It happens every season. At some point, there is always a captain or crew member who feels they did not receive a fair share of their team’s tournament prize money. With that in mind, InTheBite performed research on the subject of a crew’s percentage. What’s fair? What’s too little, or too much?
We conducted extensive interviews with some of the sport’s top owners and captains and the results were…interesting. For those who compete in tournaments with more than a pickle dish at stake, it’s a subject that’s near and dear to both hearts and wallets. The percentage of prize money that’s awarded to the captain and crew can range from zero to 100 percent. Generally, however, the crew’s take falls somewhere in the middle.
Not surprisingly, the owners interviewed for this feature wanted to keep their input off the record. These anonymous owners felt, understandably, that the financial arrangements between themselves and their crews were private matters. To respect their privacy while representing the owner’s perspective, this article includes owners’ input while not listing their names or the boats they own.
The Agreement Disagreement
Capt. Rob Stalcup has been around the tournament scene for quite a while. When he jumped on a boat earlier this year, he looked orward to fishing a few East Coast events. He led the team to a couple high-profile wins but was disappointed to learn that his expectations for tournament pay and those of his owner were quite different when it came to the crew’s percentage.
“I’ve always been paid off the winning number,” he says. “So, I was blown away when the owner took out not only the calcutta entry but all the expenses relating to the tournament: bait, fuel, entry money and everything else. In my case, the owner was clear with the percentages, just not which number he was taking the percentages from.”
And Stalcup certainly isn’t alone. This is one of the most common misunderstandings that happens between captains and owners—deciding on what the percentage should be and what, if any, expenses are deducted from any winnings. So, what’s a fair percentage?
Part of this equation depends on where you happen to be fishing. It’s understandable that fuel is going to be a much larger expense for the guys fishing for three days, 150 miles out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Compare this to those in Stuart, Florida where the hot sailfish bite may be less than ten miles from the dock.
The owner of a high-profile East Coast charterboat who tournament fishes all over the world uses a fairly straightforward method of determining the winning percentage for his crew. “Rather than get things too complicated, we pay 20 percent right off the top of anything we win,” he says. “Think of it like a tip in a restaurant: you give 20 percent for good service. This way, the captain and mate know exactly what their winning share would be. If there’s $100,000 in the pool then their split would be $20,000.”
The owner also says he does not deduct the cost of fuel from any winnings. “I want the captain to go where he feels that he needs to in order to be competitive and give us a shot at winning,” he says. “We’ve always had an open policy on fuel – you burn what you need to burn to catch fish.” In tournaments with smaller prizes, he says the team chips in for additional tips for the captain and crew as well.
Over in the Gulf, it’s a different ballgame altogether. Teams usually spend several days prepping the boat, loading extra fuel, groceries and supplies and generally getting everything ready to spend several nights at sea. The days are long but the nights even more so with rounds of helm watches and little sleep. Throw in bad weather and it can be a real kick in the groin. Though the work may be hard, the rewards can also be significant: several Gulf Coast tournaments offer prize money that runs deep into the six figures. Even a big tuna or dolphin can be worth over $100,000.
One smile from Lady Luck can make all the work well worth it for captain and crew. So how do the Gulf guys work the split? Capt. Jimmy Crochet says his current owner rewards the team with 30 percent off the top. “I’ve worked for owners who take out expenses, entry fees and Calcutta bets in the past, and I’d say that 30 percent after expenses is probably the norm. We are fortunate that we have a terrific owner that takes great care of us,” he says. “I think it’s very generous, and we are very appreciative of this.” Crochet splits the money equally among his two mates although he is aware of some captains who take a larger percentage for themselves and split the remaining ten to 15 percent between the mates.
Capt. Myles Colley is another Gulf Coast veteran who had a great run in 2014 with several top tournament finishes along the way. He says, “On our boat, the crew gets 30 percent after expenses, which includes the fuel used to travel to and from a tournament plus what we use fishing; the entry and calcutta fees and the slip if we go to another marina. We have a three-man crew: my first mate and I get an equal share and our second mate gets a smaller share.”
Full Time vs. Walk On
So, what about teams that add additional help for tournaments—what’s a fair percentage to pay a walk-on mate or hired gun in the cockpit or tower? Capt. Tony Carrizosa fishes with a big crew down in Los Sueños, one that frequently includes several extra hands come tournament time. He correctly feels that the full-time guys should have a larger percentage of any winnings, with a smaller share going to the walk-on mates and tower spotters.
“The full-time guys are the ones doing the maintenance and upkeep on the boat, not just showing up in the morning before a tournament and hopping onboard.” When it comes to splitting any winnings, he says, “On the one hand, you have to keep the crew happy and motivated to win, but on the other hand the owner has to be happy as well. He’s the one paying not only for the boat but for all the other big nut expenses like entry fees, fuel and more. I think a 60/40 split after expenses is fair, but every situation is different.”
The Tax Man Cometh
Many tournament veterans will remember the days when a team’s winnings came in the form of a brown paper bag full of dead presidents. For the most part those days are long gone. Hit a home run today and you’d better believe that Uncle Sam will want his share.