This is the Best Guiding Job That Exists
Moose Hofer has no regrets about passing up a traditional career path for a life on the river
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When Moose Hofer realized his summer gigs as a fishing guide could pay the bills, he stopped trying to find a job relevant to his college degree (geological engineering), relocated to Crested Butte, Colorado, and “ingrained my life in fishing.” In 2009, Hofer was hired to guide a VIP client from London, who turned out to be Chad Pike, founder of the Crested Butte–based adventure travel company Eleven Experience. “The third summer he booked me, he said, ‘I don’t think you know who I am, but I fish with guides around the world, and you’re the hardest-working guide I’ve ever fished with,’” recalls Hofer, who joined the Eleven team in 2012. As the company’s fishing experience manager, Hofer scouts the best guides and fishing spots where Eleven has properties, including Iceland, Patagonia, and Colorado. Of course, his favorite part of the job is still casting with clients.
Real Name: Ernest. “My father and grandfather were both Ernests. And then there’s Hemingway, another great fisherman and hunter.”
Job Title: Fishing experience manager (aka head fly-fishing guide) for travel company Eleven Experience
Hometown: Annandale, New Jersey. “Exit 15. People dog on Jersey all the time because it’s crowded, but it’s a beautiful state. There’s nothing better than Jersey’s fresh tomatoes and sweet corn.”
Home Base: Hofer’s at Eleven Experience HQ in Crested Butte, Colorado, about six months a year. The rest of the time, he can be found at one of Eleven’s seven properties around the world or on a personal fishing vacation in Montana.
Days Spent Fishing in 2016: 225
Days Spent Skiing in 2016: 50
Rods He Owns: 75
Favorite Rod: “A Scott Fly Rod Co. Radian 905/4 is my go-to. It’s super versatile and can travel with me anywhere. It’s just an amazing fishing tool. It’s made 60 miles from my house. I still use a few older G-series [rods] from Scott as well. Those rods are timeless.”
Essential Gear: “The Sportube is the most awesome piece of equipment—I’ve packed 18 rods into a tube. I also take my Simms waterproof roller bag everywhere.”
Places He’s Fished: Canada, Iceland, Chile, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, California, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and New Jersey.
Bucket-List Fishing Destinations: Cuba, New Zealand, and Mexico.
Fishing Heroes: René Harrop, angler and flytier in Henry’s Fork, Idaho; Masa Katsumata, Japanese angler; Greg Pearson, Salt Lake City–based angler and illustrator.
Born Wild: “My brother and I had all the options in the world, but we were programmed to be outdoorsmen. My mom tied flies for me, and my dad would fly-fish with me in a backpack. When I was seven, I couldn’t legally hunt, but I walked the fields with him on pheasant hunts and sat with him in deer stands. Family vacations were annual hunts, fishing and ski trips, and archery events that we’d drive to in an old pop-up camper.”
Following Your Dream: “I have no regrets that I chose quality of life rather than taking a job just to pay the bills. I’m chasing my dream, and I know that I have been lucky to pull it off, but I’ve had the passion from day one. My girlfriend is a guide, my brother is a guide, both my parents could’ve been guides. Shit, my parents let hunting guides nickname me Moose. So for me it never seemed that risky, and I definitely had their approval. I never had to hear them say, ‘Get a real job.’ But if I were married right out of college, and a kid on the way…whew, I’d probably have gone a different path. Financial pressure could have crushed me early on.”
Getting into Guiding: “I started working in any fly shop that would have me and eventually worked with rod companies so I could learn different aspects of the business. Like any business or job, it’s all about your connections. When you know the right people, they lead you to the right people. The reputation of the shop or guiding outfit you work for says a lot about the types of clients you can expect, and if you do a good job, eventually word of mouth leads great clients your way.”
Making Ends Meet: “Fly-fishing guides do alright. Unlike rock-climbing guides, who live off of the climber plate—tortillas, beans, and rice—fly-fishing guides can usually throw a steak in the mix. A college-age kid guiding while juggling school can earn $30,000 in a summer. That’s pretty good in a ski town. When I was starting out, I’d complement guiding fishermen by guiding elk hunters in September and October. Your days start at 3 a.m., and you go to bed at 11 p.m. You’re out in the field all day slamming caffeine and chewing tobacco to stay awake, and you’re paid $6 to $10 an hour. You’re living in the high country, playing cowboy and riding horses, and being fed, so it’s fun for a few days. But then it starts to kick your butt hard. I finally scaled back and booked a few fishing gigs in October and realized I made twice as much guiding fly-fishermen. I can tolerate a hook coming by my head, but I got tired of worrying about some city slicker slinging his rifle around my head. So as soon as I had the confidence, I stuck to guiding fishermen.”
“If I have a day off or vacation time, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going fishing.”
A Typical Day: “In the summer, I’m up by 5:30 a.m., preparing the boat and making sure the Diet Cokes and sandwiches are in the cooler. I might be on the river ten hours. Safety is my number one responsibility. I’m constantly watching clients on the rocks or reminding them to hydrate. When you’re fishing over someone’s shoulder, your mind is racing, asking, ‘What’s my next cast? If this hole doesn’t work, where to next?’ Sometimes guests want you to join them for dinner. Like any job, you have good days and you have bad days. When I get home, always after dark in summer, there are 35 pending emails, and you’re always on call. If a VIP client wants you the next day, you’ll rejigger your schedule.”
On Dealing with Office Work: “Office work is a necessary evil with this many moving parts in a company like Eleven. We do so much in so many places that email, networking, permits, guide reports, logistics, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slide shows, etc., have to be part of the game. Ten years ago, I could answer an email in a day or two, and I could always have a few moments to tie some flies or shoot a few arrows in the backyard. Today, I can hear that iPhone blow up at any time of the day—and in any time zone. I’ve basically tuned out Facebook and passed on creating an Instagram account. In the off-season, around November and December, I start to get cabin fever looking at spreadsheets, but then you realize how lucky you are that most days you’re outside doing what you love. As soon as I’m out on the water guiding someone, I forget about the logistics that go into a trip or the days I’m in the office.”
Strength and Conditioning: “Rowing a driftboat with two clients is pretty taxing. I keep my upper body strong by pumping out some curls with 20-pound dumbbells while I’m watching the Sportsman Channel. Reeling in a 90-pound tarpon is a workout, but the secret is fighting it with your core and legs.”
Signs of a Great Guide: “Your level of passion says everything. I spend a lot of time with aspiring guides. Some bitch about going home at 5 p.m., while others tell me they were fishing until midnight, yet they still showed up two hours before the clients to organize the gear. I’ll take a great work ethic over a great caster. There are also some excellent fishermen who will never be good guides because they don’t have the patience to teach or they’re short-fused and have a temper. Some great fishermen just don’t want to share their knowledge and are territorial about their secrets. Then, unfortunately, you have the guides who hit the bottle every night and show up to work late and unorganized and stinking like booze.
“If you’re going to get good, or maybe great, then you must be learning the entire time in your younger years. Catching thousands of fish will better you in the long run—filling your database with knowledge, learning how to troubleshoot as many situations as possible. If I have a day off or vacation time, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going fishing.”
“As soon as I’m out on the water guiding someone, I forget about the logistics that go into a trip or the days I’m in the office.”
Evolution of a Fisherman: “When you start out, you want to catch every fish in the creek. Then you have that breakthrough 100-trout day, and eventually you hit the level where you just want to catch big trophy fish, and then it’s not about quantity, it’s the quality. You want to catch the best four trout, and you want to catch them on a dry fly.”
How Age Changes the Game: “As I get older, it’s much more about the process to success. I’m not just focused on the end result. I want to be a more versatile outdoorsman every time I hit the field or water. It took years to feel this way, but now I enjoy scouting and practice almost as much as the actual hunting or fishing day. I plan to guide through my sixties. It might not mean rowing a driftboat every day or wading for ten hours, but I hope to cherry-pick the best days and parts of the seasons that I can.”
Most Rewarding Part of the Job: “That moment when the client finally gets it and wants to progress beyond casting and hooking a fish to learning technique and understanding what fly to use for what conditions or season. Year after year, you get to watch them learn to respect the sport. Then sometimes a client will share a tip with you that they learned, and it all comes full circle.”