Get to know Lael Johnson, a Steelhead Guide in the Pacific Northwest, and Founder of a the FYSH Foundation.
What is your favorite part of guiding?
Finding a fish or a moment that will change my or someone else's life. It's not something that happens everyday, but I do have the opportunity everyday; that's enough for me to set the alarm at 1AM and hit the road if it will get me to that goal. The fish doesn't have to be a monster (although I would like it to be), and a fish of any size can spark interest in someone that lasts forever. Next thing you know, they are buying every rod, reel, fly, and boat, trying to keep making that happen. Seeing that take place for the many people I've met while on the water or just talking about it in the coffee shop is incredible and keeps me looking for the next fish!
Do you have a memorable client experience on the water?
Yeah, I do! I tell this story often when I'm trying to get someone excited about swinging flies for the winter or spring steelhead. It was 2018, and a river system on the Olympic Peninsula was firing on all cylinders. I was guiding two guys on a conventional fishing trip using spinning reels and floats, but one of my guests had just bought a spey rod and wanted me to give him a quick lesson on my spey rod if we got a chance, so I brought my rod with me. After a couple of missed fish by them, I though it would be a good idea to take a break to regroup and watch me perform the technique with a few demonstrations. Before I teach and begin the basics, I always send 2 or 3 good casts out to let my guests see a skill level they would want to get to. On my 1st cast, as my fly swung deep right beside a fallen tree, I hooked the biggest steelhead I have ever seen, which is still my personal best, between 26-28 pounds of angry male steelhead. It was a moment I'll never forget, but that's not the story; it's just part of the day.
We got a few fish on the conventional gear as planned, and my guy Glenn still wanted to try the spey rod. I got to a place where if he got a good swing through this run at this time of the day, he would get CRANKED, and he did! He got one cast out, sloppy but good enough to fish, and most people who are new don't believe they will hook up, and because they never felt a grab, they don't know what to expect. As his line straightened out, it started to swing perfectly, and that's when it happened, and it happened fast with no warning, just power and pull. Glenn was leaning forward, watching his line, and almost got ripped off the bank by a big one. I grabbed him on the shoulder to keep him upright, and we both fell back into the water of the creek mouth we were standing in. To this day, if I gotta guiding story to tell, this is the ONE!
What has been your most challenging pursuit?
I thought it is was when I started guiding 10 years ago, but that answer has dramatically changed to: Starting my charity. It was tough to connect with what I have gone through and open up about it to help others relate. It's an ongoing process, and I am doing much more than just teaching and leading others on how to catch fish or make a cast. In hindsight, guiding was simple now that I can see all the work and dedication required to achieve the goals my team and I have set for the F-Y-S-H Foundation.
To make this opportunity come alive, I received a generous helping hand from Ford and the BRONCO WILD FUND by being a Team Bronco Ambassador. The F-Y-S-H Foundation has been in my heart and head for a long time, but it had been challenging to make it a reality without Ford's support. The $10,000 grant allowed me to utilize resources presented to me to create the non-profit and get moving, developing events and programs that will help our target groups. With my acceptance of the grant, I was called upon to participate in a competition called WILDLY WYOMING with other Bronco ambassadors, where we went through different challenges, with the winner donating money to a charity of their choice. It was an incredible opportunity to bring attention to something I'm passionate about and give back to other charities that began before me.
I am new to this type of leadership, but helping others and having compassion for anyone needing assistance isn't. Luckily, for what I don't know, I have a great team of skilled friends and other like-minded people to see that we meet our goals for the charity. Awareness for the mission of this new Nonprofit is one of our biggest goals. Having heirloom quality jewelry created by SLP to support our mission is an excellent way to start!
What is your favorite time of the year in your region?
Spring. As winter breaks and you feel your first day of warmth for real sunshine, it makes you feel good that you have survived another winter. That is what all animals in my region feel, and after the many years I've spent out in the winter conditions to make it through to spring, I got on the same schedule as the forest and what lives there. The other good part about that time of year is that steelhead fishing is great! The entire steelhead run is in, and fish are active and grabby from a bump in the water temperature. Nothing beats a day of steelhead fishing in 65 degree weather wearing a light jacket or t-shirt with no rain in the forecast. Experiencing that once will make you smile and beg for ideal water conditions in March or April.
What is your go to SLP design?
There are so many to choose from; a few have been on my wrist for some pretty memorable days on the water. But...if I had to wear one, it would be the piece I created with SLP for my charity, the F-Y-S-H Foundation. It symbolizes the struggles we go through to reach out desired destination in life and happiness and how we must navigate that many times to achieve our goals. That is very similar to the difficulty of a steelhead's journey from the river to the ocean and back again, with some making the journey multiple times. My hope is that anyone wearing this bracelet will be reminded that life will not always be easy, but keep going and help as many people as you can along the way.
In our lives, we all have a journey and path we set out on, and sometimes, we can lose our way. In that moment of not knowing where to go, we must rely on our inner compass, close friends & family, or activities to point us back in the right direction. The mission of the F-Y-S-H Foundation is to be the voice and leader for those who do not have access to everything we have relied on to keep us on the right path. Everyone needs that, even those who may initially look like they have it all figured out.
All this came to fruition after I understood more about my path through being outdoors on the water as a steelhead fly fisherman. Using the swung fly as my only option to search for steelhead gave me purpose and extreme focus to see that I wasn't just after the catch; I was chasing the peace I found in my search for such an elusive creature. The more I learned about the fish, the more I learned about myself, and I could sometimes relate its struggles to my own. Life started to make sense to me in the years I've had of complete focus standing in the cold waters of the Northwest's Rainforests. Recognizing the transformation I went through as a man and an angler and hearing what is has done for so many other people. I wanted to provide that experience to others regardless of nationality, background, or income. My charity is here to help ensure under served communities & individuals receive more opportunities for outdoor freedom.
We are honored to create this custom design to support the important programs that Lael and his team are creating at the F-Y-S-H Foundation bracelet. You can check out the bracelets here.