John was raised along the banks of the Washougal River in Southwest Washington where he spent most of his youth fly fishing for trout, steelhead and salmon. His favorite fish were the summer steelhead, from the early June rains through the late Indian Summers. All other interests were set aside during this period. Only steelhead mattered.
His early interest to steelhead carried over to adulthood. He has lived much of the past twenty years on the west-side of the Olympic Peninsula, and for over a decade he fished an average of 340 days a year. He spent that time adapting a style of casting and fishing in isolation -- wading deep, casting far, and swimming the fly broadside rather than solely swinging -- to solve the unique challenges of catching large winter steelhead in the brawling rainforest rivers.
He also spent 100's of days snorkeling the rivers, not only to inform his angling but also because he is a fisheries scientist. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, the vast majority of which has focused on the biology and ecology of steelhead and rainbow trout. In addition, he has authored two books and several book chapters on steelhead and other topics, and his underwater photography and videography has been broadly published in books, magazines, newspapers, movies and television. His latest publication is the book May the Rivers Never Sleep, which was a collaboration with his father Bill McMillan and pays homage to the strong conservation influence of Roderick Haig-Brown.
He now works as the Science Director for Trout Unlimited's Wild Steelhead Initiative after spending the previous five years studying steelhead and salmon recolonization in the Elwha River. Much of his professional scientific study has focused on the biology, behavior and ecology of steelhead and rainbow trout, with a particular interest in the mechanisms influencing why individual fish adopt particular life history strategies -- such as anadromy and residency.
He also focuses on educating citizens about science and believes that every angler owes it to themselves – and the fish – to minimize their impacts by handling fish well. That is why he is so excited to be an Ambassador for the Keep-em-wet movement. Not only does the movement include some of the best scientists and advocates, but it also focuses on doing what we can as anglers to ensure that the fish swims away in the best shape possible. That is something he fully supports the movement by Bryan Huskey and others, because it is up to each generation to do what they can to ensure the next generation has a chance to fish for the incredible wild steelhead.
Ever thankful for his understanding and lovely wife, Laurel, and his sidekick Gordon Setter, Honey, much of his free time is spent casting Burkheimer spey rods, snorkeling and taking underwater photographs of juvenile and adult steelhead.