January 23, 2020

Raised in a Drift Boat

Josh Eaton is among the top up and coming fly fishing guides in the state of Montana. As the son of our outfitters Chris and Julie Eaton, fly fishing is in Josh's DNA. His experience and personality are the perfect combination for an enjoyable float down the river. We asked Josh a few questions between his final exams. Here's what he had to say...

Tell us a bit about yourself, Josh. I am 21 years old. I was born in Bozeman, MT to my parents Chris and Julie. I grew up in Ennis, where my parents guided during the summer months. My dad managed MVR, my mom taught at the high school, and together they ran the Camper Corner. We moved to Bozeman once I was in grade school where my sister and I participated in all sorts of sports. I graduated high school in 2016 from Bozeman Senior High School, and currently attend Montana State University. In my free time, I fish and ski as much as I can between classes.

What are your first fly fishing memories? My earliest memory was at the Lions Club Park Kids Pond in Ennis. I made a cast without my dads help around the age of 4, and began to strip in a black woolly bugger. One of the massive old hatchery rainbows took it and tore off across the pond. I would reel it in, and it would tear off again. After about three rounds of this I finally got it to shore. My dad grabbed it by the tail, and I asked if I could pet it. A family friend took a great pictures with my dad holding the fish and my entire arm wrapped around it.

Why do you fly fish? The tug is the drug. I love sitting in the boat or river without a thought in my head besides fish.

What was it like growing up with two fly fishing guide as parents? Amazing. I got to spend so much time on the river whether it was floating down with my mom, dad, or grandpa. In the earlier days when my dad managed The Ranch, I mastered catching fish in the pond (it’s pretty easy when you throw a hand full of fish food in first!). Once we moved to Bozeman, a couple times every summer I would get to take the place of a client who cancelled their trip the night before. These were some of my best days of fishing when my Dad would set me up with with Brandon Struckman and Dave Evans.

Why did you choose to become a fly fishing guide? I enjoy teaching people and sharing my love for the sport. It is hard to beat seeing a client smile when they hook a fish.

What is your favorite river to guide on? The Madison. I grew up on it. I love all the different types of water along the 60-mile floatable stretch and the different ways one can catch whitefish ...and trout.

What is one piece of advice you can give a beginning angler who is just getting started in fly fishing? Go fishing to enjoy the outdoors, not just to catch fish. This is especially true for beginners. When I take out friends who have never fished, and they cannot seem to get the net wet, it’s easy for them to get frustrated. However, I think that disregards the main reason for fly fishing, and makes one’s casts sloppy, which leads to more tangles and more frustration. Just appreciate being in the outdoors. The fish will come!

What are 3 of the most common fly fishing mistakes you see with clients and how can they be avoided?

  1. Bringing the fly rod too far back on a cast. The physics of a fly cast consists of about 80°-100° of motion. If an angler brings the rod back to a horizontal angle with the ground, it propels the line into the ground or water behind them. The best way to fix this problem is to practice the range of motion, stopping the fly rod closer to a vertical angle.
  2. Not waiting for the line to fully extend on a back cast. The back cast is a crucial component to the entire fly cast. When someone waits on the back cast, the weight of the line pulls the rod tip back, making the forward cast shoot the rig towards the intended target. I refer to is as letting the rod do the work. I often suggest clients give a quick count to 2 in their head before going forward.
  3. Not fully committing to a hook set (especially with anglers that have a spin fishing background). This generally leads to a long-distance release or a tangle, because the fly line comes firing back towards the angler’s face. To avoid this, I recommend that people think of a hook set as a cast, rather than its own separate entity. This makes hook setting more effective and efficient.

You're allowed 3 fly patterns on the upper Madison River for the rest of your life. What would they be? Easy! The Prince Nymph, Girdle Bug and Dornan’s Water Walker (stonefly adult imitation). In my mind you can catch a fish on one of those flies, particularly the first two, any day of the year.

If you could go fly fishing anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Mongolia. I have always had the urge to target Taimen, the world’s largest freshwater trout species. Think of a brown trout on steroids.

Overall, what is your guiding philosophy?Fish gotta eat or they die. I like using this phrase to let everyone know that the fish will come. First and foremost, let’s have fun learning this sport and enjoying the beautiful Madison Valley. The fishing is not always going to go the way you want it to. Sometimes it feels like we have tried every fly in my box, but If we stick with what we know and have a good time, then the fish will eat something eventually.