The Meaning of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark”

The Nitty Gritty Dirt band in 1973. Photo by Chris Walter.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1987 country hit “Fishin’ in the Dark” carries with it a double meaning that is simultaneously about fishing and a peaceful late-night encounter with a loved one.

Written by California songwriters Wendy Waldman and Jim Photoglo, the track appeared on the band’s 1987 album Hold On and has since found its way into the hearts of both fishermen and moonlit boot-kickers everywhere. It has even been covered by arguably the the biggest name in country, Garth Brooks, and many more.

The song has a feel of excitement thanks to its bouncy melody, and the lyrics capitalize on this exciting feeling by telling of the perfect evening to go fishing.

With a “lazy yellow moon coming up tonight,” a nice, cool breeze blowing over the creek, with crickets and lightning bugs abound. It sounds like the ideal summer evening, especially when you’ve got a loved one by your side. So “baby get ready,” because we’re going “Fishin’ in the Dark.”

While on the surface, the song is clearly about fishing, the chorus could just as easily describe a sexual encounter under the light of the summer stars:

You and me go fishin’ in the dark
Lyin’ on our backs and countin’ the stars
Where the cool grass grows
Down by the river in the full moonlight
We’ll be fallin’ in love in the middle of the night
Just movin’ slow
Stayin’ the whole night through
It feels so good to be with you

Chorus to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark”.

In this case, we would imagine the two fishing poles stuck in the dirt while the lovers lie on their backs, perhaps on a blanket but likely just in the grass, making love.

So, they are indeed fishing, but they aren’t exactly paying attention to the fish. That doesn’t matter, though, because all you need is that special person by your side and it’s a good night, even if the fish aren’t biting.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Hold On cover art.

According to a 2015 interview that songwriter Jim Photoglo did with the Tennessean, the song came out of a melody that Jim had been working with in the mid 80s, inspired by a few visits to Nashville earlier that decade.

Jim showed the melody to Wendy Waldman and she was the one who suggested that they write a song about fishing. He was hesitant at first, but he relented, and the beloved “Fishin’ in the Dark” was born.

And the first thing I thought was, “I want to run away screaming, because I love my song.” But she said, “No, fishing in the dark.” We started messing around with it, and it just happened, you know? We did it for fun. We weren’t trying to be like any other song.

Jim Photoglo on the origins of “Fishin’ in the Dark”.

Interestingly enough, the songwriters make no mention of the song also being about sex. Perhaps we just have dirty minds here at Extra Chill, but we think the lyrics speak for themselves.

Listen to “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band below.

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