57-foot Capps Boatworks
Owner: Paul Knowles
By Charlie Levine
Many captains are born into the fishing industry and taken under the wing of their fathers or an uncle. But you don’t have to be born into this industry to succeed. The majority of captains who make it to the top of the ladder work harder than the rest and never stop learning. Drake Sawyer falls in line with that ethos. And when you have some of the biggest names in offshore fishing singing your praises, you know you’re doing something right.
The 29-year-old captain is originally from Port Aransas, Texas. Drake began working on boats at 14 and never stopped. He started as a mate on charter boats and head boats (party boats, if you’re from Port Aransas), fishing for king mackerel and red snapper in the Gulf. When he was 16, he fished his first billfish tournament on a 31 Bertram.
“That was my first exposure to tournaments,” Sawyer says. “The runs were long and very wet on that 31. We didn’t billfish much on that boat, but we fished a handful of tournaments. The majority of the time we were meat fishing.”
Throughout high school the burgeoning young skipper bounced around and kept working on head boats. Soon he landed a job on a 61-footer but when the skipper took the boat to Mexico, he left Drake without a ride.
“That winter I had just left college and I was working on any boat I could,” he says. “The captain of a 42 Tiara named On Location saw me buffing a boat in the middle of a cold front and asked me if I could help him. After he had seen my hard work, he asked me to fish with him in Mexico, so I ended up fishing down there that season regardless.”
On Location was owned by Paul Knowles from Corpus Christi, Texas. Ten years later, Drake is still working for Paul. From 2009 to 2011 Drake mated on the boat as they fished Isla Mujeres and Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, and then headed back to the Gulf for the summer.
In 2010, Paul purchased a 57-foot custom boat built by Nelva Capps of Virginia Beach, Virginia. The boat was only four years old at the time and had 800 hours on it. With a larger boat, the On Location team began traveling more. They ventured over the Bahamas then up to Massachusetts in search of giant bluefin tuna before heading back down the coast to fish the Gulf circuit. Then in 2013 they set sail for the Pacific, running through the Panama Canal.
They fished Piñas Bay, and upon the urging of Drake, decided to hit the FADs in Costa Rica. That was their home base until this past fall.
As the mate, Drake kept learning everything he could from tackle to engine maintenance. In 2014, Drake got his shot to run the program. He was 24.
“A lot of the things the previous captains taught me turned out to be incorrect,” Drake says. “We started fishing the tournaments in Costa Rica and I realized I had no idea how to sailfish, at least down there where you’re fishing next to some of the best in the world in one of the best fisheries. We needed to learn how to do this or we were just wasting money. I asked questions to everyone on the dock I possibly could.”
The young skipper befriended some of the most respected captains in the industry. Gentlemen like Bubba Carter, John Bayliss and Chip Shafer. Those were the men he fished next to, and those were the men he emulated. Drake’s hard work in the cockpit and bilge paid off. He caught an average of 900 billfish per season in Costa Rica and released his 1,000th blue marlin at the age of 28.
“I took the boat over with 3,000 hours on it,” he says. “We’re at 10,700 now, in the last five years. We’ve been fishing it hard.”
In Costa Rica, the crew exclusively teaser fished, and they’ve got it dialed. “Paul would come by himself to fish the FADs for five days, and he pitches every single fish,” Drake says. “On his best day he caught 20 blue marlin. The boat caught 22. The only reason Paul didn’t catch the other two was because they were doubles.”
For any boat to put up big numbers and hit goals, the crew must work together. “Paul is a really good boss to work for,” Drake says. “We always come up with a game plan, but when it comes time to fish, he trusts me to make the calls.”
After finishing their Costa Rica deployment in 2018, the On Location headed to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to fish Cabo and Mag Bay. “I’d been egging Paul on to do that trip for the last couple of years. When we decided to move the boat out of the Pacific, it made sense to take advantage of that destination before we go. We got lucky and hit it on a good year.”
The team fished three multi-day trips out of Mag Bay for a total of 12 days of fishing. They released 652 striped marlin – more than 200 billfish per trip! “It’s an absolute incredible fishery,” Drake says.
After Mag Bay, the On Location headed back to the U.S. to get some work done for its next big adventure… Madeira, the Canaries and Portugal. “We let our 1,000th blue marlin go this last FAD season in Costa Rica and now we want to go and try to catch a 1,000-pounder,” Drake says. That’s quite a changeup from teaser fishing on light tackle.
The plan is to ship the boat to Madeira in June and keep it there for two seasons. In 2020, they’ll embark on some serious travel, fishing for tuna in the Canary Islands in March and April, grander blue marlin in Madeira from May through August, white marlin off Portugal in September and October, then back to the Canaries.
There is much work to be done. It’s a 13-year-old custom boat, so there’s plenty of glass and finish work to keep them busy. They’re also installing a transformer to be able to keep regular voltage with Euro power. And then there’s the tackle.
“We’ve got a lot to learn about heavy tackle,” Drake says. “I’m looking forward to switching gears. It’s a whole new fishery to put my mind to. My boss and I have been working really hard. He’s working on his technique as an angler, and I’m working on mine as a captain.”
They’ll be fishing 130-pound tackle almost exclusively, at least in the beginning. “I don’t want the right one to show up and be under-gunned,” Drake says. “I’m starting to gear my head toward the tackle and getting as many recommendations as I can as to what we need before I get over there. It’s going to be fun.”
The crew has caught two blues around 700 pounds in the Gulf of Mexico and a handful of blue marlin in the 350- to 400-pound range in Costa Rica. It’s definitely a big learning curve but the young captain is ready to put his skills to the test.
“We will start lure fishing then move over to teaser fishing,” he says. “If we get to switch on one over 800 pounds, we’ll have accomplished our goal.”
The opportunity to travel and experience new fisheries is the ultimate dream job for Capt. Drake Sawyer, but it took a lot of hard work to make it happen. “Fishing is all I’ve ever done,” he says. “Luckily I’ve had an owner like Paul who has given me lots of opportunity to spend time on the water.”
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.