Welcome to “Old Salts Rule!” This feature showcases veteran captains to gain insight, share stories and laughs from those that have made a long fulfilling career as a professional. Follow the series from the beginning:
Old Salt 2: Captain Chip Shafer
A Legacy in Fishing
by Capt. Dale E. Wills
“I was going to medical school, so probably a doctor,” says Captain Chip Shafer when asked what he would have been if not a boat captain. While the title Captain may have won out over Doctor, Shafer’s medical aspirations manifest themselves while fishing. Chip orchestrates the many moving parts of a sportfish program—anglers, crew, and spread presentation—with the same calm, precise demeanor of a surgeon in the operating room. The result is clear. Ask anyone who has had the privilege of fishing with Captain Shafer at the helm and they all say the same thing: “He’s one of the best there is.”
Impact and Profile
Shafer needs very little, if any, introduction in our sportfishing circles. When it comes to fishing, Shafer has been there and done that. A charter captain for almost four decades, Shafer now runs a globetrotting private venture. Chip’s exploits in the captain’s chair would be right at home in a Hemingway novel. In addition to the truck load of tournament titles from his charter days, Shafer has guided fly angler Nick Smith to incredible numbers of billfish on fly – 18 blue marlin in a single day and two and half times that many striped marlin in a day, to name a few…
Perhaps even more impressive than his fish numbers is the long line of deckhands who were mentored under the overhang of Captain Shafer. Captains Mike Brady, Mike Everly, Arch Bracher, Dave (Big Wave) Warren, John Bayliss, Bull Tolson, Charlie Griffin, Jimmy Grant, Keith Biggs and Lawrence Rowland—and that’s just the beginning. You can’t find another captain who has had the incredible impact on this number of deckhands– many of whom continue to enjoy a prospering sportfishing career today.
Early Life and Career
Born and raised in Statesville, North Carolina, fishing has been a lifelong passion for Shafer. Chip recalls fishing backcountry ponds and lakes for brim and bass early in his youth. “I loved fishing in the ponds and just fishing for anything.” Eventually, like most of us, Shafer found the nearby saltwater- fishing coastal North Carolina.
After a year and a half at Duke University, Shafer joined the United States Marine Corps in 1967. In 1969 he was wounded in Vietnam. While recovering at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Shafer made the best kind of friend—one with a boat. They would often fish together off the beach for drum and mackerel. Eventually the two traveled offshore in search of pelagics.
After completing his military duties, Shafer was offered his first paying job as a deckhand by Captain Ivey Batten on a boat called Gulf Weed. That was in spring of 1973. “Fishing out of Odens Dock in Hatteras, I made $25 a day. The charter only paid $175 for a full day.” Reflecting on his early years in the business, “We had absolutely no laws of fishing in the ocean.”
The following season in 1974, Captain Emory Dillon on the Early Bird asked Shafer to be his mate. After a season with Capt. Dillon, Chip traveled south to Florida to expand his charter career.
In 1975 Monty Howell, father of current builder Ritchie Howell, bought a 42-foot Sheldon Midget boat to charter out of Stuart, Florida and Hatteras, North Carolina. In a tragic accident, the captain who was initially hired to run the boat was killed. Monty Howell then asked Shafer to run the boat. This turned out to be Shafer’s first captain’s job on the Temptress.
In 1976 he moved from Stuart to Fort Pierce, Florida and ran the boat for four years prior to purchasing it in 1979. In 1991, Shafer built a new Temptress—a 53’ Bobby Sullivan boat. He would fish the charter circuit—alternating between Fort Pierce and Chub Cay in the winters, Cancun in the spring and Oregon Inlet in the summer. Shafer charter fished until 2001.
“In 2001, I made the decision to go a private job, as I had always been in the charter business. I worked for Charles Nichols on the Liquidator. Two years later in the fall of 2002, I began working with Nick Smith on Old Reliable (first a 57 Spencer) then a 2005 64’ Bayliss. I still with Nick today,” says Shafer.
Lessons Learned from a Life on the Water
When asked about a lesson that has been particularly impactful, Shafer is reflective. “You have to give to receive, it’s something Omie Tillet instilled in me early in my career. You need to offer information in order to get information. If you look at the top captains, the willingness to share information with one another and having good open communication among their peers is inherit in each of them,” says Shafer.
“However, the mates are really not much different. I’ve always found that a good quality person, with good morals and intelligence will do well in this industry. It’s important to immerse a mate into fishing and then let them figure most things out for themselves. Mates share information with other mates and the crew network can really work to your advantage. Again, you have to give to receive. The biggest change is not long ago a majority of mates would work on a charter boat prior to working on a private boat. That’s not common anymore.”
Living a life around a dock, you can’t help but see some shenanigans go on among the crews. Capt. Shafer recalls that Lee Perry on the Deepwater was on the wrong end of a lot of dock jokes. “Every now and then Lee would open up his fish box and find a two-day old stinking shark inside. He’d get so mad he would say, ‘If I ever find out who did this, I’m going to cut their heart out with a watermelon knife.’”
Another silly prank was one Alan Foreman played on Lee. During the off-season Lee would work in the boat shop. Alan jokingly told Lee that the epoxy they were using looked so good that he was going to taste it sometime. One day, Alan showed up for work with a custard that resembled the epoxy and in front of Lee said, “Watch this, I’m going to try the epoxy today.” After taking a big spoonful, Lee was yelling at Alan in a panic “You are going to die! You are going to die! You can’t eat that…”
The Modern Captain’s Job
When asked about the challenges ahead for boat captains of today Shafer says, “Today the most difficult aspect of being a boat captain is the complexity and increase in the number of systems onboard. Everything is electronic and when something is not working, it can be a challenge to fix, especially if you are out of the country.”
Another change in the sportfishing industry relates to the charter dock. “Charter fishing is becoming much more challenging with the depth of fishing regulations. Charter jobs are not as common as before. I do think billfish populations are fine. The striped marlin fishing off Baja is as good as ever. I haven’t seen much change in blue marlin populations. Tuna fishing is cyclical like it always has been, and the only decline I see has been the dolphin populations. They are not as prevalent as years gone by. But also thinking back to what many call the good ol’ days, we had many days when we caught very little or nothing, too. Overall, offshore fishing is in great shape.”
When not fishing with Nick Smith chasing marlin around on fly, the IGFA Hall of Fame captain can be found walking a beach or fishing a pond when time permits. “It’s funny how I’m making a full circle in my fishing pursuits. I’m finding myself enjoying a bent rod on a bluegill or bass- just like when I was a kid,” says Shafer.
We also ask the featured captain in this Old Salts Rule to call out the next one – Captain Buddy Hooper you are on deck.