The cool weather of October has most people rushing to the mountains to pick apples, see the colors of the changing leaves, sit in a deer stand, or wade for trout. Then there are some who venture north to spend hours on a raft fishing for smallmouth bass before they retreat to their winter holds. Of those few, were my dad, me, and the guides of Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing.
As a young man in the Boy Scouts, I remember taking several camping and backpacking trips near the New River Gorge. Driving over that massive river, I often hoped I’d have a chance to spend a day floating it. After researching the area and its fishery, I stumbled across “Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing.” Upon reviewing his website, I was intrigued. Wesley not only guided fly fishing trips for smallmouth, trout and musky, but also upland bird hunts for ruffed grouse and woodcock. He also offered lodging in a restored farmhouse, or in canvas basecamp tents that lined the shores of the James River. Not to mention what seemed to be world class home-cooked meals. Fishing, lodging, and great food; this triple threat seemed like a winner to me. So, I called Wesley and booked a two-day fishing, one-night stay for my dad and me.
The New River
Early Friday morning, we arrived at the boat launch on the New River. Just 2 hours north of my hometown, Statesville, North Carolina. The anticipation for the morning could not have been better met. We hopped out the truck awestruck by the beauty of the yellowish orange sycamore trees, and dense fog that adorned the crystal-clear water of the New River. Geese and ducks flew overhead as the sun began to rise, and white-tailed deer could be spotted scurrying across the rocks and high bluffs of the river. Our guide Preston arrived shortly, so we put on our waders and grabbed our gear to begin our float.
Our guide’s raft was a 14-foot star. It had three seats, rod storage, a cooler, gear boxes and plenty of space to move around. Shortly after launch we started throwing unweighted streamers on sinking lines. I was using a G.Loomis 8 weight, lined with Scientific Anglers’ triple density sinking line. We fished crawfish patterns, Kreelex flies, articulated streamers, and other baitfish patterns. But fishing was tough. The water temperature was around 50 degrees, and the fish were starting to move into their winter holding patterns. We fished most of the day without seeing or moving many fish, but managed to fool a few.
Around mid-day, only having moved a few fish, we stopped at a rock bar for lunch. Speaking with Preston during our float, we knew to expect a sandwich lunch, but what he and the team at Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing had planned for us was amazing. Preston pulled out three wooden cutting boards, and began preparing our sandwiches. This boat side deli included thick cuts of ham and turkey, cheese, fresh lettuce and pickled onions. Subway and Jersey Mike’s have nothing on these sandwiches! Amidst our lunch break we witnessed geese, heron, bald eagles, and even an albino hawk. Our guide said Native Americans believe that the presence of a white hawk is to make one alert and watch the signs, because something very important is about to be revealed.
At this point the fog and cloud cover had moved on, and we were left with a beautiful sunny day, around 65 degrees. Taking the White Hawk as a hopeful omen, we packed up our gear and began the second half of our float. Immediately, we started moving fish (Thanks, White Hawk). I was stripping an unweighted streamers through a set of shoals above a long deep run when a small bass slammed my fly. In the current the fish felt big. It ran down stream then back up, then across the shoals. Eventually I tired out the fish, and was able to get it into the net. Small but mighty!
We continued to fish streamers through the shoals down river, as this was more productive than the deeper slower runs. As the sun started to set, we floated through a slower deeper section of the river, where our guide informed us there may be a musky laid up. He handed me a 12 weight rod with a Double Buford tied on, and I gave it my best shot. Working the large fly through the slow water, and then performing a figure-eight at the boat. We didn’t see a Musky, but the anticipation of seeing or moving a fish was addicting!
During the short ride, we laughed and reminisced on the day, and got hyped up for the next morning. We thanked Preston for the day and headed Northwest to Wesley Hodges’ Lodge on the James River. Wesley called to inform us that dinner would be served when we arrived. The lodge, resting on the banks of the James River, is a classic colonial farmhouse, on several acres. Our rooms were upstairs, while downstairs were the dining room, kitchen, living room, gun room/study and a super cool hallway wardrobe with lockers for bird hunting and fly fishing gear, as well as two dog boxes.
We got changed and hurried downstairs for dinner. The meal was homemade spaghetti with wide noodles, and it hit the spot after a long day on the water. We sat with Wesley and two other anglers, and all shared stories from the day. Wesley had been guiding ruffed grouse, while the other two anglers had spent the day on the James. It seems like the season was transitioning from Smallmouth to Trout, but Wesley encouraged us that the season wasn’t over yet. Exhausted from the full day of driving and fishing we hit the hay, setting our alarms for a 6 AM wake up.
If you are interested in booking a trip with the great team over at Wesley Hodges Fly Fishing, visit their website at www.wesleyhodgesflyfishing.com, or on Instagram @wesley_hodges_fly_fishing