Orvis Trout Bum of the Week XXII: Josh Duchateau

Josh Duchateau with a beautiful Madison River brown trout.
All photos courtesy Josh Duchateau

A couple years ago, we ran a series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlighted some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) This is our second round of profiles. Most of the subjects are guides who have turned their passion into a vocation, spending their time in an outdoor “office” that may include a drift boat, gorgeous mountain scenery, and crystal clear water. Others do have day jobs but manage to spend every other available minute on the water with a fly rod in hand. Whether you aspire to one lifestyle or the other, it’s illuminating to explore the different paths these men and women have taken on their way to achieving “trout bum” status.

Josh Duchateau is the head guide for Firehole Ranch, in West Yellowstone, Montana. Originally from Wisconsin, Josh headed west as soon as he was able, and he’s built a life on fly fishing. 

1. When did you start fly fishing?
Technically, I started fishing when I was about four. The infatuation started there. My earliest memory of actual fly fishing was when I was about ten years old, in 1990, on the Kewaunee River in Wisconsin with my dad. On my very first cast, I caught about a nine-inch stocker rainbow on a Royal Coachman, while using a yellow fiberglass Eagle Claw rod. It seems that I was also hooked on my first cast.

2. What’s your favorite water?
Riffles. Since there is no way I can choose one body of water, I chose the holding water that I like fishing the most. In all truth, I like to catch fish, especially large ones, in really shallow and unlikely spots that many other anglers might overlook.

Josh says he can’t choose a favorite salmonid, but this rainbow must be in the running.

3. What’s your favorite fish to chase with a fly rod and why?
Salmonids. I love them all! I love the purity of a cutthroat, the caginess of browns, the athletic ability of a rainbow, the colors of a brookie, and the sheer power and determination of any migrating ocean-run fish. It isn’t necessarily the species of fish for me, but it’s how I pursue them. So no matter where I am, to me the most exciting and rewarding style of fishing is spot-and-stalk or sight-fishing.

4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
Fortunately, I have had many, so it is difficult rank them. That said, there is a moment of time on each outing that I cherish, and it happens at the end of the day when I am sitting with family and/or friends on the tailgate of a truck just talking about fishing and enjoying a beer. I think I like talking about fishing almost as much as actually fishing. On two of these occasions, when I was fishing on the Blackfeet Reservation with a friend, we observed a grizzly emerge out of the bushes almost exactly where we had been fishing just minutes before. Once, we were able to watch the bear cross a raging river during runoff like it was nothing. The bear then climbed a steep hill directly towards us. We sipped our beers until the grizzly got a little too close for comfort. I’m glad we were already out of our waders and near the truck because the bear actually looked hungry.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
Unfortunately, my most forgettable moment is burned into my memory forever. So there I was at the take-out at the end of a fine guide day on the Madison River. Despite the 50 mph gusts of wind, my guests had boated a couple of great fish for that river. There were a couple of other guides already at the ramp ready to take out, so I snugged the boat up to bank and dropped anchor and decided to keep my guests in the boat since they were older and didn’t have the proper footing for a safe exit out of the boat. Meanwhile, I decided to grab the truck and trailer to keep traffic at the ramp flowing and so I could have my guests exit the boat on the concrete ramp. But after I backed my trailer down the ramp, I noticed my boat and clients weren’t there anymore! Panic set in immediately. I quickly peaked around to the other side of my vehicle and there they were, almost 75 yards downstream with just about all of the anchor rope out while the wind continuing to push them downstream. Luckily, there was another guide already wading out to retrieve my guests before anything got worse. Wow! It was my first year guiding and could have been my last. Lesson learned! On a positive note, the clients actually returned the next season despite my rookie mistake.

Sight-fishing is Josh’s favorite method, no matter what his quarry.

6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
My cliché answer would be spending time family and friends, but I think that should go without saying. My real answer would be the anticipation and preparation. I still lose sleep at night anticipating a new species or even just new water. Preparation is definitely the key to becoming a successful angler. Whether it’s the plane ticket you buy, the guide you book, the bugs you tied, or the countless hours just practicing a double haul, roll cast, or reach cast, all can be major preparation factors that directly affect your time on the water.

7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
Polarized sunglasses. I may not even rig up a rod if I ever show up to a destination without them. As a guide and angler, I always carry an extra pair in my truck and boat. Not only do they function as a safety device, but they keep the client and me on the same page when I ask them, “Do you see that fish over by the big brown rock with the tan one just to the right and the reddish one to the left near the stick with the moss on it?”

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
Woolly Bugger. With countless variations, I never leave home without at least a handful, no matter what season or location I am in. Woolly buggers can and will catch fish anywhere on any presentation. Whether it’s on a fast strip, under a bobber, swung like a wet fly, or even floating on the surface, this creation always gets it done. Oh yeah, still to this day, my largest brown trout was tricked by a Woolly Bugger variation.

Southwestern Montana is a great place to be a guide, obviously.

9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
That’s a tough question since I haven’t traveled to many places outside the country, yet. But if I have to choose one trip, it would be the most influential trip that I took with my family to Montana when I was nine years old. I remember my dad rigging me up on spinning gear with a clear plastic casting bobber and a dry fly. Most of the fish I caught were whitefish, but I didn’t care. It was the most exciting fishing I had done yet. I had no idea at the time, but this trip would eventually lead into my fly-fishing life. Ten years later, I returned for good with nothing but a bag of clothes, a fly rod, and a dream.

10. What’s your next dream destination?
New Zealand? Belize? British Columbia? Kamchatka? DePuy’s Spring Creek? Which ever comes first.

11 thoughts on “Orvis Trout Bum of the Week XXII: Josh Duchateau”

  1. I had the opportunity to fish with Josh Duchateau several years ago while shooting a story for CNN. He’s a remarkable guide, smart as a whip, an overall great guy, with a killer sense of humor. He took our crew (me, our photographer, and our producer) and showed us an amazing day on Montana’s Ruby River.

    If you ever have the chance to spend a day with this great man–by all means, don’t hesitate.

    Thanks again, Josh.

    All best,

    Reynolds Wolf
    The Weather Channel

    (Formerly with CNN)

  2. 2014 will be my 4th year at the Firehole Ranch and Josh has been a big help every year. He’s a great teacher, who can explain fly fishing using every day terms. He’s knows his business! I’m waiting eagerly for June. See ya soon.

  3. I’ve fished the last couple of summers with Josh and have had an absolutely incredible time. A tremendous guide and a great person to spend time with. A very remarkable young man. And yes we caught a lot of fish!

  4. We have been guests at FireHole Ranch every year for over 25years , often with our kids and now grandkids
    on occasion. It is a truly wonderful place and one of the reasons is their great guides
    I am delighted that you have recognized Josh as such .
    We have fished with Josh , and I can say he is one of the very best . Not only as a knowledgeable fishing guide, but as a person that is fun to be with for days at a time .

  5. So glad to see that you picked Josh! He is a real gentleman and a great guide!
    Can’t wait for our next trip to Firehole!
    See you then Josh!
    Tight Lines!

  6. To think we experienced your very first day as a guide at the Firehole. It was memorable, wasn’t it? You guided our two sons who announced mid-day that they were done fishing and wanted to read. What a way to start — And now look, you’re famous!!! 🙂

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