Les Claypool of Primus: On hooking a humpback whale

Photographer: Press photo

The following is an excerpt from our April issue, which hits the streets today and tomorrow. Grab a copy or click the link to read the full interview.


Les Claypool is primarily known as one of the best bassists of all time, fronting alternative rock legends Primus since the late ’80s. He’s also known as the creator of the theme song to South Park. But did you know Claypool also has another passion besides music?

Give Claypool a fishing pole, and he’s in heaven. He’s written several songs about fishing (including “John the Fisherman” and “Fish On”), and his enthusiasm for the sport runs so deep that he almost had a reality TV fishing show with Mickey Melchiondo Jr. (aka Dean Ween of New Hope-based band Ween), taking people on chartered deep-sea fishing tours off the coast of New Jersey.

In anticipation of Primus’ concert appearance this month at the Hershey Theatre, I talked to Claypool about his lifelong obsession with fishing (among many other subjects). You can read that in the April issue of Fly Magazine. But here, I asked Claypool about tall fishing tales.


Michael Yoder: Your love of fishing is pretty well recognized. What’s your tallest fishing tale?

Les Claypool: I caught a whale once. [laughs] I did – a humpback whale. My father and I were fishing off of Birdrock down in Bodega Bay, and it was very foggy and super calm – really flat and calm. We were mooching for salmon, which you use this really light gear, and you used to be able to use these jigs. You can’t use them anymore, but we were using these little jigs. You just kind of sit there with your lines down about 30-40 feet, and you’re bobbing it up and down for the salmon. I heard this “phoosh,” and I was like, “What the hell?” I heard it a little closer – “phoosh” – and I’m looking at my dad, and he’s looking at me. He says, “Whale?,” and I said, “Yeah.”

“I heard it a little closer – “phoosh” – and I’m looking at my dad, and he’s looking at me. He says, “Whale?,” and I said, “Yeah.”

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All of a sudden, “phoosh,” and right up next to the boat is this whale – a young humpback, probably 25 feet long. It kept coming up on one side of the boat, and then it would come up on the other side of the boat. It’s looking at us with its eye, and we put our poles down and we’re watching this whale. We’re going up to the pulpit, and this thing was just hanging out by the boat. It was like 20 minutes that it was hanging out. So pretty soon we’re like, “Ok, we’re tired of the whale. Let’s get back to fishing.” We go back and put our rods back in, and all of a sudden I get a nibble. I’m hooked up, and I can see the line going out and coming up towards the surface. I go, “It’s gonna’ jump!” and all of a sudden, “phoosh” – the whale is going away from us. To this day, my dad says he wishes he had a camera because he laughed his ass off and had a perfect view of me holding the rod, looking over my shoulder and this whale surfacing. What had happened is he got kind of tangled up in one of his pectoral flippers there, and I just cut the line. We were laughing our asses off. After that, the whale left. Even though it was just this little tiny pinprick, he felt it, and it probably annoyed him, so he just swam off after that. So I hooked into a whale – didn’t land it.


Read the full interview with Les Claypool in the April issue of Fly Magazine.

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Michael Yoder has been writing stories at numerous publications for more than a decade. His interests include impersonating Santa Claus, performing stand-up comedy and drawing circular objects. His dream is to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Michael is a former features editor for Fly; he left in 2015.

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