Back to the river
Punk troubadour balances music life and fly fishing
At 4 a.m., when many touring musicians might be winding down from a wild night, punk-rock troubadour Chuck Ragan is just starting his day, often on the bank of a river.
Since 1994, Ragan has been a fixture in the punk and DIY folk worlds, and for two decades he toured relentlessly, both with the Gainseville, Fla.-based post-hardcore crew Hot Water Music and as a solo artist. In the last few years, however, he’s decided to play fewer shows and spend more time on his other passion—fly fishing.
“Nowadays I spend much more time on the water than I do in a van on the road,” Ragan said. “I knew at some point in time the crazy touring schedule [would]—if not come to an end—really have to slow down.”
Ragan now lives with his wife and young son in nearby Grass Valley, where he runs his Chuck Ragan Fly Fishing business.
“I’ve fished since some of my earliest memories; I grew [up] in a family pretty passionate about it,” Ragan said during a recent interview. “It could look like a really big career change in the middle of my life, but for me it wasn’t much of a stretch from what I was already doing. Over a decade ago it was kind of in the back of my mind. I looked at it as something one day I’d love to do, and at the time I didn’t realize it was what I was meant to do.”
Though he spends more time on the river these days, Ragan has no plans to retire from music.
“As far as the music life, I’ve sacrificed so much and put so much into it, and at the same time developed a really incredible community that surrounds that music,” Ragan said. “To me it wouldn’t make any sense at all to completely walk away from it all.”
Hot Water Music is in the midst of a worldwide 25th-anniversary tour—alternating between performing two of the band’s classic albums, No Division (1999) and Caution (2002), in full—and released a new EP, Shake the Shadows, this spring.
While the band has been on-again, off-again, Ragan’s solo career has been constant. The gruff-voiced, heart-on-his-sleeve singer/songwriter has said in recent interviews that he’ll have a follow-up to his last album, Til Midnight (2014), at some point in 2020, and he’s currently doing solo gigs during the band’s off weeks.
Ragan is doing his best these days to create a balance between the road and the river. He now books a majority of his tours to align with fishing seasons and close-by rivers along the way, and he gets up early to fish the first half of the day before heading to the next tour stop. In fact, the morning of his Chico solo show—Friday, July 12, at Argus Bar + Patio—he’ll join fellow guide and business partner (and guitarist/singer for the local opening band, Royal Oaks) on the Sacramento River as live guests on the Barbless fly-fishing podcast (podcast.barbless.co).
“Nowadays, I take advantage of all these places I used to miss along the way,” Ragan said. “I spent so many years just blowin’ it, being in these incredible places close to these gorgeous fisheries, just spent the time doing boring things like sleeping. I’m just joking, but I’m serious actually.”