Captain Jonny: Fishmonger Drops Anchor in Corvallis

Though he’s not an actual naval officer, Captain Jonny Rush plays the part when customers approach the Red Dog Nautical Bus, his mobile fish market which he keeps parked at 53rd Street and Route 20 for a few weeks of the year. Motorists driving past have likely seen him dressed in full naval captain garb, waving his flag outside, which advertises halibut and sea bass at a bargain.

“It’s $9 a pound,” said Rush. “That’s far less than the grocery stores.”

Indeed, it’s a not a bad price for the halibut, which is kept in freezers on the bus and sold in bagged chunks. For those who may not have encountered fish like ling cod and sea bass in this form before, Rush is happy to suggest recipes for the unusual cuts. “It’s great for cioppino, tacos, ceviche, any kind of soup,” he said.

But for some, the real attraction isn’t the fish as much as the bus itself. The 40-foot bus is hand-painted fire engine red and festooned with a hodgepodge of fishing nets, metal fish, tropical parrots, butterflies, skulls, and a large flamingo head ornament.

“If Jimmy Buffet had a bus, it might look like this one,” said Rush.

Rush has been driving the Red Dog around the Northwest for the last 22 years, selling frozen fish and drawing curious spectators with the hand-painted, playfully festooned traveling fish market. He estimates it’s the only nautical-themed, flower-power bus on the road today.

The Red Dog has drawn a lot of attention, said Rush, as he takes me back into the bus and pulls out a stack of newspapers that have featured him and the Red Dog over the years. He guesses that he’s been on over 40 newspapers’ front pages since 2013.

“People who come sometimes wear costumes and take pictures,” he said.

It’s unclear how he got the name Jonny Rush, but according to him, the bus is the second vessel that he’s captained. Initially he owned a fishing boat, which sank in the Columbia River. Years later, he rekindled the dream of rambling and selling fish when he bought the first bus and turned it into the Red Dog. Since then, he’s had to replace the bus more than once, but the concept has always been the same: nautical theme, frozen fish, a life that’s part truck driver, part fishmonger, and part entertainment.

He plans to stay selling on Route 20 for a while before moving on, though he added that it’s never certain how long he will stay in any one location. The Pacific Northwest seems to be constantly calling him to set up in new places.

Rush grinned as he told me he doesn’t know how long he’ll be in Corvallis. “There’s a lot of hungry people in other cities,” he said.

By Cameron Shenassa