By Alexandra Stark
Did you know that there are men and women who not only fish together on boats, but live and work on them too? These incredible couples not only share the confines of staterooms for months on end and survive to tell about it, but actually enjoy the experience. What follows is a chronicling of four amazing husband and wife pairs who have spent years fishing together. They share their unique perspectives and some lessons learned along the way.
Theirs is a secret society of sorts—an exclusive club whose relationships share an amazingly interesting and unique dynamic. There are not many such couples around—let alone those willing to talk about such intimate things as how they relate with their spouses. The group profiled here share lessons and insights that are useful for anyone who likes fishing, is married…or both.
Luke Fallon and Kelly Dalling Fallon
Were there ever to be written a fairy tale fishing romance, it would likely be something like the story of Capt. Luke Fallon and Kelly Dalling Fallon.
Consider the following…Kelly’s father, Capt. Jim Dalling, was a longtime, and highly respected, charter captain on the Great Barrier Reef. Kelly grew up on the water. Luke Fallon grew up with a passion for fishing. Not only did Luke and Kelly meet one another as children in a gamefishing club, but Luke’s first job on the water—at age 16—was for none other than the man who would one day be his father-in-law. Luke has since fished more than 30 years on the Reef.
Now married, Luke and Kelly own and operate the Kekoa, a 56’ O’Brien, from which they host liveaboard charters for much of the year. In addition to the heavy tackle black marlin season out of Cairns, Luke and Kelly run light tackle trips out of Frazer Island for juvenile black marlin, remote barramundi charters and more. Luke runs the boat and Kelly handles the booking, photography and cooking on the charters. “We just scaled back our schedule from doing two away seasons each year totaling almost 200 days a year on the boat, to only doing our Cairns marlin season away.
The rest of the work we do out of our home base at Hervey Bay, fishing Fraser Island. Yay!” Kelly says of their program. “So, a typical year for us is mid-September to end-November Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef for the giant black marlin when we are typically living on board with clients and fishing every single day. And then December though to September for the rest of the year, we are based out of Hervey Bay and doing blue, black and striped marlin fishing off Fraser Island.
A typical trip there is about 3 or 4 days living aboard and anchoring on the island overnights, but the difference being at the end of each trip we get to come home. In Cairns we are away from home the whole duration.” Running liveaboard charters adds another dynamic to living and working on a boat with your spouse. When asked about the most challenging aspect of the arrangement, Kelly references this. “Tight quarters and living aboard with nowhere to go.
With people, you don’t ‘know’ and all their little quirks. All. The. Time.” For those unfamiliar with this scenario, imagine living in a two-room condo and then inviting consecutive groups of strangers to share it with you, 24 hours per day for four days per group for three months. Even if the condo is a floating one and you are catching giant black marlin in the fishing equivalent of Disney World, you can imagine that the walls might close in on you every once in a while.
Kelly and Luke have learned quite a bit about maintaining a healthy balance while living on a boat. “For us, I think the main thing that we try to keep in mind, and I have to admit it took us a while to get here, is that working together on the boat and knowing each other so well as we do is supposed to make things easier for each other. And so, if we try and think along those lines, of making life easier for each other, then things go a lot smoother.”
“For me it’s knowing how Luke likes things done and being able to guide new crew members that way without him having to be involved. For Luke it might be as simple as offering to go downsea when I making lunch on the really rough days,” says Kelly thoughtfully.
When it comes to recommendations for creating a balance between work and personal time, Dalling Fallon speaks to the importance of boundaries. “Make sure you have your own space for the two of you to chill out, escape to and catch up. We have our own cabin and at the end of a long day we can close the door and decompress just the two of us. During the day, when my jobs are done, I often join Luke in the tower just the two of us so we can talk.
That’s our time, and when you’re constantly around other people all day every day you need to have that time just the two of you.” It is also important to enjoy the little things along the way. “A good laugh cures the soul. One of the stupid things that make Luke and I laugh on the boat is when we are having chicken wings in the tower… I make chicken wings as one of my regular lunches and our guests call it KFC – Kelly’s Fried Chicken—it’s kind of a thing!
We throw the bones overboard but Luke and I like to lob our bones as close as possible to the heads of our crew and guests enjoying the wings on deck. We get a full belly laugh going when we see them register the bone in their peripheral vision as it goes past.” “It’s a shame now that they’ve come to expect it, but we still get the joy out of doing it. It lightens the mood a LOT. We have also been known to dance and sing to Luke’s phone in the tower when fishing is slow.
The year Gangnam Style came out was a very bad year…” At the end of the day, Kelly is quick to point out the many ways in which this nontraditional life of living and working with your spouse on a fishing boat is great. “The adventure together and being together are the best part. We got married because we enjoy spending time and fishing together and that hasn’t changed. Some of the best days of my life have been right alongside Luke and that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” she explains.
“The fact that we are doing something that we both enjoy makes it easier. Of course, there are challenges being weather and the long days and seasons, but it helps that we are both there because we want to be!”
Terry and Bonny Stansel
Capt. Terry and Bonnie Stansel have been married and fishing together professionally for years. The Stansels currently work aboard the Patriot, an 80’ American Custom Yacht owned by the Chouest Family.
Terry and Bonny, in fact, have been working with the Chouest family for over 30 years. During this time, Terry and Bonny have crossed the Pacific, spent time in New Zealand, fished Costa Rica extensively and fished Brazil—among a host of other locations. The couple met at Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach in 1989 and were married soon thereafter. The Stansels have been together ever since. Terry, who claims that Bonny has “the best sense” on the boat of anyone he knows, was immediately impressed with how Bonny can relate to people.
Not only is she relatable, but she is able to consistently help people have a comfortable experience on the boat. Bonny, according to her husband, has a knack for understanding people and Terry knew they would make a great team. From about the time they met, the Stansels have been traveling together with him at the helm and her on deck ensuring that the family or guests on the boat have everything they need to an unforgettable experience.
Although travel has slowed down a bit in the more recent years, Captain Terry and Bonny are still very busy between Stuart, Florida and Louisiana. Capt. Terry explained that creating a position for Bonny appeared to be a challenge in the beginning of their journey as she did not have any formal fishing or boating experience. With the position worked out, the couple recognized quickly that living in confined spaces meant they would have to work hard to respect each other’s boundaries.
This closeness, however, also helped in getting to know each other very well. They knew that at the end of the day, boundaries needed to be respected and that spending time at home— when they are home—is important. Their extended travel schedule also imparted another lesson. Because they were gone so often, the Stansels had to get used to being less social with friends and family. Although remote and with less contact with their immediate friends and family, Terry and Bonny met many friends along the way. Even if they do not see each other very often, Terry says, “Boat friends are boat friends—you see them one time every 20 years and it will be ok.”
Doug and Georgia Bell Covin
The Covins run a corporate program fishing in Florida and the Bahamas. The company that owns the boat sends clients down to fish on a regular basis. The name of the boat is Cu Leader, pronounced either C U Leader or Copper Leader (Cu is the periodic symbol for copper). Time on the water has played an important role in both Doug and Georgia’s life, it now provides a great backdrop for their careers. “We fish around 120 days a year,” Doug says. Doug’s father owned a Charter Boat at Bud ‘n Mary’s Islamorada, Florida Keys.
Doug grew up fishing around great fishermen such as the Stanczyk family, Brad Simmonds, Alan Starr, Mike LePree, and Alex Adler. After college Jim O’Neill recruited Doug onto a traveling tournament boat and he never looked back. Georgia moved to Miami from Virginia in her late 20s and began teaching scuba diving. She was soon running a dive boat out of Miami Beach before following Doug to St. Thomas. She never looked back.
When asked about being married and balancing the pressures of work with keeping a healthy relationship, Doug is thoughtful. “Understanding that taking care of our work responsibilities comes first is important. Then we get to relax. Luckily, we get along professionally and personally so well, that we have fun doing both.” “For example, our job requires a lot of entertaining. When we have guests onboard, we both are very busy and each have our own responsibilities that we know need to get done. We might check with each other and see if we got the task completed, but we don’t need reminding to do it.
It’s like watching a great captain/mate team fish a tournament together. Each know their responsibilities, gets them done without being told to, and enjoys a drink together when they’re done.” Just as working together can bring an added dimension to their marriage, Doug and Georgia being a couple can affect the dynamic on the boat. “The challenge has been making sure the mate that works with us doesn’t feel like a third wheel all the time,” Captain Doug says. “Sometimes we have to treat them like we are their parents, sometimes like they’re our brother, and sometimes they probably feel like they’re our marriage counselor.
It’s important to give them their space and also take time for ourselves when needed.” Just as living and working together on a boat can bring its share of challenges, it is also quite rewarding for the Covins. “Probably one of our favorite things to do is entertain. Georgia is a great cook and we love having crews from other boats over for dinners and hosting dock parties,” Doug explains. “One particularly fun memory was overnighting back from St. Thomas. Robert ‘Fly’ Navarro was at the helm at sunrise. We woke up when the boat stopped because Fly had hooked a blue marlin.
Georgia got in the chair and I leadered the fish while we still both in our pajamas.” “Georgia has become a great angler catching a lot of billfish. She’s won top angler in the Bluewater Babes tournament a few years back, and in 2018 won top female angler in The Bahamas White Marlin Open, “Doug says. “When she was called up on stage to accept her trophy, all the crews which were pretty much all friends, went nuts cheering and gave her a standing ovation. That was really proud a husband moment.”
Pete and Denise Wishney
Not only are husband and wife Pete and Denise Wishney very nice people, theirs is a fishing story that is unique as can be. Residents of Dana Point, California, Pete and Denise boarded their 1977, 44’ Pacifica in October 1997 for what they believed would be a yearlong fishing trip to the Mexican Baja. The Wishneys brought with them two dogs, two bikes and a number of toys for their trip (including a full complement of fishing gear of course).
What started out as a plan to be gone to Mexico for a year turned into a 20-plus year odyssey of living together on their boat while fishing most of the best places in Central America and the Caribbean. A bit hesitant to participate initially, Pete did not want to appear as an expert on the topic or to be portrayed as claiming to be the best. After a bit of assurance, Pete and Denise were kind enough to share their story and the lessons learned along the way.
And what a story it is… Over the years, the Wishneys fished in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Belize, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Saint Thomas, the BVI, Martinique, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent, Grenadine, Grenada, Venezuela, Aruba and Columbia. They spent six seasons in Saint Thomas, two years in the DR, three seasons in Venezuela, three years in Mexico, and six years between Costa Rica and Pan – ama.
Pete ran the boat and they hired a mate to travel with them, helping with fishing and the many things that go along with it. One of the lessons the couple learned over the course of travel – ing together was the importance of maintaining their own spaces. On the days of fishing, Denise would spend more time in the cockpit and Pete on the Bridge. They used separate areas of the boat. The Wishneys describe fishing and traveling to different countries and meeting new people as the best part of their experience.
Adding to the enjoyment of meeting and befriending other passionate fishermen was running into those people at various marinas around the world. Not having a house to come home to was very difficult. The Wishneys rented out their California home while they were abroad. When they returned to the states intermittently, having to stay with family and friends was a challenge. Denise explains,
“I married into it, but now it is my passion. We started on a one-year trip and we liked it so much we continued on for the next 20 years! When we stopped, I had been ready for a long time to transition back to living in a house and commuting to the boat.”
“We have had many incredible experiences, like taking nuns fishing in Costa Rica. Mother Superior, all dressed in white, was definitely a rod hog! Then there was black marlin fishing in Pinas Bay, Panama. We really learned how to fish in our three seasons in Venezuela. (The Wishneys give quite a bit of credit to Capt. Paul Ivey),” Pete says of all of the memories compiled over their travels.
“In thinking back over the past 20 years about all of the experiences, it really is all of the people who made the difference for us. The traveling circuit is fairly small group of captains and mates many of whom became good friends. Without the help of those friends we would have never been able to stay in the game as long as we did.” “Then there was the Saint Thomas A Dock. It was really the ‘Whose Who’ of fishing that frequented this area.
The DR can only be described as awesome—facilities off the charts. Denise winning The Billfish Foundation’s Angler of The Year Award at the 2002 IGFA Banquet. The Pacifica sinking in 2014 in Costa Rica.” The Pacifica sank unexpectedly in Costa Rica in 2014. The boat caught fire three-quarters of a mile from the marina and they were rescued. While the couple lost everything they had with them when the boat caught fire and sank, it could have been much worse.
At the time of the fire, the couple was headed to the sea mounts 100 miles from shore. “When the Pacifica sank, we returned to the marina in our dinghy. Denise only had a night shirt. We had no passports and no money—we had nothing! Bonny Stansel took Denise to her boat to get her some clothes. Ronnie Reibe handed me $1,000 and said to pay him when I could. Bubba Carter put us up in his home,” recalls Pete.
“These were the friends whom you run into every couple years on the circuit at most,” Pete says, describing the generosity that traveling fishermen extend to one another. “These guys and many more are the
best experiences anyone can have on any trip!”
Ken and Amanda Cofer: A Husband and Wife Tournament Team
Ken and Amanda Cofer are another genre of hardcore fishing couple. While they do not live on the boat together, tournament fishing is a family pastime for the Cofers—one that requires a serious commitment of time and resources.
Owners of the Tranquilo, a 57’ Spencer that is based in Quepos, Costa Rica, the couple’s tournament regiment is intensive and international. The Cofers have been tournament fishing together since 2012. Amanda relates some of the lessons they have learned along the way. “We don’t live on the boat, but sometimes we are on the boat for overnights or extended period—the longest time span was around ten days,” she says.
For extended trips, Amanda recommends, “Patience and to get as much good sleep as possible.” “Like any relationship—especially for couples that are together in their business and personal (hobby) lives, it is not always easy! For us, I think the mutual love we both have for the ocean, warm weather, fishing and competition helps. Each bite is different and there is always that excitement waiting for and getting the next fish.
We are always trying to be better than the last time out on the water…. A Ken and Amanda Cofer: A Husband and Wife Tournament Team sense of humor helps, too,” she explains. For the Cofers, the best part about the fishing experience is the travel and the camaraderie. “Traveling to various fishing grounds throughout the world and fishing tournaments is our favorite part. Fishing with our whole family, including our daughter Chloe, is the best.”
The Cofers’ family dynamic adds to the pressure of finding a good, consistent and cohesive tournament line up. “Finding and keeping that good team mojo is something to think about. It may be hard to believe, but it is hard to find eight to ten people whose personalities all mesh well that are also great fishermen/women. It is like a business and it has to run well to be successful. Everyone plays an important role and works together. Every team member is an important piece and building a good team is hard,” she explains.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.