Marin Musician Jonathan Korty’s Ultimate Pandemic Pivot

Illustration by Tiffany Dang

Before the pandemic, Fairfax musician Jonathan Korty was a busy guy. You might have seen him play at numerous local venues in bands like Soul Ska, Koolerator or Vinyl, or maybe you performed at one of his open mics or played a club he was booking. Or maybe you saw him in Les Claypool’s (Primus) Electric Apricot movie. Indeed, the affable Korty was a Marin staple who seemed to be everywhere. But that all changed overnight when music venues were forced to close in March.

So Korty did something unexpected and used his love of fishing, which he developed as a child when he and his brother spent all their off time angling in Marin, to found the wildly successful Korty’s Fish Camp. “This comes at a perfect time for me as a parent with three kids to find a different way to make some money,” Korty says. “I know that Covid has been hard on a lot of people and they had to get real creative. I just have to count my lucky stars that I came up with this idea and that it worked.”

The concept came when Korty started taking his kids out fishing to instill a love of the outdoors and, before long, other kids started to join, much to the delight of their moms and dads. “Parents loved it when I took their kids fishing and would say ‘This is such a cool thing to teach them, thank you, this is something that we wouldn’t have been able to show them because we aren’t from Marin and didn’t know there were lakes on Mount Tam,’ ” Korty says. “Then Covid hit and all my gigs dried up and I decided to do something to make money that I enjoyed doing. And I also thought, What can I do to help get some of these kids out who are sitting inside staring at screens all day long?”

Korty started the camp and began loading children into his minivan (seven seems to be the perfect number), providing all the necessary poles, equipment and bait and taking the crew to spots where he was confident they could catch fish. The next thing he knew, his weeklong camps that run from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June through August were sold out, the parents were grateful and the kids were pumped up. “You know that look on a kid’s face when they catch that first fish, it’s that smile that’s so amazing,” Korty says, adding that participants have caught leopard sharks, striped bass, surfperch, halibut and bat rays at various lake and ocean sites. “The stories started piling up, week after week; we had kids who were catching halibut and I would fillet the fish up and send them home with dinner. We had kids catching giant bat rays and fighting them for 45 minutes on the beach.”

For San Anselmo mom Kate Danziger, who lost her husband unexpectedly in April, the camp has been invaluable for her son Aidan, who loves to fish and has been hit hard by the loss of his dad. “Jonathan has helped to bring little moments of joy back to Aidan’s life,” she says. “From a parent’s point of view, Jonathan makes it special because he is steady, patient, knowledgeable and kind, which is just what these kids need right now.”

“It truly was a pivot for me because everyone knows me as a musician,” Korty says. “And now I have this huge demographic of kids who have never seen me play music and all they know is that I am John the fisher guy.”

When Korty tramps down the trail and arrives at a fishing site with seven young people in tow, he definitely gets attention from locals and fishermen. “I’ve found a lot of support from people who come up and ask me what I’m doing and say ‘That is so cool,’ ” he says. “They’ll give me tips about what’s biting, where there is a good tide, what locations to fish at.”

Back when Korty, 52, started the camp, he didn’t know if it would be too much for him or if it would be too stressful and exhausting, but he found the opposite to be true. “I discovered that I am really well suited to it,” he says, describing days of teaching kids how to take care of and carry their own gear, tie knots, fix their own tangles and rig up their own poles. “It was invigorating and exactly in my wheelhouse.”

And about his other life as a musician, Korty thinks his new venture may be the perfect complement. “I’m looking forward to the day when I can do both these things,” he says. “I can fish all day with these kids, be done by 4:30 so I can make it to a load-in, sound check and play a gig that night.”

Prices are $500 for the week or $15 an hour outside of scheduled camp sessions. Age ranges are from 6 to 18 and Covid-19 precautions are in place.