Teaching/Guiding Fly Fishing

Teaching/Guiding Fly Fishing

Paul Arden | Monday, 16 November 2020

Before I write about the above topic, let me remind you that Christmas is just around the corner and for those of you looking for the best Christmas present ever – a custom built Sexyloops Hot Torpedo – then you should be ordering now!

Here is an article from a couple of years ago on this subject https://mail.sexyloops.com/index.php/ps/fine-tuning-the-fly-rod-action-or-what-i-want-for-christmas

But of course we have a broader range of rods nowadays https://www.sexyloops.com/index.php/webshop/list/70/fly-rods


On Saturday Mike asked a few interesting questions about guiding https://www.sexyloops.com/index.php/ps/guiding-business and it is quite a long answer which I thought it would make a great FP.


Firstly I don’t think of myself as a “fishing guide”. I’m more a host/instructor. Guests visit me probably as much as 50% for the fly casting skills improvement as much as for the extremely challenging and unique fly fishing to be experienced here. And man, it’s tough! I manage expectations right from the beginning by telling everyone exactly how tough it is. This is for two reasons, first they might not catch any fish and secondly any “problem-guests”, who feel that they absolutely must catch fish to have fun, won’t come!


No one has actually said that I’m a “shit guide” :D :D Although they might have thought it! However virtually everyone comes back and most become regular visitors – in fact they are even more likely to return if they don’t catch first time! It gets under your skin and Snakehead start to appear in your dreams.


Technically, I think I could be virtually anywhere, and the species and location just happens to be what I’m doing at the moment. It an exotic location, which is a bonus - a vast lake in the world’s oldest rainforest, there are monkeys, elephants, boob-ghosts and tigers. But of course there are Giant Snakehead that you will always see, if not catch, and Giant Gourami that travel through inter-dimensional portals, that you occasionally see and never catch.


Something I took to heart in, is a story that Hairy (Garry Castles) told me about when he was a guide - he was the first fly fishing guide in Tasmania I believe. One time he had a client he really didn’t get on with. So he told him to pack his things because he was going to take him somewhere special the next day.... He drove him back to the airport and said “now fark off!!!”


I really don’t want to have to do that, so this is one reason why I promote Belum-Temenggor as a huge fly fishing challenge - hell it is a huge challenge! - and I’m very careful about who I encourage to come. Yes it’s a job and prior to this virus it was paying all my living costs, but equally it’s a very niche market and I don’t want to encourage anglers to join me who are not going to thoroughly enjoy the challenge and their time here.


So the answer to Mike’s first question is to first figure out who your market is and then figure out what to offer. Also you have to look into legal issues, there are different rules everywhere. And you will have to be squeaky-clean because if someone gets jealous and you’re not, then you’re going to have problems. We have a registered business that allows us to operate on the lake, I have a working extension to my marriage visa, all boats are registered and we are insured.


Think about all the things that can possibly go wrong and plan what will happen if one of your clients has an injury for example. In my case my guests are putting faith in me that they will get home alive again, so I have to try to make sure they do.


The second question is an interesting one, about what happens if you find that your locations are being fished by those who you have previously guided, and are now fishing there without you! This is certainly something you are going to have to think about before you start guiding.  I’m halfway covered on this; prior to Covid 100% of my guests were International, even “local market” for me means from a totally different part of Malaysia, there are restrictions on launching boats (they must be registered locally) and finally, it’s a vast water where locations that fish well one month may not fish well for the rest of the year! Furthermore, my goal is that guests ultimately do fish without me, renting out one of our boats for this purpose and sleeping in the Battleship, which is far more comfortable and safer than sleeping in the jungle with boob-ghost.


However it’s a complicated one because you can destroy what you have very quickly, just by talking about it, let alone teaching it. Here we don’t have many fly anglers - indeed I’m almost alone - and I’m of the opinion that more C&R fly anglers would be great for conservation on this lake. Fortunately I have 15,200 hectares or 59 square miles of water to get lost in. And I do fish and explore all of it.


So there is always much to think about before experimenting with a venture such as this. Is it for example a side-income? Is it a full-time job? If it’s a side-income the drawbacks might outweigh the advantages. If it’s a full-time job then you need to treat it as one. For me 100 guest days/year is my cap. That’s an exceptionally good livelihood in this country, it’s not going to fund a retirement plan but that’s not my objective.


I also truly enjoy it. I didn’t always; I started teaching and guiding on Ardleigh Reservoir 25+ years ago and disliked the guiding so much that I quit and just stuck with teaching fly fishing for beginners and fly casting for everyone. About 4 years ago I was asked if I would take a guest fly fishing for Snakehead and teach them. I did and how times have changed!


I think the reason I love it now is because nowadays I really like people. If you don’t like people then it’s going to be tough! But now I do and I’m lucky, my guests are all throughly interesting people who I enjoy spending time with and getting to know. They all become friends. Also let’s face it, there are times when as a guide you will have to tell stories – lots of them – and at 25 years old you don’t have many to draw upon.


Also, on a personal note, I find it an even greater challenge to organise guests’ casting and fishing skills such that they catch a fish here. I work very hard to explain why we are making decisions to fish certain areas and how to position the boat for the shot, so that eventually they can be successful without me and without spending 8 years full-time on the lake just figuring out what I’ve learned so far.


Finally, I often learn more about fishing for Snakehead while teaching other anglers to do it rather than doing it myself. But I have it in proportion and I fish more days than I teach. That’s why I have the 100 days annual cap. This means I can fish 250 days on my own!



What a disaster this year has been, eh? Being self-employed in the fly fishing industry is very hard this year. There is no safety net where I am, fortunately I have rod sales to fall back on. That’s been a tough year too but we are surviving. I think we will see some big changes over the coming years but I for one am looking forward very much to international visitors again!  So you probably have to bear that in mind too, Mike. On the other hand nothing is certain.


Cheers, Paul