Dream job fishing guide? The big interview

On the water with Arnold Gufler, professional casting instructor and fishing guide

Arnold Gufler Fly Fishing Guide Casting Instruktor

An interview with Arnold Gufler about his job as a fishing guide

Being by the water all year round and earning money at the same time. Who among us has never thought about turning its favourite hobby into a career and getting paid to take other people fishing? We asked Arnold Gufler to explain and show us what does it really mean to be a professional fishing guide and what qualifications are required. Arnold is a certified fly-casting instructor and professional fishing guide and has been running his own fly-fishing school in the Passeiertal valley in South Tyrol for around 10 years. We met up for a short fishing trip on the Passer, where we went fishing together for a while, but mostly talked about fly fishing and working as a guide.

Arnold Gufler Andreas Riedl

Despite his busy schedule, we were able to spend a few hours fishing with Arnold and talking about his work

Andreas: Hello Arnold, good morning! It's great that you've taken a few hours out of your busy schedule to talk to us about fly fishing and guiding. I hope we'll have good conditions on the water today.

Arnold: Hello Andi, good morning! It's great that you've come. The water is fine, I've already had a look. If the interview doesn't take too long, we'll also have time to do a few casts together.

Andreas: Thanks for the cue! We want to know everything, of course. How did you get into fly fishing, or how did fly fishing get into you?

Arnold: I got into fishing through some good friends. But not immediately into fly fishing. Like most of us, I started out in the ‘classic’ way fishing with worms. That was the standard technique at the time on the waters here in the valley. But I didn't really get into it. I wasn't really that enthusiastic about this type of fishing.

Andreas: And fly fishing?

Arnold: I was finally hooked on fly fishing on a holiday with my wife in Canada. I met a local fly fisherman at a lake there who was preparing his equipment and his belly boat. I talked to him for a long time and watched him fly fish for even longer. I was very impressed and fascinated by the calm and harmonious whole. That's when I knew that fly fishing was the only thing for me.

A while later, a local angling club organised a fly-fishing course, which I then took part in. Before that, I had gathered information from a few friends and on the internet so that I at least had a few basic skills. However, I was not convinced by the free course, so I decided to attend further courses with well-known, mostly certified instructors.

Andreas: When did you first seriously consider turning your hobby into a career?

Arnold: Actually, it was at the first course I mentioned, which was organised by the local club. The participants were all motivated and wanted to learn how to fly fish, but in my opinion, there were simply too many people to be able to give each one of them the attention they deserved. What's more, there was no additional information given. At least for me, fly fishing involves a little more than just being able to cast.

That's why I attended further courses abroad, especially in Austria. I also took courses with big names in the scene. I realised that there are good and not so good casting instructors there too, and that a well-known and renowned fly fisherman is not automatically a good casting instructor. That didn't dampen my passion, on the contrary. These experiences made it clear to me that I wanted to become better and better at casting and fly fishing, but also that I wanted to pass on this knowledge and skill as best I could.

Fly Fishermen Fly Fishing Fishing Guiding Bridge Fish spotting

A fly fisherman with heart and soul... as soon as he is at the water, there is only one topic on his mind. Arnold is happy to share his experience

Andreas: How long did it take before you had your first day of work in your own fly-fishing school?

Arnold: I didn't set up the fly-fishing school from scratch and jump in at the deep end. I started step by step and offered my first courses, at that time still in my spare time and parallel to my normal work. From the outset, I always communicated very transparently that I – at least at that time – was not yet a certified casting instructor. At the same time, I prepared for the exam to become a certified EFFA (European Fly Fishing Association) fly-casting instructor. The experience and practice gained from my first courses was of course very helpful.

Andreas: Certified fly-casting Instructor? Can you explain that more in detail for us?

Arnold: The EFFA has put together a programme of minimum requirements for the certification of casting instructors, which the candidate must demonstrate and, above all, explain to an examination jury. It is therefore not enough to be able to cast a whole range of different casts and presentations very smoothly at all possible distances. The prospective fly-casting instructor must also be able to explain what he is doing and why he is doing it. He must be able to explain the physics of the cast in simple and understandable terms to a casting student. Above all, he must also be able to recognise mistakes in the casting process, understand why the mistake occurs and then correct it accordingly.

The requirements for casting are ambitious but can be achieved with diligent practice and with good instructors. However, the most difficult part is to be a good teacher and explain fly casting well and understandably. But that is exactly what makes a good casting instructor. He must be able to teach the student how to cast.

Flyfishing Guiding Rig Leader Explanation

Optimal leader setup for the dry fly. Arnold leaves nothing to chance when he is on the water

Andreas: How long did you prepare for the fly-casting instructor exam?

Arnold: It took me three years the first-time round. I didn't pass the exam, though. After another two years I passed it successfully. My exam itself took several hours and at the end I was physically and mentally exhausted. The examiners really didn't leave anything out. But I was able to convince them. And now my customers benefit from this knowledge.

Andreas: Two years later, you also passed the guide exam at EFFA. What is the difference between this exam and the fly-casting instructor exam?

Arnold: The content and requirements of the two exams are not comparable. The exam to become a fly-casting instructor focuses on fly casting, understanding the cast in all its parts and movements, and communicating this knowledge in an understandable way. The requirements for a fishing guide, on the other hand, are much broader. The candidate for the certified guide exam must also master certain casting requirements. In addition, he must also be able to tie flies and tie the fly patterns brought along on request also on site. The exam involves spending a week at the camp, where you also sleep outside, set up the camp and have to cook for yourself. In addition, you have to take a first aid course during this week and fulfil the basic requirements for water rescue.

Andreas: Water rescue? Really?

Arnold: Yes, of course. Safety always comes first! Imagine you are the customer and book a guiding session with me. As a commercial provider, I am fully and solely responsible for all participants. That's why we the exam focuses on water rescue as well.

Andreas: Good to know – but I hope you won't have to rescue me today laugh As a certified casting instructor and guide, what do you enjoy more: teaching enthusiastic beginners how to fly-cast or accompanying customers to the water, where they (hopefully) make a nice catch?

Arnold: Definitely fly casting. Of course, I also enjoy being at the water with my customers. But in my casting courses I can give enthusiastic beginners everything they need later on the water. If you learn how to cast and handle a fly rod, including mending and other things, well from the start and have a solid command of it, you will be successful on the water all the faster and enjoy fly fishing more. That's why my casting courses are not just about casting technique; I also try to teach useful things like knot-tying, proper tackle setup, the basics of insects and their artificial imitations, and much more. In my opinion, a good fly-fishing course cannot be completed in less than two days. In addition, the group should not be too large. I want to be able to take enough time for each course participant to be able to respond to them individually. This is more beneficial for the participant and ultimately for me as a teacher, when I know that my course participants will be able to find their way around the water.

Flyfishing Guiding Casting Fly Fishermen River

Learning by doing: Where is the fish? How do you best present the fly?

Andreas: That’s what I call a casting instructor with heart and soul. When you take customers to the water, is the main aim to catch as many big fish as possible in the shortest possible time, or do you also use the time at the water to give fishing and casting tips and tricks?

Arnold: That depends primarily on the customer. Their expectations of a nice day on the water are actually very different. With some, it becomes clear from the very first contact that they want to catch fish above all. That's why an open and transparent exchange with the customer is important, because that way the customer knows from the outset what to expect... and what not to expect. That avoids disappointment and leads to satisfied customers. Moreover, it also helps me to prepare better. Does the customer have the necessary equipment, from the rod to the waders? If not, I'm happy to provide it. It's not uncommon for my customers to want to fish with their own flies. This is also possible for regular customers or those who often fish in alpine waters. For others, however, who may have less experience of these types of waters, I suggest that they fish with my flies on my rig. Some are happy to accept the offer straight away, while others may take 1-2 hours (laughs). By the way, I only use barbless flies, regardless of whether they are mine or those of the customer. There are no compromises here. Remember: safety first!

Flyfishing Guiding Fly Choice

Reccomending the right fly. That's also part of the service of a good fishing guide

At the beginning of the day on the water, many customers are very impatient and sometimes even hectic. They want to get to the water immediately and use their time as efficiently as possible. However, you shouldn't rush things, because in most cases this is counterproductive. If you hurry from one place to the next, you'll scare the fish away rather than catch them. That's why I have to slow some customers down. Unfortunately, many people put themselves under (too) much pressure and if the expected catches don't come in the morning, they usually want to fish without a break at lunch. If desired, we can also cancel the lunch break. But I notice that in the afternoon, endurance and concentration often drop significantly. That’s a pity, because that's when the conditions are usually best. But when your mind is already focusing on a cold beer at the end of the day, it's hard to remain fully concentrated on fly fishing.

Andreas: But what happens if, despite all your efforts, you don't achieve the desired success? To be honest, do you then fish for the customer and hand him the rod with the fish in it?

Arnold: Certainly not! A guide who fishes himself is an absolute no-go! If a guide fishes himself next to the guest without being asked, it is absolutely unprofessional. At this point, as a customer you should stop the guiding and ask your money back. But even if the customer wanted me to, I wouldn't do it. I look after him as best I can. I show him the most promising spots, give him my best flies and explain how to fish the spot and the fish that he has seen or suspects. But the customer has to cast and catch the fish himself. As a rule, this works out well and in the end the guest gets incomparably more pleasure from such a catch than if I had caught the fish. I do have a second rod with me, but it is only used by the customer if the conditions change. For example, if we spot a rising fish, he can easily switch from nymph to dry fly without having to change the setup first.

Fly Fishing Guidung Casting Arnold Gufler

Arnold doesn't usually fish himself when guiding. Today, however, we explicitly want to learn a few tricks from him when it comes to casting and presentation

Andreas: How often do you spend days on the water guiding clients during the season?

Arnold: In recent years, it has been quite a few (laughs), and I hope it will continue to go well. On those days when I am not looking after customers on the water, I am still there, testing, trying and seeing what is going on. After all, the water and fish are not the same throughout the season, and the better I know the current conditions and the activity or locations of the fish, the more successful I can be in guiding my guests.

Andreas: And how often do you actually get to go fly fishing yourself? Or do you no longer feel like swinging a fly rod in your free time?

Arnold: No, I'm a fly fisherman too (laughs). I often go fly fishing on the occasions I just mentioned, but with a very specific focus. But of course, there are also days, for example with my friends, when I just like to go fly fishing for the fun of it. Because whenever time allows, I prefer to be nowhere else but by the water. It's usually very relaxed and completely stress-free. The focus then is on having a pleasant day.

Andreas: What does a typical working day as a guide look like?

Arnold: A typical working day as a fishing guide starts – as it probably does for many other people – with a proper breakfast. Being out in the fresh air all day, and on the water at that, takes energy. Especially when lunch is increasingly being skipped (laughs). Then a quick look at the Passer. Thank God I live right next to the water and can always keep an eye on the river that way. Then I make sure that nothing has changed significantly in the weather forecasts from the previous days. I pick up the guests at their accommodation or meet them at the agreed starting point. We have already discussed and clarified all the basic points in advance. I have also already prepared all necessary fishing licences and daily permits for my customers in advance. It is also important to me that they are in order and that there are no unpleasant surprises. Then the tackle is assembled, and any rental equipment is made available. If everything fits, nothing stands in the way of a successful day on the water. We then fish until about 5 o'clock in the afternoon. I then take the customers back to their accommodation. But for me, the day is far from over. Waders that have been rented out have to be washed, fly boxes refilled. In the evening, I answer enquiries, make all the necessary calls and prepare everything for the next day.

Fly Fishing Waders Wading Boots Fly Fishermen

Anyone who spends as much time as Arnold at the water's edge is also ahead of the game when it comes to putting on waders

Andreas: Your work depends on many external conditions. Rain and thunderstorms, snowmelt and floods. But recently also low water levels and unusual high water temperatures. Is there always a suitable alternative venue, or do you sometimes have to cancel a day?

Arnold: Yes, it's true that it can happen that a stretch of water is not fishable. If I know this in advance, I discuss it with my customers and offer them an alternative. We then switch to another river, for example a mountain stream, if the Passer is not fishable. Or we spend the day with a casting course or fly tying. Here, of course, I benefit from being a fly-casting instructor. Fortunately, cancellations are relatively rare. Last season, for example, I only had to cancel three days. But there are other reasons for cancelling a guided tour. After all, as the provider, I am ultimately responsible. For example, if I notice that it is becoming physically problematic for the guest. Another reason could be a sudden thunderstorm with lots of rain that causes the water level to rise quick. If safety is no longer guaranteed, I discuss this with the guest and cancel the trip. But it has also happened that parents have registered their children, who then had no interest at all. That doesn't make much sense either, because it doesn't do the children any good.

Andreas: What? You take children to the water too? Isn't that risky?

Arnold: Yes, I also guide young people, but they should be of a certain age. As a rule, these young guests are very attentive, curious, eager to learn and capable of learning quickly. They are also much more willing to be shown things than many adults (laughs) and are also more likely to put them into practice. However, with children I insist on being with them in the presence of a parent or guardian to clearly define that all instructions at the water's edge must be followed. And in the vast majority of cases, that works very well. Then it's no more dangerous than with adults. Of course, I don't take children fishing in particularly exposed or challenging places. And with children, you have to take their abilities into account and take frequent breaks.

The only problem is when children are almost handed over to you in order that their parents can have a day off. That does happen. If these young people are absolutely not interested in fly fishing and are just standing around bored from the outset, then I prefer to cancel the day.

Fly Fishing Guiding Netting a fish

This is also part of guiding: Arnold nets the catch for his guest

Andreas: When you go fishing with a guide, some people have very high expectations of catching a nice fish right away. Can this wish always be fulfilled?

Arnold: A guide alone is no guarantee of a catch. You have to be honest and communicate this to the customer. However, the experience and knowledge of the local waters help immensely. For many of my guests, it is the first time that they have fished in a water like the Passer or a side stream. Of course, it also depends to a certain extent on how practical the fisherman is. However, some of my guests are fly fishermen who have been fishing for a long time and thus are not always willing to immediately take my advice. If a customer insists on fishing with dry flies or only with his own flies, for example, then of course he can do that. Unfortunately, I can't do any more than offer him the flies and explain him the best presentation that I think will catch the most fish in this situation.

But if it still remains tough, it is the job of a good guide to continue to motivate the customer, to advise him, to get the best out of every situation, but without putting him under additional pressure.

Andreas: Over the years you have been with a lot of people on the water and could probably fill a whole book with remarkable stories. Just off the top of your head: your best memory to date?

Arnold: I can't think of a single special episode, because I experience many wonderful moments with my guests. For me, it is most important that the guests have a great day and leave the water with a smile and a sense of personal satisfaction. I am happy when I can contribute to this and when they get in touch afterwards to thank me for the day. I often notice that it's not necessarily the big catch that makes my customers the happiest. It's more the sense of achievement, for example, when you make a smooth cast in a difficult situation and it actually catches a fish, that stays with people at the end of the day. And if I can show them one or two things and they can put them into practice, that makes me even happier.

Andreas: You are not only a casting instructor and guide, but also a very talented fly tier. In recent years, you have been a regular at the top of the German fly-tying championship. Last year, you were on the podium in two categories. In your opinion, what is more important on the water: the perfect fly pattern or the right presentation/guiding?

Arnold: Yes, fly tying is simply part of it for me. It not only helps me to offer my guests an alternative programme very spontaneously if the waters are actually unfishable. My passion for fly tying also benefits my tying courses. Obviously, the fly patterns that I submit to tying competitions are very different from the flies that I fish on the water. I have found that the most important thing in classic fly fishing with dry flies or nymphs is the presentation. Without a good presentation, it is very difficult to achieve a natural and clean drift of the fly. What the fly pattern looks like in detail is of secondary importance. Of course, the fly should be consistent in shape, colour and size. But it does not need to be tied in a super-realistic way. In alpine waters with fast currents, fish often don't have time to inspect the fly closely. This may be different in slow-flowing lowland streams or lakes. On the Passer and other fast-flowing streams and rivers, even comparatively simple and plain patterns will catch fish.

EFFA European Fly Fishing Association German Fly Tying Championship

A qualified fly-casting instructor and certified fishing guide, he has been a regular at the podium of the German Fly-Tying Championships for years - an absolute professional in every sense

Andreas: Can you tell us some of your favourite patterns, or are they secret?

Arnold: (laughs) No, you won't find any secret patterns in my fly boxes. Instead, I use classic universal patterns such as pheasant tails or hare's ears for nymphs, as well as well-swimming sedges or simple palmers for dry flies. What goes on the end of the leader in each case depends on the season and the current situation in the water. These flies are usually quick to tie, and a lost fly is not a disaster. Recently, I have been moving away from flashy patterns and bright colours and returning to very natural and muted patterns. I simply see that these are very effective in many different situations.

Andreas: When you go fly fishing in your free time, do you prefer to fish with a dry fly, a nymph or a streamer?

Arnold: If the water and fish are in the right mood, then definitely with a dry fly. I think I'm like most fly fishermen in that respect. Fishing with a dry fly is simply the epitome of fly fishing. Even the casting and presentation become an experience. And if the fish are rising, there's nothing better.

Fly Fishing Fly Fishermen Bridge Talking

We talked at least as much as we fished – and both were extremely interesting and instructive

Andreas: Before we finally get to make a few casts, I would like to finish by asking you how you see the future of fly fishing?

Arnold: I can see that interest in fly fishing is growing from year to year. In my opinion it's certainly more than a short-term trend or a fast-moving fashion. Younger anglers in particular are interested in fly fishing and get straight into it. However, I think it's a shame that many people start with Czech or Euro-nymphing, where casting is neglected in my opinion.

Recently I also notice the efforts to regulate everything in fishing down to the last detail and see that quite problematic. I doubt whether zero stocking, as currently implemented at the national level, is always the right approach to tackle with all the problems that our waters are faced with. Especially when people are just starting out in fishing, they need to have some success in catching fish.

I would also like to see the current management approaches adopted contribute to a noticeable recovery of the Marmorata stocks. Unfortunately, I cannot see this happening at the moment.

Andreas: Thank you very much, Arnold, for patiently answering all these questions.

Arnold: No problem, I'm happy to! Come on, let's make a few casts and see if we can catch a fish.

Arnold Gufler Fly Fishing Instructor Fly Fishing Guide

Thanks Arnold! We have a date to go fishing together. But just for fishing, without a camera and notebook

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Andreas Riedl
Andreas Riedl
Fly fisherman, fly tyer
Job: Product Manager
Hobbies: Road bike, balcony gardening
He got in touch with fishing at the tender age of 11 and has been fishing mainly with flies for a good 20 years. As a self-taught fisherman, he is open to everything new and also fishes with artificial flies on sabiki rigs or with a spinning rod. He considers himself lucky to have such an understanding family with two time-consuming hobbies.
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