As told to Ric Burnley
For Capt. Eddie Wheeler, winning InTheBite’s 2004 Captain of the Year title wasn’t just the culmination of a great year of fishing but an acknowledgment of a lifetime of hard work and dedication. Here’s his story.
My dad had a charter boat, the Quetzal, in Pompano Beach. I started out working on the docks, then mating and eventually running the boat. I jumped on a few tournament boats and before I knew it I was trying to balance charter fishing and tournament fishing. That didn’t mix too well so I sold the charter boat and went tournament fishing full time. I liked the travel and the competition.
To be competitive, I have to learn so many types of fishing. We might find ourselves trolling for one tournament then dredge fishing another then kite fishing at a different tournament. Success is about versatility. The year we won Captain of the Year, we started by winning a lot of money at the Ocean City Tuna Tournament. Then we went to Miami and were very successful sailfishing over the winter. On top of that, we took second place at Pirate’s Cove trolling for whites. Being able to use different tactics and do it well gives us an edge over guys who have a more limited skill-set. That comes from years of hard work.
A lot of great charter boat guys started out washing boats, then mating and finally running the boat. Other guys were working a desk job and now they’re running a boat. The captain has to run the boat, fix the motor and even tie rigs as well as find the fish and catch them. That takes a lot of dedication and hard work. I love to fish, but there’s no time clock with this job. The way I figure it, we do what we did growing up. It’s instinctual. Sure, there are little tricks, but everyone is going to the same place and doing the same things.
In the end, may the best man win. For me, 99 percent of my success comes from my crew. Everyone has a positive attitude. We don’t let a bad day get us down–we just get back on it the next day. Everyone has confidence in his crewmate. We make an opportunity out of every bite that we get. The mates have everything at 100 percent all of the time. And they have confidence in me, too. We always say, “Happy boats catch fish.”
Since I won Captain of the Year, I’ve seen a lot of changes in fishing. The biggest change has been electronics. Look at bottom machines with CHIRP sounders, side-scanning sonar – now you can tell what kind of fish you are marking. Of course, the introduction of circle hooks has changed everything. I think they make it easier to hook a marlin, so there is more equality among teams. And look at dredges. Now everyone is using mudflaps. I first saw that in Bermuda six years ago and now they’re everywhere I go.
In recent years, I’ve seen more owners putting together serious teams, not just a bunch of buddies drinking beer and cranking in fish. That can make tournament fishing intimidating for the small boat guys. They might pre-fish half a day and go to the tournament barbeque – their heads will be spinning.
When I’m not tournament fishing, I really like bottom fishing. Its fast action and the fish are good eating. When I’m not on the water I like to go hunting. All my fishing buddies like to hunt when we’re not fishing. It offers the same challenges in a different setting. Hunting gives my brain a chance to chill out. But my true love is fishing. Even after 30 years, I still look forward to the challenge every day. I admire a guy who can do this job for 50 years and still put in 110 percent, never give up and never stop. To me, that’s the true version. That’s what it’s all about.