John Irwin is a full-time fishing guide and dad out of the Charleston, South Carolina area. Fully in tune with his local fisheries, John has been at it day in and day out for over 20 years. With over two decades under his belt, John is an expert at his craft and has dialed in his fishery and rig because of it.
After a day around his farm on Wadmalaw Island and out in the marsh searching for redfish. We sat down with John to ask him all about his life as a guide and the gear that keeps him going.
Flylords: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your Guide Service?
John: I am originally from here in the South. Other than a stint out west, this has been the place I call home for most of my life.
I started my business here in the Charleston area in 2001. Mostly fly at first but have progressed into other things. I have two boats, a Hells Bay Professional and a Jones Brothers Cape Fisherman.
I do a little bit in the marsh and a little bit off the beach. Keeps everything fresh and being able to do both really helps with having some variety. Our fishery offers a wide range of great fishing.
Flylords: What was your journey to becoming a guide?
John: It started for me in Montana in 1993. In the Big Sky/ West Yellowstone area. Guiding for mostly East Slope Anglers from 1993-1999. I was young and hungry, guiding as many days as I could during the season.
I ended up guiding on the east coast out of luck, a funny situation. I had to drive back home to go on a trip with some friends. Young and out of money, I never made it back to the West since what I had available to me in the South East was almost unbeatable. I have been going ever since.
Flylords: What is your favorite season to be out on the water in the low country?
John: With so much to offer it’s really hard to nail it down to one season. They all offer their own unique opportunities. I will say fall and early winter are hard to beat if you are poling the skiff around. The weather is more consistent and milder.
I have found over my time guiding the marsh that the fish become happier and more willing to eat as the water temperatures start to cool off. In the fall and early winter, the cooling of the air and water combine to create an ideal environment. You have more days where you are constantly finding happy fish all over the marsh. When the fish are happy, I am happier since it makes my job more fun!
Flylords: How do you stay organized during the season?
John: I’m fortunate to have a really nice area at the end of our barn. Most everything lives there. It’s a nice-conditioned space, away from the elements. The outdoors are hard on gear here and need to keep things as dry and clean as possible.
When I am on the move, the DECKED system has helped tremulously with the day-in and day-out needs. Wheel bearings, jump boxes, trailer parts, tools, and a variety of other things are required to keep things up and going. If you are prepared and organized there’s not much you can’t overcome if you are prepared. Using the DECKED tool boxes I am able to grab exactly what I need in any situation out of my drawers and get back to work.
Flylords: What conservation issues are you passionate about? Are there any organizations you see making a difference in your fishery?
John: Water quality is at the forefront these days. With the development and rapidly expanding population the toll on the resource is definitely noticed. For us locally, the Charleston Waterkeeper is doing an outstanding job of holding the right ones accountable for the impact they are having on the environment. If someone was not paying attention to these things there would be a lot of problems with our water. In turn, without someone watching out for our water quality, we simply would lose the fishery.
Additionally, practicing ethical catch-and-release practices is more important than ever. Let’s face it, we cannot continue to harvest saltwater fish as we have done in the past. Especially from a charter perspective. A picture of a bunch of dead fish in a cooler on Instagram really gets old. In the end, it’s up to us as individuals and not up to the legislation. We can make better decisions and have a bigger impact.
Flylords: Tell me a little bit about your Rig!
John: I would like to say I have a fancy rig but that’s not the case. I drive a 2013 Toyota Tundra that has been a total workhorse. My tundra is what gets my boats and all my gear to and from the water every day. Something different on the coast compared to when I was out west is the salt is pretty tough on the rigs around here and definitely work them hard. I have a DECKED drawer system in the bed of my Tundra to protect my gear from those outside factors. Anything I am using has to be able to withstand the elements.
My daily driver outside of guiding is a 1973 Scout which I just had rebuilt. When I was guiding in Montana I had one that I bought from a rancher in Belgrade for under $1000. I drove it the whole time I was in Montana and ended up trading it for a Subaru to drive back home to South Carolina. Ever since then, I have been wanting to reunite with one. I am glad I finally found one to have again.
Flylords: Why did you choose a DECKED system for your truck?
John: The old truck box doesn’t even come close! The organization and the number of things you can carry are unbelievable. I think we all know how valuable our outdoor gear and tools can get. Your ability to secure those valuables is super important to me.
I travel a lot for hunting season. As I am switching from hunting to fishing, it is nice to be able to dedicate a drawer to switch between the two. I know whether I am leaving my truck at a boat ramp or a trailhead all my gear will be safe both by using the DECKED drawer locks and locking my tailgate.
Flylords: What’s next for John?
John: I’m currently the caretaker at a 600-acre farm just south of Charleston on Wadmalaw Island. It’s been great for our family and still provides me the ability to run my guide business and dove into a bit of a new adventure. We live here at the farm and I can fish right out of the house most days. It’s really a dream come true. I plan on doing that for as long as they will let me.