I went down to Edison, NJ for the fly show this past January specifically to talk Fin and Skin with Dan Santoro. The booth was busy with the sound of the tattoo machine buzzing and onlookers checking out the work.

Flylords: When did you start tattooing and fly fishing?

Dan Santoro: I started my apprenticeship in 2000 and was tattooing full time by September of 2001. About 6 years ago I did a float trip on the Delaware with one of my oldest friends Chris Calabrese, who was already neck-deep in fly fishing. After I landed a smallmouth on a Clouser minnow almost at the boat ramp after a long day of getting skunked with spin gear. I was elated and immediately bought a setup. I feel like to some degree I’ve been doing fishing tattoos my entire career, especially having learned to tattoo in a very blue-collar area, but trying to understand and appreciate fish more has definitely pushed me further along the path. In a way, tattooing and painting fish has become an extension of what I love about fishing when I can’t actually be outside.
getting tattooed
Image courtesy of @lbrasseur

Flylords: How often would you say you get to do fishing-related tattoos?

Dan Santoro: When it rains it pours. Some weeks I feel like it’s a big chunk of my clientele, other times I get none at all. In 2018 I was donating a portion of every fishing-related tattoo to conservation and that really sparked something. I was tattooing people who may have otherwise never found me, or even gotten tattooed. It was actually getting kinda crazy. Doing several weekly, I was like “ok I need to get back to making money” haha. I will probably be getting conservation literature in the mail until the day I die.

Dan Santoro Bass Tattoo
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: For the most part I feel like the traditional fly fishing crowd is not the same clientele that walk into your studio. How did you get involved with tattooing at the fly fishing show? What were your thoughts?

Dan Santoro: It’s all changing. The new guard has far less of a stigma with tattooing and I think maybe some of the younger folks open that door for the older more conservative types. I’ve done plenty of first-time tattoos on 60 plus years old people who tell me they have wanted a tattoo their entire life and now they feel liberated with age and are no longer concerned with the opinions of others. I get goosebumps. It’s really empowering if you let it be. Offering a service that allows a passionate fisherman to express themselves is really an honor in my life. As far as the fly show, Casey Anderson who is a friend of mine, tattooer, and guide on Pyramid Lake set it all up. I was honestly shocked that it had become a thing, but glad that it has.

Dan Santoro Red fish Catch and release
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: I know you were based in NYC for a while where are you tattooing these days? What is the best way for someone to contact you?

Dan Santoro: I am currently at American House in Hawley Pennsylvania. My shop is essentially an appointment-only private studio that I share with my friend Dan Nelson. I have two children now and wanted to slow it down a bit after many years in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and central NJ. I do everything via email and I am fairly easy to find with a quick internet search.

Dan Santoro Tattoo
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: What’s your favorite fish related tattoo you have done?

Dan Santoro: It’s really hard to say and I am grateful for having done so many. I like it when clients are open to a more expressionist version of a fishing-related tattoo. I have no interest in realism on almost any level, so I appreciate it when people aren’t hung up on anatomical correctness and are open to something fun.
Dan Santoro Musky tattoo
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: If you could pick anywhere in the world to fish and tattoo where would it be?

Dan Santoro: Maybe riverside tattooing off a car battery in Labrador. I don’t know how busy I’d be. Eventually I’d also like to go back to Iceland. I have tattooed there in the past. It was a great experience and the locals were excited to get tattooed. However, these days if I’m getting on a plane, I don’t want to bring tattoo equipment, just my rod. I am very lucky to be busy at home.

Dan Santoro Hobo Carp Tattoo
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: I have seen tattoos become more socially acceptable overall but I don’t see a lot of guys out on the water that are heavily tattooed.  Do you ever feel like you get the feeling of judgment or looks on the water or in the fly shop?

Dan Santoro: Honestly I have to say no and I can’t think of one direct negative interaction. I have actually had people with no visible tattoos on them at fly shops and shows tell me they follow my work. That’s pretty special.
Dan Santoro Small mouth bass
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: What’s your favorite species to target and what’s your favorite species to tattoo?

Dan Santoro: I’d have to say smallmouth and brook trout. I grew up bass fishing with dad. Every year we did a long Maine trip. My wife and I have picked up on the tradition. We do a yearly long trip up there now that we have a family of our own. I love Maine and have the earliest memories of bass fishing there. Brook trout because I always find small streams fascinating. The unexpected waterfalls and mystery of the random deep pools. Those little wild fish and their environment make me strangely emotional. I am almost always alone when I fish them. I now live on a great smallmouth lake and about 200 yards from a brookie infested tributary.
Dan Santoro river clean up pig farm ink
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: It seems you were very into conservation and the environment from our talk while I was in the chair. I see on Instagram you have been involved in a few river cleanups. It looked like you guys made a difference and had a lot of fun doing it. 

Dan Santoro: Finding fly fishing was a major eye-opening experience for me. It took all these thoughts and feelings I’ve had about nature and put it in a neat little package for me to understand… and it was simple. We can’t enjoy doing this beautiful thing if we don’t take care of the environment. I found fly fishing in the midst of living in Brooklyn and it made me realize how important the outdoors was for me as a kid and how much I had forgotten it as a city person. We bought a house in rural PA and it all kind of started coming together. Chris Calabrese and I got involved with the Pig Farm guys who came through and helped us do an Upper Delaware River clean up and that really sparked something. We’ve done quite a few now and have several more in the works. All are welcome. You don’t have to fish. It is fun watching people come out as just a thing to do and see the light turn on like “Oh so this is what you do! I get it!” And some of those people have returned for multiple clean-ups.
Dan Santoro Tattoo
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: So if someone wants to travel to you and get a tattoo, where is the closest stream they could wet a line?

Dan Santoro: Happy to tell you my shop is about 200 feet from The Lackawaxen and about 15 miles from the main stem of the Delaware River with plenty of fishing between them.
Fly fishing bent rod
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro

Flylords: Have you ever tattooed a client and then gone fishing with them?

Dan Santoro: Yes I have. Not enough. Maybe I will make a point to do that more often this year.
santoro otter tattoo
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro
Dan Santoro Rainbow Trout painting orignal art
Image courtesy of @dan_santoro
You can Check out and pick up some of Dan’s work at https://www.instagram.com/dan_santoro/?hl=en
If you enjoyed Fin and Skin with Dan Santoro you may also want to check out Fin and Skin with Drew Wilson:

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