05John Irwin is a full-time fishing guide and father from the Charleston, South Carolina area. Completely in tune with his local fishery, John has been at it every day for over 20 years. With more than two decades under his belt, John is an expert at his craft and has taken part in his fishing and rigging because of it.
After a day around his farm on Wadmalaw Island and out in the marsh looking for goldfish. We sat down with John to ask him about his life as a guide and the gear he carries.
Flylords: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your guide service?
John: I’m originally from here in the South. Aside from a stint out west, this has been the place I’ve called home for most of my life.
I started my business here in the Charleston area in 2001. Mostly flying 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 swamp and a little bit off the beach. It keeps everything fresh and being able to do both really helps to have a variety. Our fishery offers a wide range of excellent 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. Guide primarily for eastern slope anglers from 1993-1999. I was young and hungry, leading as many days as I could during the season.
I ended up guiding on the east coast with no luck, a funny situation. I had to drive home to go on a trip with some friends. Young and penniless, I never returned to the West as what I had available in the Southeast was almost unbeatable. I’ve 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 wrap it up in one season. They all offer their own unique opportunities. I will say that fall and early winter are hard to beat if you’re walking around. The weather is more stable and milder.
I have found over my time leading the marsh that the fish become happier and more willing to eat as the water temperatures begin to cool. In autumn and early winter, cooling air and water combine to create an ideal environment. Have more days where you consistently find happy fish throughout the swamp. When the fish are happy, I am happier as it makes my job more fun!
Flylords: How do you stay organized during the season?
John: I’m lucky to have a really nice area at the back of our barn. Most everything lives there. It’s a nice space, away from the elements. The outdoors are tough here and they need to keep things as dry and clean as possible.
When I’m on the go, the DECKED system has helped tremendously with everyday and day-to-day needs. Wheel bearings, jump boxes, trailer parts, tools and a variety of other things are required to keep things running. If you’re prepared and organized, there’s not much you can’t overcome if you’re prepared. By using DECKED tool boxes, I am able to grab from my drawers exactly what I need in any situation and get back to work.
Flylords: What conservation issues are you passionate about? Is there an organization you see making a difference in your fishing?
John: Water quality is at a premium these days. With the rapid development and expansion of the population, the number of resources is obviously noticed. For us locally, Charleston Waterkeeper is doing an incredible job of holding the right people accountable for their impact on the environment. If one did not pay attention to these things, there would be many problems with our water. On the other hand, without someone taking care of our water quality, we would simply lose the fishery.
Additionally, practicing ethical catch and release practices is more important than ever. Let’s face it, we cannot continue to harvest sea fish as we have done in the past. Especially from a card perspective. A picture of a bunch of dead fish in a fridge on Instagram really gets old. In the end, it depends on us as individuals and not on legislation. We can make better decisions and have a greater impact.
Flylords: Tell me a little about your Rig!
John: I’d like to say I have a nice rig, but I don’t. I drive a 2013 Toyota Tundra that has been a 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 that the salt is very hard on the rigs here and we obviously work it a lot. I have a DECKED drawer system in the bed of my Tundra to protect my gear from those outside elements. Everything I use has to be able to withstand the elements.
My off-road daily driver is a 1973 Scout that I just had rebuilt. When I was a guide in Montana, I had one that I bought from a farmer in Belgrade for under $1,000. I drove it the whole time I was in Montana and ended up trading it in for a Subaru to go back home to South Carolina. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to reunite with one. 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 number of things you can carry is incredible. I think we all know how valuable our outdoor gear and tools can be. Your ability to provide those valuables is very important to me.
I travel a lot for hunting season. As I’m transitioning from hunting to fishing, it’s nice to be able to dedicate a drawer to switching between the two. I know if I’m leaving my truck at a boat ramp or on a trail, all my gear will be secure, both by using the PROPER drawer locks and locking the tailgate.
Flylords: What’s next for John?
John: I am currently caretaker on a 600 acre farm south of Charleston on Wadmalaw Island. It’s been fantastic for our family and still gives me the opportunity to run my own guiding business and embark on a new adventure. We live here on the farm and I can fish right from the house most days. It is truly a dream come true. I plan to do this for as long as they will let me.
Thanks to John for showing us around his grounds for a day! If you’re looking to be as dialed as John on and off the water, be sure to check out DECKED for all of your truck’s organizational needs!
Rigs Guide: Lacey Kelly
Rigs Guide: Matt Mendes