“Fishing in the dark” is primarily a colloquial phrase with three different interpretations depending on the context.

While one usage is literal, the other is akin to the idiom “a shot in the dark,” the third has a possibly sexual meaning, popularized by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1987 through their song ‘Fishin’ in the Dark.’

Let’s explore all three meanings, shall we?

What Does Fishing in the Dark Mean? Literally!

The phrase “Fishing in the Dark” refers to the actual activity of fishing at night. This can be a peaceful and reflective pastime for some, and certain types of fish are more active and easier to catch in the dark.

The most popular fish to catch at night include striped bass, bluefish, panfish, walleye, and catfish. Other fish like yellow perch, trout, bass, and pike are easier to catch on full moon nights.

What Does Fishing in the Dark Mean? An Idiom

The idiomatic expression “fishing in the dark” refers to undertaking an endeavor without the requisite knowledge or understanding.

It may also denote the pursuit of an objective devoid of essential resources or information.

Generally, this expression conveys a negative implication, indicating that the individual might be imprudent or oblivious to the inherent risks.

Origins of “Fishing in the Dark”

The exact genesis of the phrase “fishing in the dark” remains obscure, although it’s speculated to have served as a metaphor for ignorance since the 19th century at least.

The concept suggests that fishing under the cloak of darkness is challenging due to the impaired visibility, escalating the probability of errors.

Consequently, this expression is interpreted as an advisory narrative, discouraging the undertaking of unnecessary risks without adequate preparation.

Applicability of “Fishing in the Dark”

The expression “fishing in the dark” finds utility in various contexts where an individual embarks on a task without the necessary knowledge or resources.

Here are a few examples:

  • An individual who commences a business venture devoid of market research or a concrete strategy is engaging in what one may term as “fishing in the dark”.
  • Similarly, a person who endeavors to repair a complex piece of machinery bereft of appropriate training or comprehension is metaphorically “fishing in the dark”.
  • A student who undertakes an examination without sufficient preparation or grasp of the subject matter is essentially “fishing in the dark”.
  • Lastly, a politician who pledges commitments without a thorough understanding of the associated issues or ramifications is indeed “fishing in the dark”.

There exist several idioms analogous to “fishing in the dark”. Consider the following:

  • Flying blind“: This expression describes undertaking a task without the benefit of guidance or information, thus navigating the situation without clear visibility or understanding.
  • Shooting in the dark“: This idiom aligns closely with “fishing in the dark” and illustrates an attempt to accomplish something without having a clear understanding or familiarity with the task at hand.
  • Throwing caution to the wind“: This phrase characterizes a behavior where risks are taken without heed to potential consequences, thus exhibiting a disregard for carefulness or forethought.

Possibly Sexual Meaning of Fishing in the Dark

The 1987 country sensation “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band encapsulates a dual connotation, symbolizing both a fishing expedition and a tranquil nocturnal rendezvous with a beloved.

Penned by Californian songwriters Wendy Waldman and Jim Photoglo, this song graced the band’s 1987 album ‘Hold On.’

It has since resonated deeply with fishing enthusiasts and lovers of moonlit dances alike, finding a cherished place in their hearts.

The song’s popularity has even led to renditions by notable country artists, including the iconic Garth Brooks, among others.

With its vibrant melody instilling a sense of exhilaration, the lyrics further augment this thrilling sensation by narrating an idyllic evening poised for fishing.

The Origins:

In a 2015 interview with the Tennessean, songwriter Jim Photoglo recounted that the song originated from a melody he had been cultivating in the mid-80s, spurred by several trips to Nashville in the early part of that decade.

Upon presenting this melody to Wendy Waldman, she proposed that they compose a song with a fishing theme.

Though Photoglo initially displayed reluctance, he eventually agreed. As a result, the endearing classic, “Fishin’ in the Dark”, was conceived.

And the first thing I thought was, “I want to run away screaming, because I love my song.” But she said, “No, fishing in the dark.” We started messing around with it, and it just happened, you know? We did it for fun. We weren’t trying to be like any other song.

Jim Photoglo on the origins of “Fishin’ in the Dark”.

Fascinatingly, the songwriters do not explicitly acknowledge the song’s potential sexual undertones.

While it could be the interpretive inclination of our dirty minds leading us to read between the lines, we believe that the lyrics subtly express this aspect on their own.

Lyrics Meaning of “Fishin’ in the Dark” 

Let’s delve deeper into the song’s essence by dissecting its lyrics, beginning with the inaugural verse delivered by Jimmy Ibbotson:

Lazy yellow moon comin’ up tonight

Shinin’ through the trees

Crickets are singin’ and lightnin’ bugs

Are floatin’ on the breeze

Baby get ready

--- 1st verse

This verse establishes the ambiance, painting the scene of a sublime evening unfolding. There’s a palpable sense of anticipation as Ibbotson instructs his beloved to prepare herself.

As we move to the second verse, he brings to life their clandestine retreat:

Across the field where the crick turns back

By the old stone road

I’m gonna take you to a special place

That nobody knows

Baby get ready

Ooh, ooh

--- 2nd verse

Though ostensibly, the song merely narrates a fishing experience, the chorus could potentially encapsulate a carnal encounter bathed in starlight:

You and me go fishin’ in the dark

Lyin’ on our backs and countin’ the stars

Where the cool grass grows

Down by the river in the full moonlight

We’ll be fallin’ in love in the middle of the night

Just movin’ slow

Stayin’ the whole night through

It feels so good to be with you

--- Chorus

In this interpretation, one might visualize the pair’s fishing rods planted in the soil while the lovers recline, possibly on a blanket or simply on the grass, indulging in a romantic tryst.

Hence, while they are technically fishing, their focus isn’t truly on the fish.

Yet, this seems inconsequential, as having that cherished individual by your side transforms any night into a memorable one, irrespective of whether the fish are biting.

The third verse builds upon the excitement, now resonating with anticipation for the impending summer, a time when he can frequently engage in fishing adventures with his beloved:

Spring is almost over and the summer’s comin’

The days are gettin’ long

Waited all winter for the time to be right

Just to take you along

Baby get ready

--- 3rd verse

In the concluding fourth verse, Ibbotson admits that whether or not they receive any attention from the fish or simply remain seated through the night is immaterial, given that they have each other’s company:

And it don’t matter if we sit forever

And the fish don’t bite

Jump in the river and cool ourselves

From the heat of the night

Baby get ready

Ooh, ooh

--- 4th verse

The pair of lovers can readily plunge into the river to temper the heat of what is likely to be a notably fervent night, if one comprehends the implication.