By Elliott Stark
What is the best time you’ve ever had with your captain? When things are good – with the right fit –fishing is great and everybody enjoys being on the boat. When things are not good, crew quits, people get fired and, whether or not you catch fish, the boat is uncomfortable. Nobody really likes this scenario.
Can you take steps to ensure that the next person you hire to man the helm is the right fit for your program? Given the complexity of the job of a sportfishing captain, there is no blueprint or standard human resources manual.
Rather than speaking to HR specialists and the like, we have surveyed owners of three highly successful operations, each of whom has enjoyed a long-tenured relationship with his captain.
The lessons gleaned from their perspectives provide a blueprint for how to approach hiring the next person to run your boat.
Secret 1 – Friendship: The Key to Finding the Right Captain
Robert Warren: Owner, Honey Hush, 62-foot Spencer, based in Morehead City, North Carolina. Captain: Chuck Lindner.
“We might have the record in the industry,” Warren begins, describing Captain Chuck Lindner. “Captain has been with us since July 1980. Some guys go through two or three captains in a season.” That is a tenure of 37-years.
It should be noted that when asked about Captain Chuck Lindner the responses are universally positive. Stories of his generosity and civic involvement – cooking for large groups of people and his son’s time as captain of the baseball team at West Point – came up before the description of his fishing abilities.
“He and I started fishing together in ’78 or ’79 before we started working together. My father saw the relationship we had as friends and hired Chuck to a three-month contract. We’ve been together ever since,” Warren says of his friend and captain. “Chuck is like my older brother—I was in his wedding, he was in mine. We watched our kids grow up together. We hunt together – do everything together.”
Jr. Davis: Owner, Wave Paver, 77-foot Bayliss, based in Port Canaveral, Florida. Captain: Russell Sinclair.
“I bought my first boat that needed a crew in 1998. I’ve been fishing with Captain Russell Sinclair for seven years,” Davis describes. “I’ve known Russell for a long time. I met him when he was 16 running a charter boat out of Port Canaveral. We became friends. I fished with him on his charter boats before we worked together. These days, I sometimes fish with him on his commercial boat. All he does is fish.”
“Russ is just a good friend. Our wives are friends. We hunt together and do family stuff together.”
Frank Rodriguez: Owner, Fa La Me, 92-foot Viking, based in Jupiter, Florida. Captain: Rob Moore.
Rodriguez and Captain Rob Moore have been fishing together for more than 15 years.
“Rob is the consummate professional, he starts out every day ready. The boat is always prepared for everything we need to do,” Rodriguez says, describing the professionalism of Moore’s approach. “Because of Rob’s approach, our boats become better conditioned through time. We always surround ourselves with good people – Rob is very selective.”
“Rob is like family. We include him and his family with our private life. He is part of the family on the boat every day, too,” Rodriguez describes.
Secret 2 – Fun: Boats Are Supposed to be Fun
“The biggest thing for the whole crew is that they really make it fun for me and my family,” Jr. Davis explains. “One thing I’ve learned, if your goal is to keep the needle of the fun meter pegged to the corner and you rely on the fish, the location, the accommodation or the boat, sometimes you’ll be let down. I leave it in the hands of the captain, and I haven’t been let down yet.”
Robert Warren offers a similar take on the same lesson. “If you own a boat long enough you’ll go through highs and lows. Sometimes you can’t do anything right—you can’t catch a fish. Then there are highs when you can’t do anything wrong,” says the veteran owner on his approach to fishing. “We’ve always stuck together as a team.”
The Fa La Me is a Viking with a high profile social media following. Frank Rodriguez and his wife Mary Ellen enjoy more than simply the fishing aspect of boat ownership.
“We have 43,000 followers on Facebook. The boat’s motto is the three F’s: Fun, Food and Fishing. We are serious about fishing, but we have fun. We always have a team meeting when we get back to the dock. At first, some guests would ask if they should leave before the team meetings—they thought they were something serious. They were Mary Ellen’s idea,” Frank says.
What do these meetings consist of?
“We gather everyone around the galley and take a celebratory shot.”
Secret 3 – Taking Care of the Captain, Taking Care of the Owner
One of the Wave Paver’s secrets to fishing success – and perhaps to the longevity of the captain/owner relationship – is one that is very wise, yet not commonly practiced. Boat maintenance and keeping track of the thousands of small details that come with running a sportfisher is part and parcel of the job.
These details and the maintenance requirements, however, can add strain to a captain over time. In order to run a sportfishing operation, after all, a captain must be as good at fixing things as a contractor, as good at diagnosing problems and performing standard maintenance as a technician, and as good at coordinating schedules as a travel agent.