A Reel Job: Short Stories & Thoughts from the River

By Ryan Johnston

Stories that are but a taste of the sights and sounds that the river has provided the author and his clients over the last 20 years. So go grab a cold drink and find a comfy chair. You’ll enjoy reading these tales as much as he enjoyed living them. 5.5X8.5 inches, 172 pgs.


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The river is full of surprises. There are certain things I can anticipate on any given day—the flow, the tides, the weather—but each day spent guiding is a fresh story waiting to be written. Some days are normal and uneventful short stories, some are long-winded novels of struggle and victory, and others are biographies of the people I encounter. In my opinion, the true story of our lives is told through the day-to-day. We tend to focus on the large, life-changing events—and, yes, those tend to be exciting and oftentimes insightful—but true life is what happens from one day to the next as we wander down our life’s path. The decisions we make, the things we see, the people we love, the religion we believe in, and the work we do are the things that define us. As we look back through our careers, we all recall moments in the workplace that made us laugh, made us angry, brought sadness, and created feelings of joy. Through the writing of this book, I’ve been able to reflect on the countless river stories that I have experienced. Stories of big fish caught, bigger fish lost, memorable clients, threats from wildlife encountered on the river, and just plain old funny situations shared with complete strangers.

I owe this crazy fish passion of mine to my father. From an early age my dad had me on the water learning how to catch whatever creatures were swimming below us in the water. We always had rods in the car ready to go rigged with red and white bobbers, rainbow power bait, or black panther martins. See growing up in San Diego as a young kid there were not a lot of fly fishing options around. So my dad taught me how to catch fresh and saltwater fish using conventional casting rods. When I was twelve my dad said that we should try to be like “Brad Pitt” and check out some fly fishing. I was hooked from the very first moment of casting that hopper onto the bank and watching a cutthroat slowly rise from the depths to slurp in my fly. From that moment on I became a fly fisherman and I stored my red and white bobber in the back of some old Plano tackle box to start collecting years of dust.

UC Davis brought me to Northern California in 2001. I thought I had made a responsible decision, giving up the prestigious fly fishing of the Universities of Montana and Colorado for a serious college education at UCD. Ha! Little did I know that the location of UC Davis in Northern California is near some of the best wild trout and steelhead fishing in Northern California.

During my “B.S.” years, it seemed I spent just as much time studying trout and steelhead behavior on the rivers as I did in the classroom. And despite the unrelenting call of the fish, I managed to earn a degree in Business & Management and land a beautiful, passionate, fly-fishing wife. I guess you could say Northern Califoria’s been good to me. Then, in 2006, in pursuit of more fish and an ever higher education, my wife and I came to Chico, California. I worked part-time to earn a Masters degree in Business Administration while continuing to guide. We could not help falling in love with the town, so in 2009, we made it our permanent home. Since then God has given my wife and I two beautiful girls. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day they will fall in love with this sport as much as their father does. I need someone to take me steelhead fishing when I am in my older age!

Guiding isn’t just a job for me. When you love fishing as much as I do, it’s an art and a passion and a life all wrapped up. There’s nothing better than seeing a client’s face light up as his or her line tightens. Guiding has been good to me. So good that I wanted to find a way to share this gift with others by giving it away. So in 2009, my wife and I started Cast Hope, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which aims to use fly fishing to introduce outdoor activities to the at-risk kids of California and Western Nevada. Through fly fishing we are able to introduce these kids to camping, hiking, conservation, and outdoor education. Our goal is to love and encourage these kids by sharing the outdoors and getting them out of their normal hard life situations. Hopefully through Cast Hope we can make an impact on one life at time and then maybe one day we will see the rewards in our local community. Check out the website and videos online at, and let us know how you would like to get involved by blessing these kids with the outdoors.

Over the years my clients and I have caught lots of great fish, but even better than that, we’ve made some great memories. I want to thank you all for making my guiding career so enjoyable and filling my storybook with countless fish tales. I look forward to sharing those tales with you in my book - A Reel Job.


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