Iowa Great Lakes fishing guide John Campbell chosen for the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame

Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Campbell with two of his tournament victory trophies. (Photo submitted)

Among the list of 2018 inductees into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame is longtime fishing educator, tournament angler and local fishing guide John Campbell.

Campbell says with a smile, “It’s exciting and a great honor. I have always admired those who have made the Hall of Fame and enjoyed reading about their contributions to the fishing world.”

Located in Hayward, Wisconsin, the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame is the international headquarters for education, recognition and promotion of fresh water sport fishing. Along with its museum of historical fresh water sport fishing artifacts, the Hall seeks to recognize persons, organizations and institutions that have made significant and lasting contributions to the sport and heritage of fresh water fishing.

Over 30 years ago, Campbell and his wife visited the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

“As we walked around and looked at all the historical artifacts and saw the photos of legendary anglers, guides, manufacturers and inventors, I said to my wife ‘It would really be something if I could make it someday,’" Campbell said. "It is quite something to achieve this honor now.”

Campbell’s Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame bio

John Campbell has fished Lake Okoboji and the Iowa Great Lakes for decades. He knows where the fish are hiding and how to catch them. Campbell competed at the highest levels in walleye tournaments for over 25 years, finishing as one of the top anglers of all time. Campbell enjoys teaching people how to become better anglers. Over the years, he has been a Main Stage featured speaker at outdoor shows in Minneapolis, Chicago and smaller towns throughout the Midwest. He has appeared in hundreds of TV, radio, newspapers and magazines as a fishing expert.

A young John Campbell with a big bass. (Photo submitted)

It all began on a dock on West Okoboji

Campbell’s life story revolves around fishing.

“I grew up in the Chicago area, but from the time I was little, my family would come and stay at Methodist’s Camp,” he said.

Located on the northeast shore of West Okoboji, it is there that Campbell began his fishing at age two on a Methodist Camp dock.

“Well, as much as you can fish when you are two years old,” the 61-year-old Campbell says with a laugh. “When I was older, my dad would rent a wood row boat, and we would go perch fishing. I remember at age 12, I caught my first walleye casting off the Methodist Camp boat dock.”

Much of the year, though, Campbell lived in Chicago and began to fish the nearby streams and rivers.

“Of course, mostly we caught carp, but there was one we called Old Moe, and I caught (and released) him.”

Still, the waters of the Iowa Great Lakes kept drawing him back. Although attending college at the University of Illinois kept him away for a while, Campbell and his dad, along with Ted Takasaki, also a tournament angler and a current hall of famer, went together and bought a Ranger 681 tiller, and they soon spent lots of hours on the road leaving the suburbs of Chicago to fish the Iowa Great Lakes.

Campbell says, “To help us learn the waters, we hired legendary fishing guide Jim McDonnell and Perry Parks, whose dad owned White Oaks Bait Shop in Arnold’s Park.”

Soon, Campbell and Takasaki embarked on their highly successful tournament fishing venture. For Campbell, the 25-year tournament career was somewhat of a juggling act, as he also had a highly successful sales career.

The tournament world

Campbell’s 25-year tournament career featured success at the highest level: the MWC, the PWT and the FLW circuits. “In 1991, Ted and I won the MWC Team of the Year title. It was the only walleye circuit around, so all of the top tournament anglers were a part of it.” Campbell also won a couple of major titles along the way. Consistency was Campbell’s trademark, and he made the championships 24 straight years! His consistency has made him one of the top money winners of all time.

To go along with the tournament trails, Campbell spent much of the off-season offering seminars all around the Midwest from Bismarck to Minneapolis, to Milwaukee and to Chicago.

“I also spent a lot of time doing interviews on radio in the Chicago area and wrote syndicated fishing how-to articles in both major and regional fishing publications.”

Finally, after 25 years as a professional angler, Campbell knew the wear and tear was getting to him, and it was time for a change. So, he left both the sales position and tournament angling for a guiding career on the Iowa Great Lakes.

Guiding on the Iowa Great Lakes

With no guiding experience, Campbell began Campbell Fishing Expeditions in 2013.

“I started with 12 guide trips the first year and doubled it in the second year," he said. "Now, in 2018 I have been booked almost full.”

Campbell guides from May through October with two goals in mind: to teach clients how to become better anglers and to create an atmosphere of fun and excitement.

“In the summer months, I get more families going, while the early and late months are often more often that of the veteran anglers.”

Bottom line? Have fun and ensure clients enjoy the trip.

Winter fishing WITHOUT the ice

Since 2014, Campbell has taken his guide service to Marco Island on Florida’s southwest coast.

“I actually started fishing myself down there in 2000,” he said.

He entered several local/regional tournaments over the years and learned the subtle nuances of the tides and currents. Campbell works the backwaters surrounding the Ten Thousand Island National Park targeting redfish, tarpon, snook and spotted sea trout.

“I really like sight fishing, and I have found that once you understand the fish, there are a lot of similarities between, say, walleyes up here and snook down in Florida.”

To say fishing is a passion for John Campbell is an understatement. Since age two, he has pursued the sport and turned it into both his vocation and avocation. As for his induction, Campbell takes great pride in what has brought him to receive this honor.

“It has taken a lot of hard work, but I have enjoyed all aspects of fishing from being a kid fishing off the dock on West Okoboji, to the 25 years of tournament fishing and all of the seminars in the off season to the past five years of guiding. It’s been a lot of fun!”

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