By Capt. Jen Copeland
You know them: the seasoned, fish-where-I-want, when-I-want types seen at all the top spots. The ones who get the absolute best out of every fishing experience while making a career of it – without being tied down – essentially having their cake and eating it, too. But for these rock stars, this “dream” life can come with a price.
It’s not all two-hour lunches and hanging out with your friends. Most freelance tours of duty are long and it can be quite intimidating to roll up and expect to immediately fit in with a team you may have never worked with before.
The following is a profile of three high-flying, in-demand freelancers. From an owner’s perspective, the addition of a freelance mate could just help get you to the winner’s circle or onto that fire bite you’ve been dying for. They can also lend an extra hand to provide some relief for your weary crew. These guys make many personal sacrifices, but the benefits it provides them are worthwhile. Their accounts may give some insight as to whether it’s a good fit for you.
Captain Brad Goodrich; email@example.com
While Brad’s outgoing and positive personality gets him to the most exotic locations on the sweetest rides, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t worked for it. He has spent twenty-plus years of his life learning in order to set himself up for a career that is well-rounded and about as stable as a freelance career could be. While fishing is his mainstay, Goodrich has the ability to grind it out, anywhere, doing almost anything boats.
With a solid work ethic and the ability to find common ground with almost everyone, Goodrich believes “if you go where you’re needed, listen, continue to learn and work hard, it won’t go unnoticed.” This is a small business in an even smaller world, and you are always being examined – by your peers, the captain down the dock, or by the owner.
And since word of mouth is your calling card, Goodrich believes being well-rounded, positive and professional will keep you getting the jobs you want.
Experience and Influence
Fishing with the late Captain Paul O’Donnell, Goodrich caught his first blue marlin at the age of eight. When he was 12, that same O’Donnell let him ride along on his Skipper, a 50-foot Sonny Briggs. Allowed only to watch, Goodrich did what any young boy would do – batter O’Donnell with question after question. It was his time with O’Donnell that Goodrich credits the very reason he became a fisherman. Brad’s meticulous maintenance experience came from working in Islamorada for veteran Captain Rob Corradi on his 1966 48-foot Willis Craft, Southern Comfort.
Brad learned all that goes into keeping an immaculate boat from Corradi – stem to stern. “Rob could do anything,” he says, “he’s a real ‘boatman’ – able to fix, build, patch, paint, or varnish as good, or better than, any high-dollar boatyard around.”
Southern Comfort was Brad’s last fulltime job – over 10 years ago. Brad realized he was turning down good-paying freelance work while waiting for a perfect job. “I saw myself missing out on too many good experiences,” says Goodrich. “I knew I had grown enough to successfully be my own boss. I knew exactly what I was looking for and I didn’t want to settle.”
With potential tournament and travel opportunities waiting in the wings, Brad began to market himself as a professional freelancer. Picked up by Key Largo Captain Mike Dykes, Goodrich got the first glimpse of a traveling freelance mate’s life. Soon after, South Texas’ Captain Brian Phillips gave Brad an opportunity that has lasted some seven years and running. “The success we have shared surpasses any other operation I’ve been a part of,” says Brad. “I learned most of my international knowledge and travel experience from him.”
Several foreign ports and many Panama Canal transits later, Phillips and Goodrich still work together, having shared five seasons and nearly a million dollars in tournament winnings in the Gulf.
Family and Financial Sacrifice
Today, with four young daughters to provide for, Brad does his best to keep busy and stay fishing. Able to go from dead-baiting or lure fishing in the summer, to live-baiting for sailfish in the winter, and everything in between, he does what he can to limit the uncertainty that results from not having a stable, fulltime income. “Kids don’t stay little just because you have to keep going away for work,” says Goodrich. “It takes time to learn how to live without when times are slow,” says Brad.
Having the ability to save when needed and spend when able is a constant in the life of a professional freelancer – especially one with a brood the size of Goodrich’s. “Sometimes you get to pick and choose where, with whom, and when you fish, but sometimes there is no choice…you must work.”
While the financial advantages that come with working for some of the best teams in tournament fishing are always a possibility, Brad recognizes that in the slow season boats move locations, go to the yard, or simply need a little love. “These sleds need year-round attention, so whether I’m waxing, doing deliveries or filling in, I’m still relevant; still seen.” Keeping yourself out there is very important in the freelance world, as it would be virtually career suicide if you are out of sight, because then, you are out of mind.
Captain Andrew Kennedy; firstname.lastname@example.org
At age 28, Andrew hasn’t deviated too much from his early childhood. He’s always had a rod in his hand…and a blonde on his arm. Growing up on the New River in Fort Lauderdale, Kennedy started fishing at the age of 15 on the Bahia Mar charter dock. As a teenager, Andrew quickly learned fishing was his true passion. At 19, he was lucky enough to land his first private, traveling job for Captain Jason “Tiny” Walcott on his 61 Viking, Blue Eagle.
Even at such a young age, Kennedy was serious about his career and he would stop at nothing to become successful. Eventually, he found freelancing to be the perfect way for him to do that. While anyone can freelance for a season, Andrew believes a certain personality is necessary to succeed in the game fulltime.
There is always fear of the unknown when stepping into a new operation for the first time. You must fit in, work hard and work smart to be worthy of hire. If you don’t, then you simply will not be invited back. Luckily for him, Kennedy’s strong personality comes with no identity crises, so what you see is what you get.
Philosophy and Awareness
Andrew says he’s mostly “by-the-book.”
He comes with an innate ability to pick up on the most minor of details. Careful observation of the fulltime crewmembers allows him to blend in without losing his own individuality. “Situational awareness is major factor when you are tossed into a well-oiled machine,” he says.
“From the boat, to the tackle, to the fishing scenarios, being aware of what is important to the crew – and the owner – is vital.” By paying attention to each situation, Andrew becomes an asset that reinforces an already solid unit. It is then, and only then, do you become worth it.
“You must take care not to be too abrasive,” he says. “You must show the utmost respect to the fulltime crew – no matter the age or skill level.” Kennedy continues, “You are there to help by applying your knowledge in a way that is well-fitting and beneficial to them, whether you are live-baiting or deadbaiting, lure or record fishing, you must be willing to gel and be confident, without stepping on anyone’s toes.” Andrew was raised up in the ideology that the best way to market yourself is to work hard every day and to never be too proud to do anything.
Goals and Ambition
In 2015, Kennedy’s fulltime team opted not to fish their scheduled summer tournament circuit. A call to Captain Walter Harmstead on the Viking 72, Goin’ In Deep, netted Andrew one of his best career experiences so far.
“The first day of the White Marlin Open, we managed to harvest a 551-pound blue one, which ended up winning the category that summer.” With a $779,000 blue marlin on deck, Kennedy was able to financially contribute to help his sick and recently widowed mother. “I truly believe my father blessed me with a miracle that day,” he says, “and I could never be more grateful for it.”
With a blossoming freelance career, and a personality which is sure to take him far, Andrew’s hunger for the sportfishing industry drives his quest to accumulate knowledge. He’s developed an everlasting love for travel and competitive fishing: “I want to be at the top of the game – respected, appreciated, and eventually feared – as a tournament fisherman.”
Already a great angler, wireman, and general crewman, he takes the time to learn from every opportunity, in any ocean. Andrew also has a grip on what it actually takes to be a good captain – a goal which he hopes to obtain in the next five years.
Captain Mark McDevitt; email@example.com
In the winter of 1984, 19-year-old Captain Mark McDevitt found himself to be the smallest fish in the biggest pond. Faced with the decision of following his summer charter boat job to Palm Beach for the winter or go-ing back to school, the Cape May party boat deckhand made the first big career decision of his life. With huge ambition, McDevitt was immediately demoted to wash down boy when he arrived in Palm Beach. He found himself surrounded by the most prestigious charter boats and crews of the time, and McDevitt quickly realized his captain’s license wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
“I was in for a real culture shock,” he recalls. “I didn’t have the deck wisdom or skills to compete with the guys who were familiar with the Florida fishery, so I washed boats, cleaned engine rooms and slung wax around while trying to get on the water.”
It wasn’t long before Mark found himself in the capable hands of Captain Jerry “Stash” Soltysik on the 36-foot Rybovich, Tintinajo.
“It was a quick education on a classic,” says McDevitt. “I looked up to Stash as a father figure, having a major impact on me both professionally and personally. I owe him much gratitude.” Working for many topnotch captains over the years, Mark not only proved his worth, but found his own ride on Beach Haven native Tom Garvey’s First Class.
After eight successful years of New Jersey, Palm Beach and Mexico seasons as captain, McDevitt’s situation changed.
Circumstances and Decision
“Life throws you many curveballs,” says Mark, who found himself on the receiving end of one during his latter days aboard First Class. Fighting for – and ultimately receiving – primary custody of his then-toddler daughter, Madeline, McDevitt was forced to make another life-changing decision. With his new circumstances, and young daughter in tow, freelancing became his “most digestible track.”
“The good Lord had given me a gift, so there was no way I could be wandering off to Costa Rica or any other exotic adventures for long periods of time,” says McDevitt. In order to maintain the balance of his new situation, prioritizing his time became his primary focus.
“I guess you could say freelancing chose me. It was the only option I had, and in retrospect, it was the best career decision of my life.”
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for McDevitt when he stepped onto the bridge of John and Betty Raimondo’s 57 East Bay, Sea Mistress. Mark recalls the genuine grace and concern he was shown by the Raimondos: “I was in the middle of a personal battle, and they allowed me to work a flexible schedule so I could tend to other important things, outside of fishing. I have so many great memories with that rig, but the highlight would have to be winning the 2001 White Marlin Open with a 79.5-pounder on her.”
The years that followed netted Mark and the Sea Mistress an excellent record on the tournament circuit. “I have nothing but peace and love for John and Betty,” – proof, once again, that karma is real. To say that McDevitt’s career followed the perfect path would be an understatement.
Rarely does a career shift brought about by change in one’s own personal situation result in decades of successful fishing ventures. “When you look back at the things you have accomplished, the relationships you have cultivated while making money at it, you realize the blessings are genuine.” And when comparing sportfishing to other careers, Mark believes we (as sport-fishermen) live multiple lifetimes in this special fraternity.
“We all have a niche,” Mark believes, and “if you’re passionate about it, it will work – don’t fight yourself, just go fishing.”
Passing the Torch
As we continue to galivant our way around the fishing world, living the dream, McDevitt has already lived it. He has memories that most of us have yet to dream of, and at 53, most of his career aspirations have been fulfilled.
Having worked for some of the best fishermen, boats and crews for over 30 years, Mark McDevitt is a true pro – the full package.
“Honestly, I’m ready to start paying it forward,” says Mark. “I’d like to think some of my experience may be appreciated by the next group of young bloods in this business…I’ve learned a lot of good stuff from the teams that would have me, and hopefully the next generation has the capacity and discipline to absorb what is a free education on the water. Some will be really good, and some won’t…but never turn down an opportunity to learn from the crews who are willing to take you, paid or not.”
The one thing professional freelancers acquire from their chosen career is experience, of all kinds…and fast. From learning the ins and outs of different boats, to spreading their knowledge to others through osmosis, the hired gun is likely to be one of the most competent, well-rounded persons on your boat, and hiring one could take your operation to the next level.
If you’re a professional captain or mate, there is a definite need for freelancers, if you can stomach it. It’s a hard life, but can result in infinite rewards. With your nose to the grindstone, your ego in check, and a willingness to adapt, a professional freelancing career could be for you.
It takes a special personality to be successful in this line of work, but by being outgoing, respectful and grounded, and having a varied background, there will always be a need for the hired gun, the fly-in guy, or the professional guest…as long as there are boats.