284 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska, you’ll find the town of King Salmon perched on the banks of the Naknek River. This remote location is home to Free Fly Ambassador, Captain Sage Johnson, where she works as a fishing guide at her family’s lodge for half the year. The other half, she heads down south to the warmer waters of Belize, chasing bonefish, permit, and the occasional tarpon. Not a bad setup.  

 Growing up in Livingston, Montana, Sage didn’t always have her sights set on professional guiding. From an early age, she had no doubt she’d play pro basketball in the WNBA—a reasonable goal for someone who went on to compete as a Division 1 athlete at Oregon State, going 32 and 0 in her first season to win the NCAA championship title. 

But when a devastating career-ending injury halted her dreams of going pro, she had to recalibrate. Refocusing her competitive drive, she found that fishing had a surprising amount of crossover with her experience in athletics. Her drive on the court lended well to the team environment of working with clients and keeping composure when stakes were high. Guiding not only began to fill that void, but surpassed her expectations completely. 

Today, Sage couldn’t imagine her life without fishing in it. Her work hard, play hard mentality thrives on the water. Whenever we meet up with Sage for any sort of adventure, she pulls triple duty as our guide, our DJ, and our standby bartender. Her speaker lives on her at all times, which comes in handy when the fish aren’t biting. Whether it’s a three-day float trip down a jungle river in Costa Rica, or guiding clients into trophy trout up at the Katmai Fishing Lodge in Alaska, she’s always the first one on the boat, last one off—and first to order a round of drinks for the whole crew.

“I approach saltwater fly fishing like I would if I was scouting, getting ready for a game. There’s so much strategy. It’s a constant cycle of practicing and having routines and getting better. And that’s how I know I’m doing something I love, because I want to get better at it.”