By Carol M. Bareuther, RD
Photos by Richard Gibson
Capt. Randy Jendersee spent the first two decades of his life in the dark about the world of saltwater fishing. It’s no wonder. The television in the Jendersee family’s farmhouse in the tiny town of Corsica, South Dakota, some 90 miles west of Sioux Falls, only received three channels. And that was when the bunny ear antennas cooperated. Early 1960’s shows like “The American Sportsman” and even fresh-water favorites like “The Fisherman’s Friend,” hosted by former South Dakota Governor Joe Foss, didn’t reach the family’s living room.
Then, in 1977, Randy left the heartland to visit his sister in the Sunshine State of Florida. It wasn’t long before his life changed lock and stock, and he was soon staring down the barrel of a sportfisher’s cockpit with an angler in the chair and billfish on the line. Today, this farmboy turned award-winning, globe-trotting captain is fond of saying of his career’s start, “I went to Florida for a vacation and I’m still on it.”
Randy was born with fishing in his genes. When he wasn’t working on the farm, or attending grade school through junior high in Corsica’s one-room schoolhouse, he was casting a line in the nearby lake angling for northern pike, yellow bullhead, largemouth bass and white crappie. Sometimes, his family would take trips 40 miles east to the Missouri River, where walleye, lake trout and catfish swam. In high school, life revolved around sports for Jendersee. His 6-foot-3, 250-pound size meant he was a perfect fit for football, and he continued to toss around the old pigskin right into his first year at Sioux Falls College. When an injury sidelined him, Randy decided to drop out of college and start work in construction. A summer’s worth of hard work put enough money in his pocket to be able to visit his sister and her husband in Destin, Florida.
“I had no idea about boats, but I knew I wanted to stay in Florida. When I saw that G&S Boats were hiring, I applied,” Randy says. “I spent the next year and a half to two years building the 48-foot Mollie. When it was finished, the owner, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, decided to keep it in Destin and charter it. Capt. Cecil Woodward ran the boat. When the owner took it over to Chub Cay for a month, Woodward asked me to go along as mate. I didn’t know if I was going to get seasick. I didn’t know a wahoo from a tuna. And by the time we got there, we had caught over a dozen dolphin and wahoo, all nice size 15- to 25-pounders. I loaded them in a wheelbarrow, took them up to the cleaning station, and had to find someone to teach me how to clean them.”
After he got off the Mollie, Randy spent a year working in the offshore oil fields of Louisiana putting in enough time to get his captain’s license. That was 1980. Then, it was back to Florida, this time Palm Beach for the winter sailfish season. He ran a 42-foot Bertram for a year for an avid 80-year-old angler. One day, Randy was playing foosball in a Palm Beach bar and mentioned to his opponent that he was looking for a boat to captain. The fellow said his boss, Skip Dickerson, was looking for just such a person.
Skip had recently retired from a career in industrial water treatment and was about to take delivery of a new Bertram 54. The two met in a little barbecue place off Highway 1, hit it off and thus started Randy’s three-decade Free Enterprise era. He initially ran Skip’s first Free Enterprise, a Striker 44, for four months, until Skip got his new Bertram in September 1984. Randy helmed this for the next 15 years, with the help of mates such as John LaGrone. Skip moved up to a 65 American, Free Enterprise, which Randy ran for another 16 years along with mates that included Reid Klein and Glen Helton.
“We ran hard on that 54 Bertram. We’d go to Cozumel in the winter and spring, then over to The Bahamas in June and St. Thomas for the rest of the summer and early fall. The boss had business customers all over the country, and we’d take them out fishing, so it was a promotional boat, and we’d charter it too,” Randy says.
In 1990, Randy was named an individual trophy winner in the blue marlin category of the AFTCO Tag/Flag tournament, tagging as a captain 63 of these fish. He also tagged three white marlin and 34 sailfish—an even 100 billfish for the year. It’s an accomplishment that ranked Jendersee fifth inthe Cooperative Game Fishing Tagging Program 1990 Newsletter, just behind industry greats such as Capt. Brad Simmonds and Capt. John Bayliss.
The next year, Randy cast off on a two-year Pacific fishing trip aboard the Free Enterprise, with Skip and his family flying in to fish. From Cozumel, he took the boat through the Panama Canal and spent six months in Costa Rica. There, in the days before Los Sueños, Flamingo was the only marina and that’s where Randy docked the Free Enterprise. On one trip out from Flamingo, they fought an estimated 1,000-pound-plus black marlin on 50-pound test until it broke off 12 hours later.
Next came a month fishing out of Cabo before Randy steered north to Seattle. From there, with Skip on board, they took six weeks to cruise the inside passage up to Juneau, Alaska, catching salmon, halibut, and king crab along the way. It was then back through the Canal, to Venezuela a couple of times, followed by angling up and down the Caribbean’s Windwards and Leewards, to St. Thomas, and even north once to Maine.
Thinking back to those earlier days in the Virgin Islands, he recalls what it was like before electronics dominated navigation. “Out on the North Drop, all you had to say was the ‘saddle,’ or ‘gun site’ or ‘heartbreak ridge’ and everyone knew where you were,” Randy says, describing how the look of the islands in the distance corresponded to what today would be described by GPS coordinates.
Later, on the 65 American, Randy recalls fishing five-day stretches around the full moon in the Virgin Islands. One season, the Free Enterprise hit 107 blue marlin released—35 in July, 35 in August, and 37 in September.
“We didn’t fish tournaments all that much. Maybe a sailfish tournament in Palm Beach, and we did the Boy Scout (USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin) tournament a couple of times, finishing third in the Top Boat standings in 2003. We also fished the Biras Creek tournament over in the BVI in the 90s. I remember we released 11 blue marlin in three days and didn’t even place in the tournament. The fishing was phenomenal,” Randy says.
In November 2015, after 31 years on the Free Enterprise, Jendersee was ready to retire. He had a home in Homestead, Florida, and contemplated days perfecting his golf swing and eying the bikinis on the beach, the last a recreational pursuit he stopped when he got married for the first time three years ago at the age of 64. But sportfishing fate had another future for Randy in mind. A former client called with the news he was buying a boat and would Randy like to run it? It wasn’t long before the former football player parked his fit frame on the bridge of the 75-foot Weaver, Sodium, with Chad Damron as his new boss.
“With Chad, I said I’d like to go back to St. Thomas, and he wanted to too. We’d fish hard, 14 10- to 12-hour days, over each full moon, then take a two-week break and repeat. One day, I remember we saw 18 blue marlin, had 14 bites and caught and released eight. Then a couple of years back we won the July Open in 2017 with six blue marlin releases. Chad was the angler and we had mates Travis Butters and Tyler Valles with us,” Randy says.
Also in 2017, Sodium, with Randy at the helm and Chad in the chair, won the Scrub island Blue Marlin Invitational in the British Virgin Islands with four blue marlin releases in two days.
Randy says they’d fish in the Dominican Republic as well during this time, and since the pandemic has made shorter trips to Crooked Island in The Bahamas. “When I was in South Dakota, I had no idea what was out there,” Randy says. “Now, I’ve had the opportunity to go where the big fish live, to places where you can have so many bites that you can learn by trial and error what to do and what not to. It’s been a heck of a ride, and I’m still on it.”