If These Walls Could Talk: Fly Fishing Guide Wisdom on the Rogue River

Proof that fly fishing guides have gotten no less droll and cynical over the years.

If These Walls Could Talk: Fly Fishing Guide Wisdom on the Rogue River
Just a few of the images from the walls of the great Ilahe

I was browsing the summer '23 issue of The Drake and came upon a few old guide chestnuts, combining the ignorance of the customers, ("dudes", or "custies" in river rafting lingo), the grind of the job across a season, and the general cynicism that comes when you turn something you love into a job that barely pays the bills.

Some of these I've heard before ("How'd we get to the same spot we started?" or "Hey, that's the truck—does this river run in a circle?") Some are new to me. ("Guiding is awesome. All you do is spend money and get skin cancer.")

But they reminded me of Questions to Ask Your Guide, a two-part set of posters I saw on the wall of the Ilahe Lodge on the Rogue. I get the sense it was as much a training program for new guides as intended to help dudes. Especially considering the Ilahe, near Foster Bar, is about the third night down the river. So, if you're a clueless passenger you'll have probably already revealed yourself so earlier in the trip, and can laugh at your relative worldliness.

Anyway, here they are, dated language and all. Proof that fly fishing guides have gotten no less droll and cynical over the years. Check out the Ilahe if you can, it's a timeless place.

Questions to Ask Your Guide

  1. Are they biting?
    Should have been here yesterday.
  2. How can you tell a steelhead from a salmon?
    Salmon have black in their mouths.
  3. Do you think it will rain?
    Only fools and foreigners predict the weather.
  4. When will the rain stop?
    Next May.
  5. Do you have any spare rain gear?
    Yes, but it leaks.
  6. Has your boat ever sunk?
    How else can I wash it.
  7. Can you swim?
    With water wings.
  8. Can you save me if I fall in?
    If you’ve got water wings.
  9. What is that funny hook on the floor of your boat?
    To retrieve anchors and other weighted objects.
  10. Do you carry liability insurance?
    Not enough.
  11. How much?
    More than anyone can afford in this business.
  12. Where is your favorite fishing hole?
    The lodge at …
  13. Do you see many bear?
    I’m afraid to look.
  14. If you know so much about it why don't you ever fish?
    You’re using my rod.
  15. Why do we have to get up so early?
    This was your idea.
  16. What's the biggest fish you ever caught?
    The sucker in the front of the boat.
  17. Why aren't they biting?
    You’ve been asking questions instead of fishing.
  18. When do we eat?
    After the HAPPY HOUR.
  19. Why is the water wet?
    It hasn’t dried yet.
  20. Does it ever get foggy here?
    I’m in the fog all the time.
  21. Will this fog lift?
    When the sun comes up.
  22. Are the steelhead a feeding fish?
    When they’re hungry.
  23. Why can't we catch them in the backwater?
    Because I forgot the worms.
  24. What is the backwater?
    A worm hole.
  25. When we see so many fish jumping why can't we catch them?
    They’re resting too far from the surface.
  26. Will they take worms?
    Not unless you hook some.
  27. Why do all the flies have two hooks?
    All the better to hook the guides — so you can catch two fish at a time.
  28. What fly do you use?
    The one on my rod.
  29. How do you fish it?
    When no one is looking.
  30. Why do guides whisper when they get together in corners?
    They’re planning or alibiing.
  31. Is the fishing better when it rains?
    It has to get to get us out here.
  32. Is it wetter when it rains?
    Above the surface.
  33. How do you cast in this wind?
    Duck when you start to cast — I have been.
  34. Where are the big fish?
    Still in the river. That’s how they got big.
  35. Why did you park on this rock?
    To rest before I try to miss that one.
  36. Do your arms ache?
    You’d better believe it.
  37. Why?
    It’s a weighty problem.
  38. How do you catch the big ones?
    You don’t — those are guide fish.
  39. Why do you wear that silly hat?
    To catch flies to sell to the next party.
  40. How many years experience do you have on the river?
    Good or bad, doing what?
  41. How fast is the current?
    Faster than I want to row to fish.
  42. Who do you think will win the world series?
    The vendors in the stands.
  43. Where is the head of this boat?
    Over there in the strawberry patch.
  44. Why do you sit backwards in this boat?
    So I can see where I’m going.
  45. Which is the front of the boat?
    Depends on your point of view.
  46. Do fish bite leaves?
    If they’re nearsighted.
  47. Are those real rocks up there?
    No, they film movies here.
  48. Do dudes ask you many questions?
    Only if they’re normal.
  49. Do wooden boats bounce off the rocks like rafts?
    OH — do rafts hit rocks?
  50. When do the fish start biting?
    Any minute now.
  51. How do you tell a female from a male steelhead?
    A female has a prettier face.
  52. How do you get you rafts back up to Grants Pass?
    We fill them with helium and fly them back.
  53. How can you tell when guides are lying?
    When their lips move.
  54. How can you eat so little and have to jog?
    I’m energy efficient.
  55. Are you a first timer?
    Yes, I’ve made it this far down-river before.
  56. Have you ever lost your boat?
    No, but a couple of nights ago I forgot where I parked it.

Pick up the Summer '23 issue of The Drake for more guide humor.