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

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.

Origins of “Fishin’ in the Dark”

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.

“Fishin’ in the Dark” Lyrics Meaning

Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics and see what this song is really all about, starting with the first verse, sung by Jimmy Ibbotson:

Lazy yellow moon comin’ up tonight
Shinin’ through the trees
Crickets are singin’ and lightnin’ bugs
Are floatin’ on the breeze
Baby get ready

First verse to “Fishin’ in the Dark” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

This verse sets the mood, and describes the beautiful evening that is upon them. There’s an air of excitement, as Ibbotson tells his lover to get ready.

In the second verse, he describes their secret hideaway:

Across the field where the crick turns back
By the old stone road
I’m gonna take you to a special place
That nobody knows
Baby get ready
Ooh, ooh

Second verse to “Fishin’ in the Dark” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

While on the surface, the song is simply about fishing, the chorus could just as easily describe a sexual encounter under the light of the 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 maybe 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.

The third verse follows with more excitement, this time about the approaching summer, when he can take his lady fishing all the time:

Spring is almost over and the summer’s comin’
The days are gettin’ long
Waited all winter for the time to be right
Just to take you along
Baby get ready

Third verse to “Fishin’ in the Dark” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

In the fourth and final verse, Ibbotson concedes that it doesn’t matter if they just sit there all night long, with no bites from the fish, because they’ve got each other:

And it don’t matter if we sit forever
And the fish don’t bite
Jump in the river and cool ourselves
From the heat of the night
Baby get ready
Ooh, ooh

Fourth verse to “Fishin’ in the Dark” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

The two lovers can simply dive in the river and cool off from what is likely to be a very hot night, if you know what I mean.

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