The purpose of this column is to highlight some of the guides we have here in the Pacific Northwest for our readers to aid in the selection of a guide who fits your needs. We are hoping that this helps to outline some of the things that make guides successful, fun to fish with and for other guides, tips on how to become a better guide, both on the water and as a business owner.
David is a legendary fishing guide who is well known within the outdoor industry and among his fellow guides. David fishes for Columbia River sturgeon too.
If you are like me and live and breathe fishing, you pay attention to any source of information that feeds your addiction. Dreaming of being on the water is not enough, so we must fulfill ourselves by living vicariously through anglers on weekly television shows, by reading magazine articles and surfing YouTube. These is no substitute for time on the water, but these things are better than nothing at all.
If you search my DVR, you will find Angler West, Outdoor GPS, Northwest Fishing Reports and Day One Outdoors scheduled to record every week. If you have watched Outdoor GPS, you have likely seen David Johnson as a guest with Owin, usually coming to the show from his boat, on the water, and with clients. David is a legendary fishing guide who is well known within the outdoor industry and among his fellow guides. He has written or been featured in over 50 local and national magazines, hosted half a dozen TV shows, and been featured here in STS at least 10 times. It does not take a genius to figure out that this guy can plain out fish! He puts fish in the boat, even when others can’t buy a bite. Ask him his secret and he will likely smile and give you just enough information to get you thinking.
I got a chance to spend a day on the water with David in April, fishing for that legendary species that we affectionately call a “springer.” Nick Amato joined us for the day along with Chad Normoyle from Shimano/G Loomis. The day started out cold and looked like it might get nasty, but we only saw a few raindrops and the river conditions were perfect, other than the water hovering around 46 degrees, which is very cold. This was my first-time fishing in Oregon City, and I learned a ton from David about a fishery that I have heard so much about. I know that I had the kind of experience that will lead to me going back to do it again. Coming from the Puget Sound region, I spent much of my time from the late 1970s until the early 2010s in the salt water. I did not explore river fishing much until after 2010 but fell instantly in love with everything about it. What surprises me the most as I move from one river and region to the next is just how much techniques change. Even on the day that I spent with David, I saw guides fishing herring, plugs, eggs, and shrimp. It was really all over the board, but in the end, our net was the only net that I saw fly and the fish that bit my rod was the only takedown that we saw that day.
David enjoys all the fisheries that we have in the Pacific Northwest so he could not tell me his favorite. He said that picking his favorite is, “like picking a favorite between your children.”
David lives in the Tillamook area and spends much of his time on the Columbia and the Willamette rivers as well as the Oregon Coast. He will chase anything that swims, but most of his time revolves around salmon and steelhead and he has a very committed and loyal client base to follow him year after year.
As a boy, David loved everything about fishing, no matter what he was fishing for and has always been interested in fisheries and in conservation of our resources. David determined at around 12 years old that when he grew up, he wanted to be a fishing guide. As a young boy, he was fishing one day from the bank of the Clackamas for winter steelhead and watched guide boats working the river with clients. As he watched the guides make pass after pass, he realized that he wanted that job when he grew up. At 15, he met the late legend, Steve Koler, a local guide. He was David’s idol and eventually, became his mentor. Over the years, Steve took David under his wing, was kind, and took David fishing, teaching David much of what he knows today.
After David graduated from high school, he attended Mt. Hood Community College and in 1992 he graduated with a degree in Fisheries. For the next two years, David worked the summers at a remote fish hatchery in Southeast Alaska and worked three different seasonal jobs as a “fish checker” for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). In 1993, David purchased his first guide license and started taking clients fishing. He has been guiding ever since. With more than 28 years working as a professional guide, David has learned the fine details of salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon fishing and has a reputation that precedes him.
David enjoys all the fisheries that we have in the Pacific Northwest so he could not tell me his favorite. He said that picking his favorite is, “like picking a favorite between your children.” He starts chasing Chinook on the Columbia and Willamette in the spring, spends time in Astoria in the summer and chases steelhead on the coast in the winter as well as fishing Tillamook Bay. What amazes me is that it is obvious that David still loves to fish, despite more than 30 years on the water. The twinkle in his eyes and the excitement when I hooked up was undeniable. That twinkle reminded me a bit of Santa Claus when he knows what is coming next. The smile on my face was undeniable and that was what David was after.
Of the different fisheries that David participates in and the methods and techniques of catching fish, he prefers back bouncing eggs for Chinook to almost any other method. We did so the day that I spent with him on the Willamette along with running divers and bait.
Since David lives over in the Tillamook area, he loves to chase winter steelhead and has many local river options available to him. If you have not fished the Oregon Coast for winter steelhead, get a hold of David and spend a day with him. The broodstock programs have been incredibly successful and the fishing can be very good, in comparison to Washington where we have almost zero opportunities left.
Regardless of the fishing method, whether it be drift fishing bait or float fishing beads, worms, or jigs, David loves methods that are very hands on and interactive. Clients like to actively fish and this gives them the opportunity to do so. David also enjoys trolling herring in coastal bays. The voracious strike that Chinook impose on a herring rod is unlike any other takedown. David is well prepared for anything that bites, running high-end G Loomis rods with Shimano reels. His equipment is simply the best and he is meticulous about his gear, bait and the little things that can make a difference.
Speaking of herring or just bait in general, David is sort of famous for his. Ask him his secret and you will likely get a big smile and a bit of a run around. Owin Hayes from Outdoor GPS has grilled David on many occasions to determine what Da-vid’s secret egg curing recipes are. To this day, Owin has not succeeded. It is obvious that David takes very good care of the eggs from the fish that he catches and continues that care through the handling and curing process. It is safe to say that David has extreme confidence in his eggs and bait in general and that bait is something that separates him from the competition. David has the best bait, and he attributes it to his attention to detail! I will admit that I have never observed someone so cautious in their handling of their bait nor have I seen someone put on fresh bait as often. David simply spares no expense to miss an opportunity, making him one of the most successful guides on the water.
For many years, the Pacific Northwest has been a steelhead mecca, but as we all know, that is rapidly changing. David made a good point when he told me, “Over the last decade or more, Washington and Oregon have reduced hatchery steelhead release numbers, so there are more and more people crowding into small places, increasing pressure and as a result, steelhead fishing has lost its fun.” I could not agree more after going 0 for 7 on winter steelhead trips in 2021, including world class Olympic Peninsula rivers. The fish are fewer and farther between, thus you have to time everything perfectly. It is as if the stars must align sometimes. By fishing with a guide like David you just might improve your chances of catching one.
Even on the day that I spent with David, I saw guides fishing herring, plugs, eggs, and shrimp. It was really all over the board, but in the end, our net was the only net that I saw fly and the fish that bit my rod was the only takedown that we saw that day. The author with a Willamette River spring Chinook.
When I asked David what he is best known for, I received yet another humble response. Many of the best guides I have fished with are easy going and humble and David is no different. He feels that his strengths are “Personality, catching fish, laughter, curing eggs, telling my clients to “wait, wait, wait!” when they are getting bit, bananas on the boat (I don’t believe in luck, it’s skill and the number of fish pres-ent that are the determining factors. And one must accept how many fish you catch each day.), milkshakes, and his faith.” I am not sure about the milkshake part, but he has piqued my interest. Milkshakes and fishing would likely go well together, but maybe not when fishing winter steelhead!
David told me that there is a long list of qualities that make a good fishing guide, all of which are very important to being successful. “If I had to list some of the most important qualities, they would include people skills, patience, knowledge, experience, and honesty. There are a lot of guides who are “good people” and a lot who can come across as shady, negative, self-centered and dishonest.” This has been my experience as well, which is why I am sharing GREAT guides with all of you. This column is designed to send fishermen and women to guides who are going to give them an enjoyable experience and hope-fully memories that last a lifetime!
Like most good guides, David knows that his clients are coming to catch fish, but he also knows that they are more importantly coming to have a great time. He puts a lot of effort into making fishing fun and giving his clients a reason to book their next trip with him. Per David, “We put in the extra effort both on and off the water for you to have a memory of a lifetime. When you fish in our boats you will find safety, comfort, patience, and skill. Using the highest quality boats, bait and tackle ensures you the best chance of catching your fish at some of the best fishing locations anywhere in the world.”
One other note on David. Many guides do not prefer guiding kids, but David indicated that he loves seeing kids’ fish and teaching them about fishing. He is also very well known for ladies’ trips and from what I have seen, those appear to be some of the most fun trips of all. He sees a huge potential for women in the fishing industry and has partnered with his wife and a few other ladies in the fishing industry to put on multiple ladies fishing trips through-out the year. They call it “Fish like a Girl Adventures.” It provides a safe, no pressure atmosphere for women to go fishing with other women.
David has had the opportunity to fish or guide in Alaska, Canada, and numerous saltwater trips to Mexico, Florida, Italy, Malaysia, Hawaii, and Kiribati. His personal bucket list includes more in Kiribati, as well as Australia, Iceland, and Oman.
David and Tesha on a Fish Like A Girl Adventures Trip.
David currently serves on the Board of Directors for Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, a nonprofit in Tillamook County that promotes fish enhancement, educates school children, and monitors water quality, just to name a few.
In his years of guiding, David has had hundreds if not thousands of happy clients and you deserve to be counted as one of them too. David guides trips for corporate team building, employee reward programs, client networking events, as a gift for family or friends, and for in and out-of-town clients who want to enjoy the opportunities that we have here in the Pacific Northwest. Come and experience what fishing in the Northwest has to offer.
If you would like to meet David and fish with him, you can call him at (503) 201-4292, email him at email@example.com, or via his website at www.davidjohnsonfishing.com.
To nominate your favorite guide or to request an interview, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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