by Elliott Stark
The intersection between hunting and fishing runs deep. Both pastimes take place outdoors. Each can provide the excuse for relaxing with friends and getting away from it all. Fishing and hunting are also both pursuits marked by uncertain outcomes. Whether it’s venison or tuna for dinner, both fishing and hunting are about much more than filling the freezer. Beyond these similarities there are also a number of lessons taught by each activity that can crossover to the pursuit of the other.
To better understand the intersection of hunting and fishing, we here profile three men who are skilled practitioners of both big game hunting and big game fishing. Their perspective is valuable whether you enjoy fishing and or hunting – whether you make a career on the water or have been thinking about planning a hunt. More than anything, perhaps, reading about the men who have crafted careers that combine chasing the most powerful of the ocean’s creatures and matching wits with the craftiest of animals in some of the world’s most rugged country provide proof that the world really is what you make of it. Whether it’s a bugling elk or a marlin on the teaser that drives your vacation planning, there just might be something in these perspectives that will make you a better sportsman.
Captain Wade Richardson
With apologies to the rest of my contact list, Captain Wade Richardson is perhaps the most broadly talented person I have ever met. Wade is far from a look-at-me guy and never one to toot his own horn – in fact, he might shoot me for writing this. But were you to create a checklist for the ideal sportsman, it would likely look quite a bit like his resume. Richardson has nearly 20 decades of experience at the helm of sportfishing vessels, holds a degree in diesel mechanics from a technical institute in Wyoming, is a graduate of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, is an accredited paramedic, and is an accomplished pilot (holding fixed wing ratings land and sea and a commercial helicopter rating).
Wade also knows his way around the back country of Idaho and Montana as well as a mule deer. Were that not enough, Wade is married to one of the best wildlife and fishing photographers in the world. If you’re lucky enough to catch a marlin with Jessica Haydahl Richardson on the boat, she could well turn it into a magazine cover.
The centerpiece of Wade’s fishing experience was running a private mothership/gameboat operation in the Pearl Islands for 15 years. The operation consisted of a 94’ mothership and two game boats – the Hooker, the legendary 48’ G&S, and the Picaflor, the second Merritt ever built – a 42’ classic. In addition to a pile of The Billfish Foundation Top Release Captain for Black Marlin and other awards, Richardson compiled a list of fishing stories that is second to none. Shooting a 50” corvina off the swim step of the mothership? Yep. How about the time a 160-pound yellowfin free jumped through the tuna door as his mate was scooping runners off a bait ball? That happened, too. Wade is currently overseeing a ground up refit of the Picaflor at the Merritt yard in Pompano Beach.
These days Wade is involved in a number of business ventures in Montana. A fourth-generation rancher, Wade runs beef cattle and flies the backcountry of Idaho and Montana. He is a regular with Richie Outfitters (www.richieoutfitters.com) in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho. Wade also hunts elk and deer at his family’s ranch in the Big Hole of northwestern Montana.
Captain Brad Philipps
Since the days of Ernest Hemingway billfish and dangerous African game have been recognized as the ultimate. Captain Brad Philipps is a master of both. A native of South Africa, Philipps is not only a longtime professional safari guide, but a sportfishing captain whose skill, focus and ability are the stuff of legend. Just how legendary are Captain Brad Philipps’ fishing exploits? He has caught more billfish (north of 35,000) than any captain in history. He captained the first sportfisher driven to Ascension Island (he would return the vessel to Brazil on one engine). He has also fished in many of the world’s most prolific fisheries – Bom Bom, Cape Verde, Nova Scotia, Australia, New Zealand and more.
While Philipps makes annual trips to fish in other destinations, Guatemala is his base of operations. With his wife Cindy, a former Miss Guatemala, Brad owns and operates Guatemalan Billfishing Adventures (www.guatbilladv.com). Fishing out of the 40’ Gamefisherman Decisive, Philipps targets sailfish and marlin on fly and conventional tackle. The numbers he posts are incredible. In his best year, 2016, Philipps released an incredible 3,711 billfish, a record breaker of sorts for sure. His best day produced 91 sailfish releases. Personal bests for single angler releases were 73 sails on conventional tackle and 51 on fly.
Growing up in a ranching family, Philipps has been exposed to wildlife conservation, hunting, and safari all of his life. Holding a dangerous game professional hunting/guiding license since 2002, Philipps has guided and hunted in many African countries – South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia. These days, Brad and Cindy Philipps own and operate Toro River Lodges in the Kruger area of South Africa (www.tororiverlodges.com). From their base of operations, Philipps offers all-inclusive fully guided, completely immersive safari options that allow guests to experience South Africa’s diversity of wildlife and natural wonders.
Toro River Lodges offer a variety of experience and it may well be one of the most beautiful areas in Africa. Located in a non-hunting area, the Lodges place emphasis on photo/viewing safaris and first-hand interaction with the wildlife and its incredible biodiversity. Philipps is able to tailor each safari to his guests’ desires as he has some of the best areas throughout Africa, whether to pursue a purely viewing/photographic or a hunting safari.
Captain Travis Butters
Captain Travis Butters has a nose for fish. A native of Islamorada, Florida Butters grew up chasing the many fisheries available in the middle Keys. As captain of the Que Mas, a 70’ American Custom, Butters won InTheBite’s Captain of the Year Award in 2008 after winning tournaments throughout the Bahamas and Bermuda. From the grander he caught in Bermuda to an extended Pacific campaign throughout Panama and Costa Rica, Butters’ 20-year run on the Que Mas was one not frequently matched. These days he fishes along with Captain Randy Gendersee aboard the Sodium, a 75’ Weaver, throughout the Caribbean.
In addition to an innate ability to seemingly catch fish anywhere, Butters spends each September in Colorado’s Flat Top Mountains of Colorado guiding elk hunts with River’s Bend Outfitters (www.riversbendoutfitting.com). His specialty is calling in bull elk for archery hunters, though he is no stranger to the rifle. The operation consists of nine camps situated amongst private land and in the White River National Forest. Trips are six or seven days, with everything packed in and out on horseback.
Beyond the skill and perception necessary to read conditions in the mountains or on the water, Butters possesses a natural charm and ease in conversation. In addition to being handy with rope, and comfortable with stock, Butters ability to spin a joke or launch into a story make him perfectly suited for leading groups of people into the Colorado backcountry or the waters on the North Drop.
Shared Experience and Perspective
At first glance an article profiling the overlap between hunting and fishing would be a strange story for an offshore fishing magazine. There is, however, a body of directly relatable experience between the two. The skillset and outlook necessary to keep clients safe in a remote area are similar – whether it be a mountain side in the middle of nowhere or in a prolific, remote billfishery far removed from Palm Beach. In each case the responsible party must be self-sufficient, knowledgeable in the behavioral patterns of his quarry, understand the many possible eventualities – being prepared for the good and bad alike.
The other interesting intersection between the two is what comes over the client when success happens. Catching your first blue marlin or sailfish is a bucket lister for most anyone who ever picked up a fishing rod. For those who have grown up hunting – whether it be for deer or dove, the chance to shoot an elk or other big game animal may well be the result of years or decades of planning, hoping, and dreaming. Both creatures – billfish or big game animals – represent much more than some meat in the freezer or a mount on the wall.
Stories of anglers rendered frozen by the appearance of a marlin on the teaser are matched only by the hunters whose buck fever shakes lead them to shoot trees. For many, the adrenaline released in the moment is much more than something caused by only what is happening before them. For even captains with decades of experience, no matter how many dorado or sailfish or marlin you’ve caught, you can always remember a time when seeing one was magical. It is such for clients who turn to hunting or fishing guides to provide access and opportunity to experience the stuff of dreams. With the animal of your dreams in the site or at the end of your line, the pressure of the buildup can be palpable. The emotion and excitement uncontrollable. It is awesome…really full of awe.
The Effects of Adrenaline
“There’s a lot of similarities. You’re always looking at the conditions – the weather, the wind, the moon. It’s a lot like charter fishing. You take people out, you entertain them and you get to know people you would have never met otherwise,” says Captain Travis Butter when speaking of guiding hunters in the mountains of Colorado.
The outfit that Butters works with in Colorado operates nine camps that are accessible only by horseback. The average stay in camp is six or seven days. Hunters can anticipate walking between three to six miles per day – all at 10,000 feet of elevation. Beyond the chance to harvest the animal of a lifetime, the physical setting – the altitude, the sleeping in tents, the forest – produce anticipation and build that results in some great stories.
“Some of the funniest stories are the people who miss. Guys will miss at three or four yards. Some guys won’t shoot because it’s too close,” Butters says, describing the experience of calling in a bull elk during the rut. He’s had hunters draw back to shoot a bull elk, only to have forgotten to first load an arrow in the bow. “I had a guy draw back and shoot. I asked him, ‘Did you hit him?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it was only 20 yards.’ I followed the direction of the arrow where the bull was. The arrow was 20-feet up a tree!”
“I called in a bull and some cows,” Butters begins. He placed his hunter ahead of him and began calling from behind. The idea was to draw the bull elk to the sound of the call, placing the hunter in position for a shot. “The guy is under a tree. All of a sudden, I see elk run all over the place. He said, ‘They almost ran me over!’ He was shaking real bad. Turns out a cow had run right by him and taken the arrow off his bow. We found the arrow 15 feet away, with hair on the broadhead.”
Imagine how many similar scenarios unfold with anglers on big marlin. The ability of a marlin to induce backlashes, tangles, and san cochos is the stuff of dockside lore. The psychological effects of hunting and fishing can be very similar.
Preparation and Self Sufficiency
Captain Wade Richardson is a master of preparation. When asked about the importance of captains being able to work on their boats, he says, “If you can’t fix it, you probably don’t have much business running it.” When it comes to taking care of people and equipment (from boats to aircraft, and even livestock) in remote areas, Richardson’s emphasis lies in preparation. “Inventory of parts is important. It’s good to keep a handle on how everything is feeling – where all of your systems sit and what’s going on. Service intervals are very important too, especially when getting parts into a remote place can be a challenge” Wade says. “As a general rule, it’s good to be prepared for anything. Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. If you think it’s not going to break, it’s probably going to break.”
This approach served Richardson well. The mothership/gameboat operation he directed for 15 years was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. He would provision the boat in Panama City and remain self-sufficient for months at a time. “We never missed a day due to maintenance,” he says. He one time had an engine room fire while running out… but he was back fishing by 10:30 in the morning the same day.
The importance of preparation is also important when it comes to the back country of the American west. “You can never be too prepared. If you are getting ready for a trip, it pays to invest in good equipment – boots and rain gear, particularly,” Wade describes. If all you have is what you bring, it is best to bring what will serve your needs. “A hunting trip into the mountains is a good way to find out how good of shape you are in. It’s also a great way to find out what level of uncomfortable you are comfortable with. You can be wet, cold, or hot or sore from walking – you never really know what might happen.”
Guiding the Experience
When it comes to a combined big game hunting and fishing resume, it is hard to imagine anyone with a more impressive body of experience than Captain Brad Philipps. Beyond simply providing access to some of the sporting world’s most majestic opportunities, Philipps believes that an outfitter’s role is to make the process inclusive for the client. For most people, getting up close and personal with a blue marlin or a cape buffalo is the apex of a life’s passion – they want to feel involved in how it happens.
“One of the big things is communication – making a client mentally prepared for what they’re doing. It’s important to let them know what their job in the process will be and what to expect before it happens. Whether it be for dropping back to a marlin or on safari, physical and mental preparation are equally important,” provides Philipps. “The best guides are inclusive. They make the safari goer/angler included in the decision process from the time he or she books the trip.”
Communication and knowing what to expect is important on the photo safaris at Toro River Lodges as well. “A lot of the photo safaris are on foot. The client must understand what guests can and can’t do in certain situations. You can’t run – and you must trust your guide. This involves teamwork and is built with trust. It is always so special to get on foot in a wild area and learn about Africa.”
“There is a lot of crossover clientele – fishing guests who want to Africa. It’s important that the guide knows the guests and the clients. The guide must always remember that it’s always the client’s trip,” Philipps provides insightfully. “In my early days, I built my career on talking with guys before the trip. What may happen – what to do in certain situations. The ifs and thens. If the lions come from this direction… If there is an elephant over there… If the marlin does this…”
“Mental strength is one of the most important considerations. The more extreme and wild the adventure, the more it may test your mental state and experience level. It is important to prepare the client for as many eventualities as you can. Pre-talking is very important,” Philipps says. It is easy for a captain or outfitter who hunts or fishes for a living to forget that the experience may be a once in a lifetime type event for the client. A great guide or outfitter will utilize his or her experience and knowledge to provide the client with a roadmap of what might happen and how to interact with it. This is as much about imparting confidence and understanding as it is anything else.
“A guide must have the basics – a good adventure sportsman first, but he must also be able to communicate and be inclusive. This is what separates the good guides from the great ones,” Philipps says. “A lot of young guides guide for themselves. When you progress you realize that the whole thing is about what’s best for the client. The guide, then, acts as a catalyst to provide the experience the client is looking for.”