February 08, 2021
Fly fishing draws many eccentric and talented individuals to pursue a quarry that’s unattainable without the proper knowledge and gear. It’s not easy, it can be confusing, keeping you up at night, becoming an obsession—an itch that needs to be scratched. Artists also feel this itch to create. Does this mean there’s an artist within all fly fishers? I’d like to think so. As the famous Spanish cubist Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” The art of fly fishing awakens our inner child and allows us to experience the beauty and intrinsic wonder of nature and the species we pursue through the lenses of creative minds.
Tim Johnson lived in Spanish Forks, Utah and recently moved back to his hometown of Mesa, Arizona, with his wife and four children. He discovered his passion for fishing at a young age, eventually gravitating to a fly rod. As a child he remembers thinking “I gotta keep fishing,” and being intrigued by the depth of colors found in trout and flies. After being an Orvis-endorsed guide at Utah’s Falcon’s Ledge Lodge and attending Brigham Young University, he went on to become a recreational therapist and adjunct professor at BYU. He focused on work with autistic children and disabled veterans. He used fly fishing as an experiential modality to help in their therapies. Perhaps the brilliant colors of the painted desert sunsets, as well as the native Apache and Gila trout of Arizona, played a role in his artistic development and dramatic use of contrast and color.
In September 2012, Johnson and his brother ventured to Alaska for a salmon fishing trip. As a gift to his brother, he took a soldering iron and burned a drawing of a silver salmon onto the cork grip of one of their rods. This single act set him on the path to develop Timmy Grips, which are part of the Helios 3 Artist Series available at Orvis (orvis.com). This limited series features a bonefish in pursuit of a crab, and a brown trout rising to a fly. The brown trout is sold out, but Johnson takes commissioned work. Any rod handle can be turned into a Timmy Grip (timjohnsongallery.com). From rods to gun handles, the burning process he has developed can be applied to a variety of objects. The cork is sealed to preserve the art for many years.
Anyone who has met Johnson will tell you he’s humble and dedicated to his art and fly fishing. As he says, “I want people to see what I see when I create a piece of artwork for them, and hope that it resonates with them.” Many artists create art to evoke an emotion, or to inspire themselves to develop their own vision of the world around them. Johnson’s empathetic approach is selfless and geared toward his clients’ passions. Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis says, “I’ve known Tim for many years. I first met him as a guide at Falcon’s Ledge Lodge and we’ve fished together a number of times in Utah. He’s always a joy to be with on the water. Only later did I discover what a fine artist he is, and I have one of Tim’s brown trout prints hanging over my desk. But what is most amazing about Tim isn’t his fishing or artistic abilities. The best part of Tim is that he is a funny, thoughtful, and caring human being, both professionally in his work with kids with cognitive disabilities, and with his family. I’m very proud to call him a friend.”
Johnson is now a full-time artist and continues to work with Orvis as a signature fly tier and on projects such as tutorials on “how to draw trout during the COVID-19 crisis.” An accomplished oil and watercolor painter, he also does commissioned fish replica paintings. When asked what is next in his evolution as an artist, he says, “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done so far, but now is a transitional time for me to accelerate the evolution of my art.” I hope I speak for everyone when I say I can’t wait to see what’s next.