Angler combines fly fishing and art in a unique way

Posted on: September 21, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Fly fishing meets art with this Pittsburgh river angler.

Alessio DeIuliis holds one of his paintings, this one of a steelhead.
Photo: Courtesy Alessio DeIuliis

Some anglers assert that fly fishing, executed properly, is art.

For Alessio DeIuliis, it led to art.

The Wexford resident grew up in Ingomar, fishing Pittsburgh’s three rivers with his dad. Later, he took up pursuing flathead catfish, tossing big, live bluegills to tempt the predators.

Hybrid striped bass are terrific fighters.

DeIuliis with a hybrid striper pulled from one of Pittsburgh’s three rivers.
Photo: Courtesy Alessio DeIuliis

Then, he made a change.

“I got bored, so I picked up a fly rod,” DeIuliis said.

Unlike some, though, he didn’t gravitate to chasing trout with tiny dry flies on mountain streams. His heart was still with the rivers. So he decided to pursue fish there, but with 8-weight and 10-weight fly rods.

“If a fish isn’t going to try and rip the rod out of my hand, I’m not really interested. Plus, I didn’t know anyone else that was doing it. So I think that was part of the challenge, trying to figure it out,” DeIuliis said.

Figure it out he has.

Devising his own fly patterns – like the chartreuse imitation of a Berkley Gulp minnow for nighttime walleyes – he catches pretty much everything that swims locally. He’s landed 20-inch smallmouths, 12-pound hybrid stripers, a 40-inch musky and flatheads of 30-plus pounds.

It’s no fluke either. DeIuliis – one of the founders of the Facebook group Steel City Anglers – has lost bigger fish of all those varieties, too.

Some of his best action comes from swinging and stripping streamers just below river dams on Sunday mornings, a time the 39-year-old with twin 5-year-olds reserves for himself.

Alessio DeIuliis' paintings begin with photographs that offer an interesting combination of light and color.

Some of Alessio DeIuliis’ paintings are photo realistic, others more impressionistic.
Photo: Courtesy Alessio DeIuliis

Each kind of fish has its own attractions, he said. Flatheads, for example, are bull strong and burrow for the bottom right away. Smallmouths are eager fighters, especially in spring.

Hybrid stripers might be his favorite, though.

“The stripers just go crazy. They really know how to ride that current. They peel line out right away, so that there are times when even that 10-weight isn’t enough,” he said.

“And you do occasionally get to see them take your fly, too, which is pretty wild. All of the sudden they come up in that white water and, wham!”

What’s perhaps most unusual about his fishing, though, is what else it prompted.

DeIuliis has started painting again.

He has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and once, in addition to painting, worked as a photographer. When he started tying flies, though, he put his art away.

“For 10 years I did absolutely nothing,” he said.

Today, he’s back at it, combining his art with his fishing.

He’ll tie a fly, catch a fish on it, take a photo of that specimen and then paint it. He works in oils, creating larger works — 24-by-36 inches, if not bigger — that are sometimes photo realistic, sometimes impressionistic.

It wasn’t easy getting back into the swing of things after being so long away. He started out doing pencil drawings, he said, “to knock the rust off,” then went to working with charcoal.

Now, though, he’s got his vision back.

“It’s kind of a fun process,” he said. “And it all starts at the vice. It kind of makes fishing a part of the whole experience.”

With his young kids, and a full-time job as a wine salesman, DeIuliis works on his art like he fishes, at odd hours – “I trade sleep to paint” – at home. It can be tedious at times, he admits. He has to “see” a painting in a photo before he can really get going on it.

But he’s used to that in a way.

Sometimes, he said, a dependable fly pattern suddenly won’t catch fish. He’ll have to tie something a little different, be it a bit smaller or larger, to get fish to bite.

Likewise, a painting that he starts with one thought in mind sometimes has to go another direction in the end.

“There are definitely times I question my sanity. But then, fly fishing, sometimes that makes me question my sanity, too,” he said.

He’s completed about 20 pieces so far, painting in between times when the fishing is at its hottest. All have been for himself so far.

DeIuliis is taking on commissions, though, so if all goes well his art will likely soon have a bigger audience.

In the meantime, he’ll keep casting and keep painting. Both bring him joy, though admittedly in different ways.

“I kind of love them both equally,” DeIuliis said. “They’re both kind of therapeutic. Sometimes it’s hard to beat that screaming of your reel, though.”

Alessio DeIuliis works in oil paintings.

Muskies, catfish, bass and other species are what Alessio DeIuliis pursues and ultimately paints.
Photo: Courtesy Alessio DeIuliis

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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