“So what you’re trying to say is that, you take a whiskey barrel and turn it into a fly fishing net?… I think I found my new best friend.”Photo by Chris Johnson of Living Waters Fly Fishing
In the real world, Dustin Scott is a graphic animator for the production company he founded, called Great Job TV. He serves on the board of Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited, and heads up of their lease access program. He’s also the owner and proprietor of Heart Wood Trade. Armed with tools and skills passed down to him from his father and grandfather, Dustin creates hand-crafted, custom landing nets that are functional pieces of art.
You may have seen Heart Wood Trade in the most recent issue of Garden & Gun Magazine as a runner-up in the outdoors category, of the prestigious “Made in The South Awards.” Most recently, he was the winner of the Adventure and Outdoors category in the first annual Texas Works Awards. Dustin crafts his nets from a combination of wood varieties like wenge, lacewood, curly maple and padauk, whose grain and color characteristics are as interesting as their names. This creates layers of depth and texture within each custom net. He’s also made nets using oak from the staves of used whiskey barrels, which caught my immediate attention.
Dustin’s father has had a heavy influence on his work. Dustin explains, “when it came to my father and the outdoors, he would always take the traditional approach. If it was hunting it was archery; fishing, it was with a fly rod.” Like Dustin, his father was a man of many talents and ambitions. Besides being a firefighter for thirty-three years on the San Antonio fire department, Dustin’s father had a wood shop where he and a colleague built cabinets and doors. “He’d make these coat racks, and at the top, he would cut out a face of a cartoon character and paint it… There were all the Ninja turtles, Barney, Pac Man… He made money, but I think it was more that he loved making people happy. He was a good man.” Dustin’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010 and passed away in 2012, just four weeks after Dustin’s first child, Wyatt, was born.Photo of Dustin’s father
Dustin started making nets in 2015 after a fly fishing trip on the Little Red River in Arkansas. The guide had instructed Dustin and his uncle to bring a net, and Dustin thought how cool it would be to build one with some of the tools he had inherited from his dad. He had no idea what a challenge it would be. “I was inspired to try and reconnect with him through woodwork. I had helped him with projects over the years, so I thought I had an idea of what to do. Turns out I knew very little. It was frustrating to fail. When he was still around, I could just call him up and ask him anything. As a firefighter and former mechanic in the Air Force, he could fix anything. I found myself working with dull blades and realized how untrained I was. I was lost without the person I’d called on the most. The first net I made was really bad. I tried to do too much. I stuck with it, though, and made another and another, experimenting with handle designs, various shapes and contours. I played competitive golf in school so I appreciated a nice grip. Sanding and shaping the handles the way I do now to fit the client, creates a comfortable net that is enjoyable to use.”Photo taken by Chris Johnson of Living Waters Fly Fishing
Some neat coincidences led to his making a custom net for a local Texas fishing guide you may have heard of.
“YETI released a series of films a couple years ago around Father’s Day that showcased various dads. One was called “My Old Man.” My buddy sent it to me, said it reminded him of me. It was about a guy who’s a fly fisher, fly tier, guitar picker, wood worker, has two young sons, and who also lost his dad. The guy of course was JT Van Zandt… It really connected with me. I watched the film through my tears and it inspired me to try to be a better dad. I left the office early, picked up my kids, and took them to HEB. We didn’t need anything, I just wanted to get out of the house and do something with them. We snagged a doughnut and a six-pack of beer, and lo and behold, JT was in the checkout line with his two kids. I didn’t speak to him then…
“A few days later another friend and I went to lunch at El Azteca, on the other side of town from my home. I told him the story about watching this YETI film and then seeing the dude that was in it a couple of hours later. Just then, JT walked in and sat down a couple of booths away from us. Crazy stuff. After we ate, I pulled up a chair and introduced myself. I told him thanks for sharing his story and how it resonated with me. JT, one of the nicest humans you will ever meet, asked a bunch of questions about me and we ended up talking about nets. I told him that I’d build him a net and he said he would take me fishing. It took a little while but we finally got together. He now has a net called El Azteca and I got to catch a couple of fish on his skiff.”Photo of JT Van Zant holding “El Azteca” taken by Dustin Scott
The curly maple that makes up the outer layer of JT’s handle has beautiful lateral lines similar to the markings on a tiger musky. The center of the handle has a windswept grain from the lacewood, and the layering of a dark walnut gives it depth. Dustin added a textured grip within all three wood varieties, and where the handle meets the hoop, his signature dovetail found in the Heart Wood Trade logo.Photos courtesy of Dustin Scott
Dustin has also made nets from used whiskey barrels. The net he made for me is a collaboration, reusing a Real Spirits barrel. The handle is made from the outward facing staves, which reveal a char pattern something like the scales of an alligator. He blended the new oak edge with a piece of lacewood, then added a layer of padauk that contributes a whiskey-rich red. A dark spine of wenge on the exterior balances everything out.Photo by Dustin Scott
Dustin was able to fulfill one final request: he built a flask into the handle. I named my net Kasper, after my late grandfather who was the best fisherman I have ever met and who every now and again had a little whiskey in him. I am extremely grateful to Dustin for the beautiful net, and the help in remembering those we’ve lost.
As an extra bonus to this article, Dustin and I collaborated on a Spotify playlist of music that we like to listen to while we working in the wood shop and in the distillery. Its appropriately called “The Heart Wood Whiskey Cabinet”
A final wish to all of my loyal readers, May your landing nets always be full and your flasks never empty.