Cap’n Jonny Rush and his navigators ride the Big Red Dog, traveling the river byways, highway 101 and the I-5 corridor selling fish and drawing a crowd.
You can call him Dr. Cholesterol.
“I love everybody,” he said, “and I’m here to make you feel good. It gets cold and lonely in that bus, but I travel to several towns making sure people get their diet together. No more pork! No more fries, no more hamburgers! Get rid of the sugar.”
Cap’n Jonny buys his fish from processors before they start adding chemicals and he stays away from farmed fish.
“We deal in 100 percent pure organic fish,” he said. “We’re half price most of the time. And right now there is none. I’m temporarily out of business, taking a break.
“A lot of people have a fantasy that you can buy a halibut from a boat. There might be a couple weekend flyers that do that, but the big boats have to sell it to the process plants because they can’t be waiting for the whole town of Seattle or Portland to show up at the dock.”
You can call him a Wildcat Fish Man. Or maybe it’s the Wild Catfish Man.
The navigators are the series of statues lining the back of the bus, a bus he has painted red and purple and yellow. Each navigator was purchased from nautical shops along the coastline.
“We’re hip to the modern world,” Rush jokes. “All these little statues back here talk to me while I’m driving.”
He cites Ken Kesey and his bus Further as an inspiration.
“The idea for the painting of the fish came from the cascade locks,” Rush said. “Everything you see on here has something to do with the areas from Astoria to the Hanford reach.
"There was a sale on ducks at one store, and I decided to go duck crazy,” he continued. “Mostly I like the flamingo in the front. It gives it an island effect. The two gigantic fish in the back represent the northwest Indian culture. It was painted by a Mediterranean Indian, me. Because I’m Italian, there’s a little spaghetti in there too.”
It was his way of honoring the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes who have given him fish in the past.
He starts singing.
“Somewhere in Margaritaville on the freeway to Astoria, I’m going to find myself a new love affair.”
“If Jimmy Buffett gave up singing,” Rush jokes, “he might have a bus like mine.”
You can call him the Land Captain.
Cap’n Jonny grew up in the Longview area, fishing with his family along the Kalama and Clackamas Rivers. At 18, it became his trade.
“I was a commercial fisherman,” he said. “I learned from some local historical characters.
“I’m going on 64, I’m kind of historical myself.”
He got tired of the river. There wasn’t a lot of salmon at the time, and none of the commercial fishermen were doing very well, he said. So he bought a bus, and one thing has led to another.
“I’ve always been independent with my guitar playing and art,” he said. “The girls weren’t chasing me as much as they used to. I decided to do something more in the fish world. So far nobody has kicked me off the freeway.
“There is no marijuana in the bus,” Rush said, “but there is a little touch of Ken Kesey and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest somewhere in the back room.”
Look for Captain Jonny and his Big Red Nautical Bus. Sometimes you’ll see him parked on the corner of Coal Creek Road and Ocean Beach Highway. Rush might have a good price for fresh fish and an even better fish story to tell.