By Ric Burnley
It’s not often that an aspiring fisherman gets the opportunity to be taken under the wing of a living legend. Yet long before meeting Bouncer Smith, a pioneer of several fisheries and one of the most outspoken captains in our industry, Abie Raymond knew all along that he would work on the water, only ever wanting one profession. The 32-year old captain was born in Miami and started guiding inshore trips by the age of 15.
“When I was eight years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be a light tackle guide in Islamorada. We lived on Biscayne Bay and I had a kayak to fish around the canals and bay. I remember trying to catch mangrove snapper on a piece of hot dog for hours. I was truly obsessed and either fishing or reading fishing magazines every minute I wasn’t in school,” Raymond recollects. Growing up in Miami Beach, that’s what a lot of kids did—aspiring to one day fish like Jose Wejebe, Mark Sosin and Bouncer Smith. “When I got to senior high a buddy found me a job at a boat rental dock at Miami Beach Marina. Bouncer was also docked there, and I was always interested in seeing what he kept. One day, I introduced myself to Bouncer and told him that I’d work hard for him given the chance.
He invited me on the boat right then and there and we proceeded to catch a swordfish. The mate he had missed the fish with the gaff, but I did not. I eventually started mating for him whenever I could get out of school.” Soon after graduating high school, Raymond found a job on a private boat. “I had a scholarship to F.I.U., but I quit school to go fishing. Bouncer called and wished me luck before for we left chasing blue marlin. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was so green and young, and the owner and captain were brutal, but that was because I sucked. I tried really hard and finally got the hang of it, but by the time we really vibed I quit because I was tired of taking the abuse. Little did I know I was setting myself up for even more abuse with Bouncer.”
Fresh off the boat from Venezuela and now 19 years old, Raymond received a call from Bouncer asking if he was interested in being his full-time mate.
“He understood where I was coming from and never gave me any crap about not going to college or finding a real job. Still, the first three or four months I felt like I was going to cry or punch the boat every day. Then, I started doing things the way he specifically wanted, and everything came into place. We have the same personality and cutting humor. And we had the most communicative relationship two guys could ever have. For the first five or six years, after each trip we would sit on the dock box and talk about what went well and what didn’t. In the whole 13 years, we didn’t ever have a moment we were really pissed at each other. Mutual respect was key to making this work.”
The position of a mate is no easy assignment and success relies on your ability to know your role. “I was very trainable and open minded. When a captain has been doing it that long, you listen to them. Bouncer knows his stuff and I soaked it all in. I was a subordinate mate. If you can know your place and be respectful, then you will get respect back. When you start questioning the captain, thinking you know more at 21 years old, then you miss out on so much knowledge.”
Situational experience is also critical, and you might think you’re great at sailfishing in the dead of winter when there’s a crisp north swell and tailing conditions, but to produce fish in green water in May when there’s zero current is a bit different. Not only did Raymond have the fishing fundamentals in place to operate his own charter business, but 13 years with Bouncer delivered innumerable lessons that would encourage and shape him to become a successful and well-respected captain in his own right. Most importantly, Smith detailed the significance of building chemistry with clients. Following this principle that helped him win repeat business, when Bouncer retired, he wanted to make certain his regulars had a captain who would take care of them.
“Our deal was that I would get the whole thing. Client list and half of the tackle. But Evinrude went out of business and the deal Dusky made isn’t the deal they promised me. So, I ended up purchasing my own boat. And Bouncer doesn’t have a list of clients or much business organizational skills. The people who fished with me continue to do so. A lot of our clients have fished with us for over a decade. Those people still look me up, and I’m staying pretty busy,” Raymond says.
A large number of captains earn a living guiding resident and visiting anglers to bucket list catches and exciting adventures. Each is a professional in his or her own right, mastering skills through long days on the water and dedication to the craft. Their livelihoods depend solely on their ability to generate repeat business, and the only way to accomplish this is ensuring clients walk away smiling from a positive experience. The main ingredient of which is a full fish box. Right?
“Bouncer taught me a lot, but I didn’t understand the importance of it all until I went into business myself. I remember tarpon fishing with Bouncer and his clients. It was 8:58 p.m., we could have gone home 10 minutes ago, but Bouncer wanted to make one more drift. I was pissed knowing we were going to hook a tarpon and fight it for an hour and a half. Now that I own the business, I always give charters a few extra minutes of fishing. That’s one of the biggest core values that Bouncer taught me. Treat every charter as if you were paying for the trip and don’t be afraid to answer questions. If someone calls on the phone and wants to know what spinning reel you use to catch sailfish, then answer with honesty and without hesitation.
They may never book me but when a friend comes to town, they will recommend me.”
What sets Miami apart is the ease with which to set out from Biscayne Bay, Government Cut and Haulover Inlet into deep water with such a great variety of species encountered. “We always try to incorporate everyone’s dream into one plan for the day. You have a kid who wants to catch a sailfish and a father that wants a grouper. So, you put a kite rod out as you drift over the wreck. Fishing offshore is getting tougher and tougher.
I charter fish in the bay a lot, and I’m bending rods more than ever. I’m making successful trips just by fishing finger channels and bridges and not getting clients seasick when the wind is blowing. And people are having a great time and coming back to do it again.
I see my business going in the direction of fishing inshore when the wind is blowing and offshore when it is calm,” Raymond says. Abie also referenced how he’s excited the requirements of the job have changed over the years. “I’ve been looking forward to not serving drinks to the captain. If you had been in my situation you would understand. No matter how nice a captain asks you something, you want to slap him when he asks you for the thousandth time. Whether clearing seaweed off the short bait or digging in the cooler for another Diet Coke, I finally realized I was ready to rock when I knew to do something two seconds before Bouncer told me to.”
In a fitting finale to an illustrious 54-year career, this past June Bouncer Smith and first-mate Abie Raymond captured a sailfish they tagged together three years prior. Though Bouncer has tagged and released approximately 2,000 sailfish, this was the first recapture of a fish originally tagged aboard Bouncer’s Dusky and a perfect way to pass the torch. While the storybook ending to Bouncer’s career couldn’t have been scripted any better, Raymond’s next chapter is a telling tale set along the backdrop of the Magic City. We urge you to follow along at gohardfishing.com or visit Abie at Bill Bird Marina in north Miami Beach.