By Winslow Taylor
There are few pastimes in life that can go from zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye. Big game fishing is one of those activities. Saltwater fishing, especially of the offshore variety, requires not only specialized equipment (think boat, rods, tackle, gear, emergency equipment, etc.) but also a degree of coordination, stamina, and focus.
Although venturing offshore can become “extreme,” one of the best things about fishing is its ability to enamor anyone—from the young to those advanced in age. What follows is a bit of perspective for captains, owners and mates on how to successfully plan and implement fishing trips with “nontraditional” anglers. Making fishing available to individuals who may have physical impairments, older folks who are still young at heart, and kids is a great thing for all involved. With a bit of thought and situational preparation, you can ensure that your boat can accommodate anyone.
Knowing Your Anglers: Abilities and Desires and Expectations
Although introducing new people to the world of offshore fishing is an amazing experience, it’s important to know your anglers and guests in order to make sure they are up for the challenge—both physically and mentally. When fishing with non-traditional anglers, there needs to be a certain level of vetting and you as the captain/owner/crew need to give a realistic snapshot of the day. This needs to be done prior to the walk down the dock at 5 a.m.
It’s good to meet the guests prior to the trip in order to get a feel for their needs and abilities. For instance, I’m not going to take my three-year-old and one-year-old offshore. Not only is that not sensible—it’s not enjoyable and could possibly be dangerous depending on the vessel and conditions.
Remember, the whole point of time on the boat is to enjoy the day. If you wake up and the weather sucks, don’t go. Although folks may be bummed, executing plan B (and always have a plan B) to go inshore fishing rather than getting beat up offshore may sometimes be the best choice. The message gets lost far too often amongst egos and tournaments, but fishing is supposed to be FUN. (It’s also important to remember that some time on the boat—be it snapper fishing or catching tarpon in a canal somewhere—is a great experience, especially for those who don’t get to fish regularly. Don’t fall victim to the fallacy that you must catch a blue marlin for anything to be worth doing—especially when your trip may involve nontraditional anglers.)
Guests with Physical Impairments
I don’t want to use the term disabled, because anyone who can hack it offshore for ten hours can take on almost anything. Although taking folks with physical impairments can present many interesting scenarios, most situations can easily be overcome by the usual cockpit ingenuity. Pepper Ailor is a program officer at Freedom Alliance, a fantastic organization that provides combat-wounded veterans with opportunities to broaden their horizons through engaging in activities that many may have thought not possible. Pepper runs the Freedom Alliance Fishing Program out of Los Sueños. Under Pepper’s leadership, Freedom Alliance has fished with numerous vets with physical impairments, including limb amputations.
When heading offshore planning is always important, but when you have anglers with physical impairments, the planning aspect takes on an entirely new level. Pepper explains one important piece information to know prior to departure is a list of medications being used by guests. This is important because different seasickness medications may interact with prescription medicine in different ways. Everyone is out to have a good time, not lay in the stateroom with their head in the head. Even the toughest guy around can be knocked down by the side effects of medication.
It may sound obvious, but make sure you have some compatible gear. Having fished with many amputees, Pepper stated the importance of knowing the anglers. If you have someone who is missing a right hand, make sure to at least have at least one left-handed reel onboard. You don’t need to have a whole set of alternate gear, but make sure you have at least something compatible.
Other simple things that come into play when fishing with someone who might have a hard time navigating the cockpit—such as a guest in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg—may seem like common sense. If you can’t take the fighting chair out before the trip, you can remove the footrest and organize your coolers to make it easier to get around the cockpit. Also make sure to keep a clear salon floor and cockpit—stow shoes, remove lines of hoses that might trip someone up. It’s also a great idea to have an extra pair of hands or two to help guests onto and off of the boat—one on the dock and one in the cockpit is ideal.
It’s also important to have an engaged and attentive crew. It’ll obviously be a different set of challenges, but a good crew can make almost any situation seem easy. Beyond keeping guests safe and making sure they are comfortable, keeping a good conversation—about fishing or the experiences of guest—always goes a long way (whether you catch fish or not).
Another “nontraditional” fishing demographic is the old-er (not old!) individual. For the sake of reference, let’s here consider folks over 75-ish—though it all depends on someone’s current health. This is an interesting demographic because many successful sportfish owners are in this bracket. One consideration is how you, as the captain or mate, deal with your boss who may need, but not want, additional help around the boat.
Often these owners are still hard-charging and intense personalities, which is exactly the personality trait that made them successful in business. Although it’s always prudent to watch your guests while underway, for older or less mobile individuals it’s imperative. Always provide a thorough pre-trip safety briefing and have your mates observe the guest while underway.
For example, if someone wants to use the head, slow down and head down sea for a minute. It’s the little things that help to keep the odds of a safe and successful trip in your favor. These little things start at the dock—helping people onto and off of the boat and keeping an eye out for slippery or hazardous walking conditions at the dock.
As for the crew, how do you watch out for someone’s well being while also listening to the “boss?” One obvious consideration is for the crew to be, at a minimum, CPR certified. It’s also important to have various medical supplies/devices on board and to be trained on those devices. For an overview on potential medical situations and treatments, check out the Captain’s Medical Guide that was reprinted in the ITB Captain’s Guide, September 2019.
For instance, if you are working for someone in that age demographic (or really any demographic) it’s prudent to keep an AED, automated external defibrillator, and even oxygen on board. Compared to all the bells and whistles of a modern sportfisher a $1,200 AED is cheap. It is certainly much cheaper than what can happen if you are not prepared. Even if you aren’t carrying older folks around, it’s a great piece of equipment as you never know who is going to be on the boat and heart attacks don’t discriminate on age.
We discussed these issues with a captain out of Costa Rica (not named here for the sake of his owner’s privacy) whose owner is of advanced age. He always takes two mates and has a safety plan in place, especially when fishing the offshore FADs. They carry two sat phones, an AED, blood pressure kit, and have a plan with the marina if something were to happen. Since there is usually no coast guard to airlift you outside of the US, his plan is to keep the patient stable, notify the marina who will call a chopper, which would transfer the patient to a hospital in San Jose. Thankfully they’ve never had to use the plan, but it’s always important to be prepared.
Fishing in foreign countries requires additional thought as the readily available emergency assets of the United States may not exist. Although the country may have quality healthcare, the logistics of getting someone off a boat and into that hospital may be difficult. One important consideration is whether to purchase travel insurance and to make sure that the travel insurance provides for a medical evacuation (medivac) option. Many generic travel insurance plans do not provide for a true medical evacuation.
Specific medivac insurance plans or memberships are not overly expensive and can be a true lifesaver in the event they are needed. The sticker price for medical evacuation and transport without insurance ranges from $25,000 to over $250,000. Insurance plans are much, much cheaper. Your best plan might be to purchase coverage and hope you will never need it. Whatever you do, make sure to read the small print on a medivac plan because there can be exclusions for activities and geographic areas.
Fishing with Kids
Fishing with kids can be an amazing experience, one that gives you the chance to introduce the next generation to the sport. Although rewarding, a fishing trip with children requires a little more planning and consideration. I spoke with Bill Farrior, Jr. who owns and runs Job Site, a 55-foot Viking out of Morehead City, NC.
Bill and his family have been fishing offshore around North Carolina for years. Although his oldest son has now aged out of the junior angler division, Job Site was a mainstay in the category (and the leaderboard in general) for the past 15 or so years. In fact, this past year Bill had a junior angler reel in the heaviest dolphin during the Big Rock—a fish that ended up being worth a nice $361,250! An impressive feat for both the angler, captain, and crew.
Job Site’s fishing program is unique. Bill and his crew fish most of the North Carolina Governor Cup events and have a particular emphasis on the junior angler category. Even fishing the Big Rock, Bill focuses on the release division with light(er) tackle. They use mostly TLDs along with Tiagra 30s. These smaller, lighter setups allow younger individuals to maneuver around the cockpit and fight the fish instead of fighting the equipment. Bill also has a custom fighting chair harness which works perfect for ladies and children. It’s important to have equipment that fits so the anglers can be comfortable.
Having fished with his own kids, Bill advises that ages six or seven are about as early as you’d want to take them offshore, at least in North Carolina. Up here a ten-hour day is the standard, so you must make sure the kids are up for the “challenge.” Furthermore, offshore fishing takes coordination and stamina which really isn’t developed in most children prior to six years old. Not every trip needs to be to the Gulf Stream. It’s great just to get the kids accustomed to being on the boat and out on the water. This will also make the transition easier when you want to go offshore.
Before you take kids of any ages out make sure your vessel is equipped with the necessary safety equipment. It’s also important to know your “guests” and whether they can swim. It’s always good to have more adults than young kids on the boat so everyone can keep an eye on the young ones. In many states, such as in North Carolina, it’s the law for children under the age of 13 to wear a PFD. If you are in a pinch, Boat U.S. has a lifejacket loaner program. This is a free program aimed to provide life jackets to children and/or parents who don’t have a kids PFD. They operate loaner sites all over the United States and loan over 140,000 life jackets each year. It’s a great resource as, (1) kids often outgrow their life jackets, and; (2) it keeps you from getting a ticket!
Fishing for All
No matter who you’re fishing with, it’s important to know your clientele and be prepared—especially as it relates to safety. Fishing is a resource, just as much as it is an activity. Everyone interested in offshore fishing should have the ability to enjoy it. Besides, depending on your age, you probably owe your own introduction to fishing to someone who is older. If you get the chance, why not pay it forward? Were that not enough, you may one day wind up calling on the same kids you take fishing today to get you offshore one day!