Jeff Johnson grew up in Montana, on the banks of a blue ribbon trout stream. His interest in fishing quickly became a passion. As he traveled the world, he always had a fly rod along.
Continuously looking for an adventure and new water, his travels allowed Jeff the chance to fish waters across the globe. Now, he has the best of all worlds for someone with his drive and passion to be on the water. Jeff spends the summer in Montana, with most of his days on the Missouri River—considered one of the best trout fisheries in the world. Fall through spring, Jeff heads to the salt to chase redfish, drum, trout, and maybe even a tarpon or two. He’s based out of Rockport, where he poles the crystal clear waters of the Texas flats.
Jeff lives and breathes fly fishing, spending over 300 days each year on the water with clients. I recently spent time with him to find out more about this self-proclaimed “all around fish nut.”
How did a former professional snowboarder from Montana end up as a fishing guide in Rockport, Texas?
I grew up in the snow, but after years in the industry and countless severe injuries, I grew tired. The final straw came my first day of the winter snowboarding, and only my third run of that day. The one remaining knee that hadn’t been injured blew out. I was done for the year… If you aren’t playing in the snow, Montana in the winter is pretty much awful. So a very short time later, I was in The Keys staying warm and looking for fish. And I realized I didn’t miss snowboarding, the snow, the cold, Montana or any of it. So I knew I was done… for good.
I had fished in Rockport before and loved it. So a trip to Rockport wasn’t far behind. The following fall I moved back down and set up shop for good. Flip flops all winter long for this guy, from then on!
What made you love Rockport?
Rockport was always my favorite. It offered the redfishing I enjoyed the most anywhere. But, more importantly, I loved the town. The people here are amazing. The community is strong. The area is gorgeous. And the more time I spent here, the harder it became to leave each time. I believed there to be a great opportunity here for me and my business.
What advice do you have for people brand new to fly fishing?
The greatest thing about fly fishing, is that there is no ceiling. There is no perfect. I learn more every day. So, newbies should just go have fun. Enjoy the tangles and hooking yourself. Enjoy that first fish. Then enjoy the next species you catch. Then the next, etc. If you don’t catch, then focus on what you learned. Enjoy the process and just being out there. Catching fish is just the bonus.
When you have time to fish recreationally, what is your favorite fish to catch?
If I had the choice to go play for a single day, you would probably find me with an 11-weight rod, topwater fly that is 14” long and sightfishing for Northen pike. It truly is a wonderful fish to catch. A perfect killing machine.
What excites you the most about the future of the Rockport area?
Especially coming off of an event like Harvey… much will be new here in the coming months and years. Much will be better. You can choose to look at these events as a major setback, which it was for sure. But it has also created amazing opportunity in its wake. We have been handed an opportunity to change, adapt, reorganize and maybe even grow. I have faith that many of our area businesses will view it as just that. We will rebuild, and it will be better than ever.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
You have to be fearless. If you believe in what you are doing and in your business, go all in. This means rolling the dice in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. You must jump at every opportunity and make opportunities for yourself, even when it lies just out of your comfort zone. Only then will you progress. It may be bumpy and far less than pretty, but you have to find a way to make it work.
What are your biggest challenges as a serial entrepreneur?
My biggest challenge is slowing myself down. I am a mile-a-minute kinda thinker. The second one thing begins to work, I am already ten things further down the line.This is a great thing for sure, but is also a bit of a challenge. It isn’t hard to push too far or too hard. You have to know where that line is, where you back off the gas a bit and settle down.
How can Texans support and offer help to Rockport and other Gulf Coast communities recovering from Harvey?
The absolute best way to support this region of the Gulf Coast is to just show up. These small communities depend on tourism to live. Now, more than ever. So I encourage folks to just come on down to the coast and enjoy themselves. We would love to have you.
Photos + video courtesy Fly Fish Rockport