An Interview with Capt. John Irwin
Captain John Irwin has been guiding in Charleston since 2002, where he specializes in both fly fishing and light tackle charters. He is a renowned guide and advocate for the stewardship of the outdoors, especially in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He has been featured on shows like “The Obsession of Carter Andrews” and a short film by COSTA Sunglasses titled “Redfish”. Captain John guides in all seasons, targeting redfish, seatrout, flounder, cobia, tarpon, and amberjack. When Captain John is not on the water, he can be found spending time with his family and playing the guitar, piano or upright bass. In addition to guiding, Captain John leads seminars, teaches private casting lessons, and coordinates excursions.
Q: Did you grow up fly fishing?
Capt. John: Yes, I did. I started fishing at an early age. I was always around fishing. I gear fished first and began fly fishing around 12 years old.
Q: What is your earliest fishing memory?
Capt. John: I was around 12 years old, and I found some fly rods in the basement of my grandparents’ house. Me and a friend of mine took the rods out to a nearby pond and we spent the day catching bass and bluegill. We wore them out, it was so much fun.
Q: How did you get into the sport of fly fishing and guiding?
Capt. John: Guiding is how I have made my living, it is all I have done since I flew the coop. I never went to college. I moved out to Montana, and I would cook in the evenings and guide during the day. When I came back to Charleston I jumped back into guiding here in the Lowcountry.
Q: Are you from Charleston?
Capt. John: I am not. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. I grew up spending my summers on Kiawah and on the waters around Charleston. My parents lived here so that’s how I ended up moving here after my time in Montana.
Q: What is your favorite fish to guide for?
Capt. John: Redfish is my favorite to guide for here. But I really enjoy Tarpon and Triple Tail too. That’s tough to answer. I am on the water all day, so depending on the day and the weather, there are lots of options.
Q: How would you spend a day fishing, just for you?
Capt. John: Jacks, Tarpon, Trout, Redfish and Triple Tail. If I am on the bow with a rod in my hand, I just like to take the day as it comes.
Q: You have a lot of experience fishing and have had numerous adventures and successes. What’s next for you or do you have a new passion in fly fishing?
Capt. John: For our 10-year anniversary my wife and I are headed to Argentina to fish for Golden Dorado. I have never been to Argentina and I have never fished for those fish, so it’s something new that we’re really looking forward to!
Q: How did you and your wife meet?
Capt. John: We met through a fishing tournament. My wife was helping out with their family tournament, one of the Arthur Smith Tournaments. This one was for redfish, and I ended up on the rules committee. She was working there and that’s how we met.
Q: What do you always bring for a day out on the water?
Capt. John: Man, I always wear the same hat. I get into a hat and I wear it until it splits in two. Then I have to start the process of finding a new hat.
Q: How did you end up at the farm on Wadmalaw Island?
Capt. John: The farm is owned by a family in Charlotte. They have been a client of mine for the last 15 to 20 years. I started coming out and hunting here with the owner, and then his wife and my wife started [horseback] riding out here. They needed a caretaker, but didn’t want just a single guy. They wanted a family that would enjoy it as much as they do, and would raise their family on the property. So it just kinda landed in our laps.
Q: What is your favorite part about farming/being a caretaker?
Capt. John: I enjoy the whole experience, especially what we offer our children. They are immersed in the process. We have jumped into this feet first, but it has been so good for our family. There’s always work to be done and something to do. I have a balance. I am on the water Monday to Friday, the evenings and the weekends are for working on the farm and for my family.
Q: Father’s day just passed, what does being a father mean to you?
Capt. John: I’m an old dad, I had kids later in life. I’ve lived a big life too, and have had a lot of adventures. I did not know what I was missing! There is no greater gift than being a father, and I am so glad I get to do it.
Q: Are you a man of faith? How does your faith shape your profession and your family?
Capt. John: I am a spiritual person. I am a 21-year recovering addict of drugs and alcohol. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. And I wouldn’t be able to have the family I have.
Q: Do you have any advice for fathers raising a family outdoors?
Capt. John: I’ve always taught fishing to anglers of all ages and skill levels. I have learned to have a lot of patience. Raising kids in the outdoors is a lot like guiding. You have to be patient, and you have to let them pick things up on their own. Take it as it comes, don’t force it. But if they ever ask to go, you’ve got to take them!
Q: Do you have any quick tips for getting your family and children outdoors?
Capt. John: Since our children were little, we’ve cut them loose. We have never restricted them. As long as you show them first, let them try on their own. We make sure they’re careful when we fish, but if they get hooked so be it. I joke with my wife and say ‘It doesn’t hurt to get hooked, it only hurts when you take it out.’
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of sharing your passions with your children?
Capt. John: Last summer my daughter caught a redfish on fly, all by herself. It was really awesome. And my son and I shot a nice deer this past fall on the farm here. I knew tracking the deer was going to go late into the night, so I asked him if he could get home on his own. He said yes, so I sent him on his way. I watched him most of the way, and he must have jogged all the way back to the house. It was cool to see!
Q: When you think about your legacy, what do you hope to pass along to your family and your children?
Capt. John: Man, I think about that a lot! I hope to pass along good stewardship of the environment, to respect everything around you. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and learned a lot of skills that I hope to share with them and pass along to them. Everything from tying the right knot to being observant and mindful of the environment and world around them.
To learn more information about Captain John Irwin, or to book a fishing charter with him, visit his website at www.flyrightcharters.com