Mike, Aimee, and George (aka Gus) Eaton are presently embarking on an extraordinary fly fishing trip that has impressed all those who have heard about their ventures.
Documenting their trip on Raising Gus, Mike and Aimee are traveling the United States with the goal of catching every major game fish species in the U.S. over the course of 2015 while also raising their toddler son. George (who is affectionately being called “Gus” in honor of Augustine “Gus” Orviston from David James Duncan’s, A River Why) is getting off to a great start in life!
Their adventure commenced in January on the Metolius River in Oregon in search of bull trout, and the year will include stops everywhere from Alaska to Florida to Maine. In the midst of their epic trip, the Eatons took time aside to take on an interview with the Venturing Angler:
1. To pursue every major game species in the United States is the challenge of a lifetime. To do it one year is especially exciting. What sparked your decision to take this on, especially with a newborn in the mix?
Mike: There were several factors that lead to us launching this trip. The main one is that we wanted to travel and see the US, we wanted to fish for a ton of different fish, and we didn’t want to have to wait until we are retired or kids are out of school. Given those parameters this was really the only viable option. Due to my profession, I have limited/no ability to take time off of work in the spring or the fall, however I have the ability to work from wherever I want. Hopping in a trailer allows us to be close to the different fisheries that we are targeting, where we can take advantage of the few pre- and post-work opportunities that I have during those times of year. Basically, I can’t ever take a dedicated steelhead trip, but if I am camped near a steelhead river I can sneak out for an hour a day and fish.
We are also planning on settling down at some point, and once we do it will be much harder to get mobile with Gus in school. Right now he doesn’t need much besides us, so it seemed like now was a great time for the trip.
Aimee: We started talking about this trip about a year ago. Mike and I both have a fair amount of geographic flexibility in our work, and I was looking for a large but containable project to write about. Fishing and skiing were both on the list of possible pursuits/subjects. Fishing won, but we wanted to incorporate some exploring and we didn’t want to just fish for trout. We sat down with a U.S. atlas and a blank sheet of paper and started dreaming of all the species we’d like to catch. Then we decided that if Gus was healthy and growing, and we could swing it financially we might as well go for it. It’s kind of ridiculous, but it really came down to deciding just to go ahead and try.
2. How has Gus been doing so far?
M: Gus rules. He has just started crawling. He also thinks that he is close to walking – he’s not – but he is always trying to stand up. He crashes a lot. He also blows raspberries, snores, and wants to eat your food more than his food.
A: I’m sure 99% of all parents say this but we won the lottery with Gus. We started taking him to the river at one-week-old and before the trip began we’d get him out there at least a few times a week, every week. Now it’s a daily occurrence and very normal to him. He falls asleep in the pack, plays on the banks, checks out birds, puts everything in his mouth, watches us land fish, gets rained on and generally takes in the whole experience. Of course, he’s still a baby, and comes with all the trappings of babyhood, but, yeah he’s fantastic and we’re going to keep him.
3. How are your various professional, marital, parenting, and general adult responsibilities being managed?
M: The internet! There is no way that we could do what we are doing without the internet. My job allows us to travel because all of my work is on a remote server. Even if I go into the office I log into a computer somewhere else, so as long as we have internet we are good to go. Credit card bills, phone bills, mortgages, student loans, car payments, trailer payments, everything is tracked and managed online.
To keep the marriage going well we just remember to be polite, that we’re on the same team, and that we love each other. Boom. Done.
How could we not take care of our parenting responsibilities – I mean we live in a 250 square foot trailer. The boy is right there the whole time, which is both amazing and difficult when you’re trying to work. We both parent. A lot. As all parents know, it is both rewarding and incredibly frustrating. But generally our close proximity is amazing.
A: Mike works a desk job that requires a minimum eight-hour work day. We created a space in the trailer that serves as his office and for a good portion of the day he’s rooted there. I work as a writer, and write primarily in the evenings. We’ve scheduled a few of our stops around speaking engagements and meetings for me, and conferences for Mike. Part of taking on this trip was figuring out how to balance it with work, so far it seems to be going okay.
Parenting and family are full time commitments. I’ve talked to a couple different people in areas where we’re looking to fish and have invariably been asked if Gus will be with us; the answer is always, yes. We don’t have childcare or a babysitter, and besides the small breaks Mike and I give each other to get out on the water alone or get a run in, it’s the three of us. Our basic approach to marriage, parenting and life (which works most of the time) is to act with love and respect. We work hard at the whole communication thing and we watch out for one another. We also share flies and net fish for each other.
The underlying goal of this whole trip is to end the year happy, healthy, married and sane. Having any one of those things threatened would be grounds for us to consider calling it quits early, or at the very least revisiting our goals. So far we haven’t even come close to either of those situations.
4. So far you have fished the Metolius in Oregon for bull trout, Pyramid Lake in Nevada for the famed Lahontan cutthroat trout. Have there been any unexpected twists in the plan or surprises?
M: Not really. We have the Metolius fairly dialed. I used to fish it all the time so I had the techniques down, the only minor difficulty was finding the new lies since the river has changed a bit since I fished it last.
Pyramid Lake was kind of a surprise I guess. The fishing was exactly what we had read about, fish a lot, cast a lot and hopefully catch a fish. Oh yeah, and pray for bad weather. Since we had amazing weather it was tough. The surprise was how frustrated and incompetent you can feel when faced with fishing a lake that is 15 miles long and 11 miles wide with a fly rod while standing on a ladder.
A: The fishing has been pretty much as expected with one small addition. I have had to come to grips with the fact that I really dislike not catching fish. I realize that’s not something we’re supposed to admit, but it’s the truth. I like getting outside as much, or more than, the next guy, but if we’re out fishing I want to be catching. This means I don’t want to quit until we’ve figured out the fishery, which in some cases is something that would take years not days.
We’ve had a few issues with the truck and trailer, but we expected that when we bought a 15-year-old set-up we might have a few hiccups. One of the best surprises has been how receptive and excited the fishing community has been to seeing a family out on the water. We’ve had old guys ask to take pictures of us with Gus in the pack just because they think it’s neat, and younger guys who may have kids, or are planning on having kids, how it works logistically.
5. You are planning at looking at the ecological health the many fisheries you are visiting. How do you plan to respond to your findings?
M: I’ll let Aimee handle this one. If your business needs help with its retirement plan let me know.
A: I have a background in science journalism and will be working to share stories of the places we visit and issues we encounter. One of the things I most believe in is that we all share some common ground, and that if we can connect to each other through that common ground we can start creating change, or at least raising awareness. Stories are a powerful way to begin that process.
6. Is there a fish that you are especially dying to catch? What is it about that fish?
M: Musky! I used to be a fairly dedicated bass fisherman in the New Hampshire where I grew up. New Hampshire isn’t exactly a hotbed for bass, so after a while my brother and I turned our attention to tiger musky. New Hampshire isn’t exactly a hotbed for tiger musky either – we never caught one (don’t worry, we did actually catch bass). We threw a lot of big plugs for hours on end, plugs that looked like ducks and rats and all kinds of stuff like that. I want to catch a fish on my fly rod that eats ducks. I also like casting. I hear that you have to cast big flies until your arm falls off, that sounds right up my alley.
A: It’s a toss up for me between wild steelhead and tarpon. I’m a born and raised Oregonian with strong roots in the Pacific Northwest. Steelhead are part of the PNW culture, and their health is reflected in the health of the region. Iconic is the word that comes to mind. Tarpon just seem so incredibly awesome. I know very little about them in terms of their life cycle, but even just seeing a picture of one makes me excited.
7. When you are not on the water, what do you want the most out of the trip and why?
M: Adventure! Whether that means a float, a hike, or getting in the backcountry I like to add as much extraneous adventure as I possibly can.
A: I’m super excited to check out new water and meet some of the people that call the places were visiting home. This is a chance to explore and learn; whether that’s on the water or in the towns we’re visiting I can’t wait to see what’s out there.
8. Which destination are you most looking forward to?
M: I am super excited right now for the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve never been and hope that we can explore a fair bit while we’re there.
A: I’m not sure I can pick one. The Olympic Peninsula, Maine, the Keys, hopefully Alaska. It’s a big world out there and it’s just waiting!
9. What music has been getting the most play so far on the road?
M: Ha! We are such total nerds. If my best friend ever sees this interview I won’t ever hear the end of it. We just finished the first season of NPR’s Serial – A True Story Told Week by Week. We were completely engrossed. My brother and his wife were amazing and got us an Audible Subscription so we have gotten a couple of books. We already listened to Hounded by Kevin Hearn and have A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore and Hyperion by Dan Simmons on deck. If we are in some sort of city we will bounce around between rock, top 40 and country.
A: The Serial podcast was huge. We’d listen to an episode on the way to and from the river then talk about it why we were gearing up. I also listen to the Dirtbag Diaries, This American Life and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me when I’m out running with the boy. When we have decent wireless we listen to a lot of Pandora. A few of our favorite stations include Lyle Lovett, Sail, AC/DC, Eddie Spaghetti, Lady Gaga. We really are all over the map.
10. If National Geographic had a parents of the year award, you would already be in the running. How do you think this adventure will benefit you both as parents and as a couple and also Gus as a kid?
M: For Gus I think (hope) that he will benefit from getting outside. We have him outside every day; either walking a river and fishing, or going for a hike in the backpack or a run in the Chariot. He loves it and hopefully he will learn to love the outdoors as much as we do. As parents it is a huge benefit to us to be around our child. Unlike a lot of other parents who work full time, I get to be there as my son grows during his first 2 years.
I thought that Aimee and I were close before, but after a year of living in a 250 sq. ft. trailer we are going to be super duper close. By then she will be able to anticipate my every need. She will be getting me a beer as I think of it. It’s going to be amazing, I can’t wait! (Mike is mostly kidding here.)
A: When you’re a first time parent you hear a lot of advice. There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that life is over, that things will never be the same, that you can kiss adventure goodbye. While I have no doubt that things will never be the same as they were pre-Gus, I do think that in many, many ways they’re better.
I think this adventure is showing us that life with kids, just like life without kids, is what you make of it. There’s an old quote, and unfortunately I don’t know who said it, but it goes, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.” We want a life for all of us that is filled with adventure, new experiences and ongoing learning. This trip is all of that with a bow on top.
Be sure to stay connected to the Eatons over the coming months as they travel the United States! They are taking fantastic photos and are blogging along the way. Check them out on Twitter at @RaisingGus2015 and on Instagram at @raising_gus