Fridays on the Fly: Wes Hodges’ Proper Etiquette For Fishing With Guides

Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing
Intro by Justin Forrest, words by Wes Hodges

Fishing with a guide in new waters is one of the best ways to learn about an area, catch some fish, and make new friends.

Guiding is one of the noblest professions in the world if you ask me. It takes years of dedication to the craft, the water, and the fish. That’s why people turn to a guide when they’re looking to catch fish in a new place. They teach you what to use, where to use it, how to use it, and when to use it. You’re getting years of experience crammed into your brain during a half day of fishing. It’s worth every penny.

That being said, there are a couple things folks need to realize when they are looking to hire a guide. Sure, you’re paying them for a service, but that doesn’t make them your employee. Whenever I fish with a guide, I shut up, listen, and do what they say. Nine times out of ten, I’m catching fish and having a damn good time doing it. I’ve fished with guides in the Florida Keys for Permit, in Boca Grande for Tarpon, and in WNC for trout. Whether you’re fishing in a mountain stream, a wide inlet, or a coastal flat, it’s all the same.

To get a professional opinion on the subject, I reached out to Wes Hodges, owner of Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing in Blacksburg, Va. He’s been fly fishing most of his life and knows a thing or two about guiding. Wes was kind enough to share his must-dos, must-don’ts, and his biggest pet peeves as a professional fishing guide.

Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing
Photo: Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing

Rule Number One:  Never Be Late

My trips are almost always catered to a specific day and time of year, but also to the client’s needs. For instance, in the middle of summer, when the fish activity is at its peak early and late, I could start a trip at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., or even 1 p.m.  It all depends on the water, the hatches, and the fish. Nothing is constant in nature and my trip start times are dictated by that. If a client shows up late, we could miss the very time in which the fishing activity is at its peak.

“I can’t control the fishing but I can damn sure control lunch!”

Also, a guide should never be late for his trip.  That is never, ever good.  When that does happen, don’t make excuses.  Be a man and own up to your mistake. That is my number one pet peeve.  And yes, I have been late for a trip.

Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing
Photo: Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing

Rule Number Two: Never Expect To Catch Fish

Expect to have a badass time and a good lunch. I have had clients that assumed their booking of a fishing trip would automatically result in world-class fishing as if I was Poseidon. Common statements and questions include:

  • “How many fish should we catch today?”
  • “I just want to catch a smallmouth over 22 inches!”
  • “I caught over a hundred fish in Tenn. Should I expect that in Va.?”

That is simply not the case. There are so many factors that go into a successful day of fishing. You have to account for the wind (especially in fly-fishing due to the casting), water flows on tailwater rivers, and sometimes the fish just don’t freaking eat.

“Nothing good ever comes from an overly aggressive fly-cast.”

I understand that clients get all amped up to fish because I know how I am when I get a day on the water.  I can’t blame them, but the clients need to remember that we are guides, not gods.  When I am faced with a client that expects those outcomes I simply reply with, “I can’t control the fishing but I can damn sure control lunch!”

Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing
Photo: Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing

Rule Number Three:  Slow Down

This is very important for the client to understand. It does not directly impact me, but I want my clients to have the most enjoyable experience on the water. That experience needs to start with slowing down their life for that day, slowing down their mental state, and slowing down their cast. Nothing good ever comes from an overly aggressive fly-cast.

One of my best trips was with the head honcho of a construction company. He desperately wanted to catch something larger than a Brook Trout, so I took him to a stream that holds large, wild Brown Trout. This man has worked so hard, for so long, that he worked every ounce of relaxation out of his soul. He put his waders on and set up his rod quickly. Hell, he even drank his scalding hot coffee in one large gulp.

“Do I need to tie you up to that sycamore tree again?”

In an effort to make this “bird dog” gentleman controllable, I calmly walked him down the stream and asked him to rest against a large tree sitting along the shoreline. I gave him clear directions, “Watch that run against the far bank, right below the fast water. When I get back from the truck, let me know how many trout you saw rise.”

Photo: Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing

I came back in 20 minutes and the man was asleep, knocked out cold, resting against the large sycamore tree. I let him sleep for about another 20 minutes as I finished my coffee and tied our flies on. I asked him how many trout he saw rise and he replied, “Only one.”

We caught that fish and many more wild browns on that trip. We didn’t share one word about his profession for the remainder of the day. We only talked about the important stuff in life; family, bird dogs, fine shotguns, streamers, and morel mushrooms. I still guide this man multiple times each year.  Whenever he is getting uncontrollable I will calmly say, “Do I need to tie you up to that sycamore tree again?”

Wes Hodges is the owner of Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing in Blacksburg, Va. He guides fly fishing trips down the New River, on private water, and to remote destinations like Montana and Maine. Follow him on Instagram to keep up with his travels.

Justin Forrest is an outdoor writer, fly fishing addict, and co-founder of Narrative North—based in Asheville, N.C. He posts pictures of cats and fishing on Instagram sometimes.

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