By Capt. Jen Copeland
“Look no further,” replied a young Chase Lake to Captain Scott Murie one late-December day at the Destin Marina in 2002. Murie, who needed a young man to accompany him and Randy Baker to Panama on a 61 Garlington called the PJ, had been asking around. “I would have done anything to work on that boat, and Scott knew it,” said Chase.
On the first day of his first big break, coming back from the fuel dock, Lake’s nervousness overtook him – he fell in the water tying up the boat. A week later, and a little more solid on his feet, Chase was headed southwest – in route to Piñas Bay. At the age of 12 Chase was recruited by his neighbor, Jeff Wren, to fill in as second mate for a summer.
After the first day, Chase was hooked. “I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Lake recalls. From then through the age of 18, the teenager would work on several boats in the Destin marina, all the while admiring the PJ. In Panama, 18-year old Lake would receive his formal fishing education courtesy of Baker and Murie.
“They were amazing teachers,” says Lake, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them.” Chase’s skills would ultimately set him up for his first skipper job aboard a classic Merritt boat owned by a gentleman named Ray John Forrest. The boat was called Jizzie. Lake’s first job at the helm would last five years, fishing mainly out of Destin and Venice. It is Captain Scott Murie who Lake credits for making this connection.
Though Captain Chase found himself back at “home,” that didn’t mean he was void of anxieties. “In the beginning, docking the boat was pretty stressful,” he recalls. A little boat powered by a set of 820-hp MANs could easily get away from you if you weren’t paying attention.
“I had an excellent mate at the time by the name of Chance Young. He was so good at tying up the boat – minding my windward side so I could get her docked without slipping through the pilings – and in my eyes, a good mate is extremely important – a real confidence booster.” Knowing Young had his back, Lake found one of the most important qualities a captain could possess is respect: respect for the boat, respect for the crew, and most of all, respect for the owner.
“I was put in a great position to learn on the Jizzie,” he says. Captain Chase Lake hasn’t looked back. Captains learn through influence, insists Lake.
“When I think about my mentors, the same person keeps popping up in my head – Jason Buck. He is always professional, always polite, and even though he is one of the most awarded captains around, he still manages to keep an immaculate boat,” Lake continues. “I thought my engine room was tight, until I saw his.” You must always be learning in this business, and if you stop learning, it’s time to retire or find another career.
Lake also stresses the importance of keeping your nose clean. “Stay clear of trouble,” he says, “the guys who look cool will get you in trouble, and they won’t be around long. I try and put a lot of emphasis on being a leader,” says Chase. He understands his responsibility, not only for the boat, but for his crew. Lake also knows that hard work pays off.
More than six years have passed since Lake stepped foot off the little Merritt, on to a 61-foot Viking that transitioned to a Viking 76, Team Supreme. Then, at the beginning of 2020, Lake added a new milestone on his resume as the captain of the Reel Fire, also a Viking 76 and also in Destin. The team’s next tournament planned will be the Orange Beach Invitational. Lake notes that he and the new team have already been off to a good start in the Gulf, with one memorable tournament being the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic when they came in second after releasing eight blues.
A fine showing for the hometown boys. Lake continues to look up to, and learn from the seasoned captains who have it together. He is young, but wise. “It’s simple,” he says. “Be respectful and humble and you get treated as a peer. Act like a know-it-all kid and you get treated like a child.” The older captains treat Chase with the respect that he’s earned, not to which he feels entitled. Chase insists that hard work will be the only thing that gets you noticed.
“You only have one reputation, so don’t mess it up,” he says. “I want my crew to become great captains themselves.”
Everyone has weaknesses, but they all can be overcome if you want something enough. By doing what you say you are going to do, and realizing what is important, you will get to where you want to be. “We represent more than just ourselves,” says Lake, “we are a direct representation of our owners – and they deserve our respect.”
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