The Perfect Mate
by Elliott Stark
WANTED: “I am looking for the perfect mate. My previous relationships just haven’t worked out. I need one that is not too young, not too old, that doesn’t cost too much money and that knows their way around the cockpit. I also need someone that is loyal, who won’t jump ship the next time we’re docked next to a pretty Rybovich.”
‘What the hell kind of article is this?’ you think, as you check the cover to make sure you haven’t accidentally picked up your wife’s copy of Woman’s Time Monthly. Don’t worry, this is In the Bite and the situation relates to fishing. Whether it’s a private boat, a charter vessel or a travelling program, finding reliable, qualified mates is becoming an increasingly difficult, as well as an integrally important, aspect to the sportfishing equation.
The Mate, Historically
As the career of a sportfishing professional evolves, the position of mate is critically important. For most, it’s the first job in which they are paid to fish. The mate’s responsibilities vary from boat to boat but fundamentally they involve fishing, rigging baits, cleaning and learning how to maintain the boat and operate the many systems that comprise a modern sportfisherman. Not too long ago, a mate would be expected to work on a boat for five or six years (and sometimes quite a bit longer) while learning everything that goes into a sportfishing program from bilge to tower and stem to stern.
The position of captain was always viewed as the pinnacle of the sport and one to be attained only after one gained all the knowledge he would need to run the operation. This knowledge base is no small sum since it includes everything from trip logistics, the ability to socialize professionally with the boss’ guests, provisioning, maintenance and boat handling, among many others. Learning all of these skills takes time and mistakes can literally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Becoming a captain requires the investment of time and dedication. This makes a lot of sense: after all, NASA doesn’t allow astronauts to step foot aboard a space shuttle, let alone drive the thing, until they have trained for many years.
Mate in the Morning, Captain by Afternoon
And yet with all of the information available on the Internet today, the lure of becoming an overnight captain can be captivating. Add boat Facebook pages and video blogs—with crews whooping it up like drunken Indians after catching a sailfish—to resources like sea surface temperature charts and satellite-driven navigation, and the role of captain appears to be much less daunting than it once did. This perception, to put it bluntly, is just not true.
Captain Jack Plachter, a sportfishing professional for some 45 years, puts it simply, “I have been absolutely blessed to work with some of the finest people in the cockpit my entire career, including the likes of Andy Moyes, Craig Coke and Patrick O’Connell. You can always get a kid to learn. Now guys work in the cockpit for a year or two and all of a sudden they know everything about a boat. You can’t learn everything in a year or two.” He continues by saying, “The owner [who hires a new captain prematurely] may save a few bucks up front, but he pays for it in the long run. Mates now are not patient. These days, seven days on the computer and you can become a captain. It’s really a shame.”
For some perspective, Plachter grew up on the Haulover and Baker docks in Miami. He began his career working on headboats before mating on charter boats. His tenure running his own boat as captain did not begin until after he returned from a stint in U.S. Coast Guard. He is a captain’s captain.
Captain Tony DiGiulian, a longtime sportfishing professional who has worked in just about every facet of the industry, tells a similar tale. “There is definitely a problem finding good mates, and it’s industry wide. Some of this can be attributed to the change in what is expected from a mate. Some operations bring quite a bit of their basic rigging to tackle shops. From rigging kites, spooling reels, splicing wind-ons and rigging lures, some operations make room in the budget to have this done externally. In the 1980s when I got started, the crew and the mates did all of this, right down to servicing the reels,” DiGiulian explains.
In the early days of sportfishing, crews were expected to be self-sufficient. In those days, there was no such thing as an on-call diesel mechanic, ready to fly across the ocean to get things up and running at the drop of a hat. “On the Tyson’s Pride, all the mates had to have a captain’s license to be able to help with watches or in case of an emergency,” DiGiulian says. “These days, you can be an ambulance driver on Monday and a charter boat captain on Friday. Ideally, however, a mate should put in four or five years before even thinking about moving up. Job longevity, keeping with the same program for two or three years, is another good thing to consider,” DiGiulian continues.
Expert marlin wrangler and general sage Capt. Wade Richardson puts it another way: “If you don’t know how to fix it, you have no business running it.”
What Makes a Good Mate and Where Do I Find One?
There are places where good mates tend to come from and there are also certain characteristics which define them. Knowing this can help in locating where a prospect might be and determining the likelihood success before you commit the time and resources into training a new prospect for the cockpit.
Captain “JoJo” Joachmowski runs the Knot Again, Dickie Mumford’s 66-foot Viking that’s based out of Indian River, Delaware. “We talk about the lack of young mates every day………………….. (To continue reading this article in digital or print click here) You can also subscribe to InTheBite The Magazine to enjoy more industry leading editorial.