizing it as a healthy pastime after getting sober 30 years ago. He described his reintroduction to the sport in his book, Clapton: The Autobiography:
“That first summer of my recovery was one of the most beautiful I can remember, perhaps because I was healthy and clean, and I began to rent some trout-fishing days for myself, mostly on stretches of water in the neighborhood that had been specifically stocked for local fisherman… Fishing is an absorbing pastime and has a Zen quality to it. It’s an ideal pursuit for anyone who wants to think a lot and get things in perspective. It was also a perfect way of getting physically fit again, involving as it does a great deal of walking. I would go out at the crack of dawn and often stay out till nighttime… For once I was actually becoming good at something that had nothing to do with guitar playing or music. For the first time in a long time, I was doing something very normal and fairly mundane, and it was really important to me.”
It was Gary Brooker, the founder of the rock band Procol Harum, who taught Clapton to fly fish. Brooker lived a few miles away from Clapton and explained to him that fly-fishing was different — it was a psychological victory over a trout or salmon. Presenting a fly to a fish without spooking it was most of the challenge. After teaching Clapton how to cast, Brooker knew he had hooked his friend on the sport.
"We went fishing everywhere,” Brooker told Ray Coleman for the book Clapton! “In Japan we had a boat and drifted down river in the rapids and didn’t catch anything at all. But Eric said it was much better than being stuck in the hotel room… His casting’s good and he’s sometimes caught fish when I haven’t. Once, down at Roger Daltrey’s, I caught one and he caught five.”
During his busiest tours, Clapton would request that his long-time manager, Roger Forrester, book only hotels that were near fishing facilities. He would spend hours alone on lakes, rivers, and streams fishing before gigs. He jokingly called his 1986 U.S. tour a “fishing” tour. In a 1998 interview with Larry King, Clapton explained, “We would only play places near water, all across America.”
But when it came time for the rock and roll lifestyle and tour schedule to slow down, Clapton took the opportunity to not just find any place to fish, but the best place to fish — and that’s where Iceland came in. “When I really started to discover it was when I started fishing for salmon,” he says in an Inspired by Iceland video (see below). “It had always been the Holy Grail for salmon fishing — you know, Iceland is ranked up with Norway and Alaska and Russia. These are the places to go.”
Clapton went on his first salmon fishing trip to Iceland in 2000, and has been returning ever since. "It’s the thing I look forward to every year,” he says. “In August we go out there and fish and I take my family and… I look forward to going there because I can forget everything.” Our bet is that this year’s trip is going to be a hard one to forget come next August, when Clapton is back chasing another king salmon.