Meet JT Van Zandt: Howler Ambassador

Posted on October 17, 2017

We're honored to now have JT Van Zandt on board as a Howler Ambassador. JT has spent over 25 years dedicated to fly fishing, and yes, he is the eldest son of the late Townes Van Zandt - a songwriter of mythical status who some famously argue is the greatest of all time.

JT is a dead ringer for his father and contemplated a life as a songwriter for himself but instead forged his own path as a fly fishing guide and woodworker. He guides the middle coast of Texas for redfish, and builds some of the coolest and sleekest wooden skiffs and canoes you'll ever see. A devoted daddy to two young boys, JT Has created a zen-like connection between family, the outdoors and the legacy of his father's songs. All of this was the the subject of an excellent short film produced by our friends over at Yeti. Check it out here.

We caught up with JT during a photo shoot for our Fall 2017 line and found out a little more about what makes him tick.

Are you really the son of Townes Van Zandt or is that some bullshit you cooked up to get a leg up on the other guides here on Texas' middle coast?
It's true, and something I wouldn't own up to if it weren't. Honestly though, it's been a really cool road I've travelled, and one that uniquely shaped my sensibilities. I try to carry the meaning of my fathers tunes with me and live in a way that honors the wisdom he put out there.

Ten years ago, you almost never saw anyone fly fishing out here but now skiffs and fly anglers are seemingly everywhere on the Texas coast.  Do you feel like this is good or bad?
There are a lot of people everywhere these days and I'm one of them. It has the potential to be positive if we all behave in a way that is respectful towards each other and to the resource. The flats are sacred, and should be treated as such. Don't let a needless behavior of your own have a negative impact on the habitat or another angler.

What's your "go to" Texas redfish fly?  Can you tell us? 
It doesn't need to be elaborate, it just needs to be properly weighted for the depth and well placed so that it darts across the fish's path. If your first cast is well placed, and the first couple strips elicit a response from the fish then it happens. I like a small buck tail fly with bead chain eyes and no flash. I can tie a dozen in 15 min in tan, pink, and chartreuse. It is a sparse pattern that is suggestive of multiple species of prey. The first cast is critical. Think of multiple casts at a redfish like multiple shots at a deer. The animal becomes aware and bolts. Your first cast to an unaware fish offers your greatest opportunity with any fly. Your probability goes down with each additional presentation.

Your boats and skiffs are awesome.   How did you get into boat building?
The Austin Angler was an amazing fly shop. I worked there with Joey Lin and Alvin in the early days and was submersed in a fly fishing rich culture for my formable years. Larry, the owner, and a couple partners opened a wood shop and started building wooden boats in the late 90's. Drift boats, canoes and general boat repair and restoration. I started working there and learned the craft. I took that with me and started building a new model of flats canoe on my own years later when I opened my own wood shop. The whole thing grew from the passion for fly fishing in Texas and the desire to create the perfect boat to approach redfish on the flats. It all started at the Austin Angler.

What's on the stereo when you're working in your shop or sitting at the fly vice? 
I have a small collection of vinyl, when I'm inside the house I listen to classic stuff typically. Lightnin Hopkins, CCR, Fred Neil, AC/DC, my dad. When I'm in the shop I like to hear the equipment and random sounds of work getting done. When I'm driving I go between Classic Vinyl and Willie's Roadhouse on satellite.

You are pitted against fellow Howler Ambassador Alvin Dedeaux in the following events. Who wins in ... 
...casting competition?  Depends on the species we're casting for but pretty equal I'd say. A tie.
...arm wrestling?  I'd win, cause I'd cheat. 
...Jeopardy?  Alvin would win, he's smart.
...taco eating?  Me for sure! but you'd guess the opposite by looking at us.

Tell us why Howler is responsible for making you into the man you are today (shameless promotional section).
Howler has brought a fresh modern and culturally specific feel to outdoor apparel by combining modern technical fabrics with tried and true classic work and western designs from our country's rich past and adding unique elements. I feel more liberated and understood in my Howler gear. My clothing matches my intent and my identity, and it's tougher and more comfortable than other brands. I don't just work in my clothes, I literally live in them around the clock. I need them to match my personality and function to my needs. Best Hats, Shirts and shorts on the market currently.