Why do I fish?
“That’s easy.” says Dennis Johnson, “In the words of Ted Hughes, ‘Fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communication with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.’”
For many Alaskans, fishing is a summer pastime, a time to get away for the weekend, spend quality time with family and friends or to start stocking the freezer. Dennis describes fishing differently than most, “Fly fishing is my vice, my passion.”
Dennis got hooked on fishing when he was just three-years-old while exploring the lakes of northern Minnesota with his Dad. Those early years of lake fishing led him to explore the river systems of Lake Superior in search of Steelhead, and eventually, canoe trips into the boundary waters of Minnesota and Canada for Lake trout.
He knew his self proclaimed obsession was getting serious when he moved to Alaska in 1968. During the 70s and 80s, Dennis spent much of his free time on the water, rafting and fishing the lakes and streams of western Alaska to the Arctic Circle.
Eventually, he moved beyond the familiar fresh and brackish waters of North America. His quest for new and exciting places to fish brings him all over the world, “Jurassic Lake in Argentina, Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean and Irigoyen River in Argentina have been some of my most enjoyable trips.” However, his favorite and most frequent fishing spot is back here in Alaska, Cooper Landing, and the Kenai River, where he can fish for Rainbow trout which are catch-and-release, though “We do keep the Sockeye!”
Getting a break from the icy waters of Alaska is always a treat for Dennis. He explains, “The beauty of saltwater fishing is wading in 85-degree water in a pair of shorts instead of donning chest-high waders with five layers of clothing on the Kenai in January.”
Fly fishing in both fresh and saltwater challenge Dennis, and he works to improve his skills. Further explaining, “Traditional fly fishing has evolved into Centerpin fishing and Spey fishing. Each requires a different technique to master and different gear.”
He said he attempted to explain that difference to his wife, with a bit of laughter adding, “I had to explain to my wife the difference, and that, ‘Yes dear, it requires new fly rods!’” So, he has lots of them.
Dennis decided on new “Life Goals” when he turned 60. He said he is determined to, “Fish every month, fish my age, fish out of state or county at least once a year.” Adding with a big smile, “After all, there has to be more to life than a free fishing license when you turn 60.”
Dennis shares his passion with his fishing buddy, who is also his best friend and brother, Paul. According to Dennis, “He may be more obsessed than me about fishing.”
Their shared love for fishing has led them to what Dennis playfully calls JBFUGS. Translated, Johnson Brothers Fairly Unreliable Guide Service. They aren’t guides but, “We take a lot of complete strangers fishing… for free,” added Dennis. JBFUGS originated with his good friend Steve Haynes, who on occasion calls up and says, “Hey Johnson, I got a couple of buddies coming up in two weeks, and they want to go fishing. Are you available?” The answer is most often “Yes” according to Dennis.
Dennis likens fishing to golf, “It’s a lifelong learning experience.” He also credits his wife saying, “It’s important to have a spouse who understands the obsession and never complains about me being on the river.”
Dennis recollects in 2018 he fished 100 days. Adding with a grin, “No, I’m not that old.” After a pause, he added, “It’s not true you know, fishing is not cheaper than therapy.”