five secrets from a fly fishing guide

Posted by matthew abbott on

fly fishing tie by jess westbrook

by jess westbrook

Every fishing guide has secrets, but most will not share them because those secrets are considered proprietary knowledge they worked hard to learn. Countless days on the river, hours at the vise, discussions with other guides, great days on the river, and tough days on the river — these things have molded who they are as fishermen and as guides, and therefore this information is kept close. Over the last decade, I have guided in Alaska, guided in Arkansas, traveled to fish with numerous great fishermen in 15 states and fished in competitions against some of the best fishermen in the United States — listed below are the five most important things I have learned over the last decade.

  1. Know Your Flies: My boxes are broken down by bead size and organized based on sink rates. All my flies are tied with tungsten beads and not just because tungsten sinks faster; the main reason is to create consistency. If your box has two identical flies — one tied with a tungsten bead and the other with brass — they will fish differently.
  2. Tippet: Normally, I fish the lightest tippet I can get away with using. The majority of the time I am fishing 7x — not only is it tougher for the fish to see, there is less surface area so it improves the sink rate of your fly therefore you are in the strike zone longer.
  3. Egos Hinder Learning: Whenever I am fishing with others I constantly try to learn from them, it doesn’t matter if they have been fishing for two weeks or 20 years you can learn from others. They may be doing something unconventional with their fly that is triggering fish to move.
  4. Presentation Trumps Pattern: If you are fishing a fly you have confidence in and you aren’t getting eats, before you change flies try adding weight or making sure you are presenting a drag free drift. I believe that the way you present a fly is more important than the actual fly you are fishing.
  5. Slow Down: Look, Listen and Observe before you cast. Before I start fishing I will walk up and down the section of river and get a plan before I ever step foot in the river.

Long drifts and tight lines! If you guys have any questions about this article feel free to shoot me an email

image by jess westbrook of fly fishing

About Jess

Jess Westbrook was exposed to fly fishing at a young age. He spent weeks every summer chasing stocker rainbows in Roaring River, Missouri. During his college years he cut his teeth guiding for Rainbow Bay Resort in Pedro Bay, Alaska. Guiding gives Jess the opportunity to combine his two passions: fishing and teaching. Today he owns Arkansas-based guide service Black Dun Fly Fishing and is the general manager for Nushagak Paradise Lodge which is located on the Nushagak River outside of Dillingham, Alaska. In 2015 Jess and his wife Laura founded The Mayfly Project, a non-profit organization that mentors foster children through fly fishing.

* all images from @jess_l_westbrook

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