By Capt. Jeff Waxman
Some guys really are larger than life and Captain Bouncer Smith is one of those guys. It takes a full page of small print on his website to list the honors and awards that Bouncer has achieved. He has pioneered several fisheries, caught innumerable trophies for his clients and been one of the most outspoken captains in protecting our fisheries for all of our futures.
The essence of the man, however, is deeper than awards and honors. Bouncer is a man who, after more than 50 years of charter fishing, still gets butterflies watching a sailfish light up on the strike or watching a bottom rig get yanked down to the gunwale. Bouncer gets excited in just the same way he did when he first started. It is that thrill, that excitement that makes him so good day in and out, for swords or sails or jacks or anything else that patrols the waters around Miami.
Based out of Miami Beach, Florida, Captain Bouncer Smith and his 33-foot Bouncer’s Dusky are a bucket list fishing trip for folks from around the world. An interesting man in many contexts – Bouncer catches quality fish of many species (from swordfish to tarpon to sailfish and snapper). Smith is generous with his time, perspective and skill.
How He Began
As a young kid growing up in Michigan, Bouncer’s Dad was the perfect example. They fished together, and they hunted together. The young Bouncer saw and enjoyed it all. They fished for sunnies, for bass, for trout. They hunted rabbits, squirrels and deer. In 1956, they relocated not just to Florida, but to a new world. They trolled old style feathers, catching barracuda and bonito.
Then, at the age of 8, lightning struck. Young Bouncer hooked and caught his first sailfish – on a lure he had made himself. He was hooked. It was at this point that life began to have a center – on fishing. After stints running private boats, working as a mate out of various fishing ports, he began his charter career hawking passersby at the Castaways dock at Bahia Mar. While this start is not uncommon for many a Florida captain, most rarely rise so far above it. From Bahia Mar his road led to the dream – “Flats Guide in Islamorada.”
For a while this was Bouncer’s program. He docked at Bud n’ Mary’s for the winter while spending summers in Ocean City, Maryland. It was a good life, but still not his own life.
While learning the ropes early on, one captain at the Castaways Dock, Connie Mira, seemed to have more charters than most. Not only did she enjoy more clients, she was also getting more write ups than other captains. After a while, Bouncer asked her about her secret. Her answer? “Easy,” she says. “When the local outdoor writer calls to book a chair ($15 per chair then!), the other guys tell him the price. But I tell him, ‘He will be my guest for the afternoon.’”
Bouncer learned a major lesson here – take care of the folks who affect you, your visibility and your future business. In the years since, this has become charter boat marketing 101. During the final week of 1979, an out of state client hired Bouncer to captain his small private rig for two weeks. On the first trip aboard the client’s 25-foot Dusky, they fished six-foot seas. The client asked, “How do you like the boat?” Bouncer told him, “I’d like first right of refusal when you decide to sell!” Well, two years later, they made a winwin deal and Bouncer had his charter boat!
He had found his calling. Not only did Bouncer have the setting for his own operation, he had learned lessons that would help him in route to becoming one of the most successful and well-respected captains in the business. Treat your clients as friends. Go out of your way to work with influencers. Enjoy and appreciate what you do.
A few years later Bouncer met with the owner of Dusky. Smith helped design a larger boat and made a lifelong friendship and commitment to the Dusky platform. The result of this partnership is very much in evidence today.
Smiles Along the Way
Given the nature of the business and the daily personal interaction, every captain has great stories. Bouncer is no exception. A fairly typical convention group of six arrived for an afternoon charter. One of the group members had clearly had a multiple martini lunch and loudly made it known that he was only interested in big fish. Not only this, he announced his need to catch Moby Dick. As others caught a few bailer dolphin, he complained and continued his slurred need to catch Moby.
Well, as luck would have it, a very large whale, likely a humpback, surfaced and blew just ahead of the boat. Then, the whale surfaced again just yards behind the boat. Upon seeing this, the drunk got down on his knees apologizing to Moby saying, “I didn’t mean to offend you! Please do not sink the boat!” Karma can be tough.
This whale of a fishing story might only be topped by the autistic teenager and his father who requested to catch a swordfish, a grouper, a tuna and a tarpon – all in one trip! And Bouncer did. After ticking off this diverse list of quarry, they asked if they might catch a snook. Bouncer put them on one of those, too. In Bouncer’s mind, that trip will always be one of the best ever. To this day, the clients have no idea of what their captain accomplished.
“They figured it was just like ordering from the menu!” Bouncer recalls with a chuckle.
Every captain has a few wonderful moments that truly stand out, that pass the test of time. For Bouncer there are two – his proudest catch and that of a client. Bouncer’s catch occurred after a solid week of fishing Alaska, when he caught the then-world record halibut on a fly.
Bouncer hooked the 115-pounder in the last fifteen minutes of the trip! And for a client catch? Well, how about the first ever fly-caught swordfish – caught on his client’s hand-tied fly! Bouncer put his client on the 46-inch sword within one hour of casting! Afterward others spent as many as 30 nights in a row hoping to hook a sword on a fly. Credit surely goes to the client for the catch, but much more goes to the captain who put him in the position to do so.
Hopes for the Future
As is the case with every good captain (and hopefully every serious angler), Bouncer realizes that the future of fishing will be what we make of it. Smith is in the forefront of species management and protection. An avid sportsman, he favors laws and catch limits and even supports the idea of marine area preserves to assure that certain species be allowed to grow and reach maturity without the certainty of capture and harvest. He is a voice for the future and for the health of our sport.
Smith donates time, energy and funds to support the ocean and sport that he loves. And still, today, Bouncer offers free trips for Make a Wish kids and youth who just need a few hours away from their pain. Kids
like Charlie who he friended at a fishing show that took place recently after the young man finished radiation treatment… A couple of hours catching small bluefish in the bay made this child’s world just a bit better.
A Legend on the Dock
The essence of a captain is complex. Successfully manning the captain’s chair requires a mix of fishing skill combined with a bit of understanding of psychiatry, friendship, toughness, love for the job and caring. Bouncer Smith, both the captain and the man, represents the best of these. To get an idea of his fishing honors and awards (or to book a trip to fish with him), check out Bouncer’s website at www.Captbouncer.com. You will not be disappointed, rather, you will be very impressed indeed. In fact, you’re likely as not to enjoy the conversation as much as you do the fishing.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.