by Winslow Taylor
The relationships dynamics involving captain, crew, angler, charterer and owner combine to create complex sportfishing personality web. Combining the fact that all personalities have their quirks and the long hours (and weeks and months) spent living and working together on a boat and you have a recipe for interesting situations – of the good and bad varieties. Some folks do things that they think are “normal” but to another person these things could be strange or make them look like a total jerk. Simply stated a bit of consideration goes a long way.
The following is a top ten list of weird or annoying character traits that can be found in fishing. Fishing is a serious thing, but remember it’s also supposed to be fun. Do you know anybody who fits the bill for any of these “Don’t Be That Guy” varieties?
The Tournament Mahi Captain
Ok, we get it, we want to catch every single fish – especially when the fishing is slow. Of course everyone is going to get fired up about a billfish. That said, the “tournament mahi captain” shows an excessive eagerness not to screw up an average fish on a charter or fun fishing day. I’ve seen folks cuss up a storm when they missed a gaff shot on the twentieth mahi of the day or replay a certain scenario 100 times after the fact. Of course, in this situation, you are certainly able to make fun of your mate back at the dock, or give the angler grief over a beer, but there is no need to make an awkward situation while underway! Not every day of fishing should be treated like the final day of the Big Rock with an 800-pounder hooked up.
Whether you like it or not, running a sportfisher is a service business and a good attitude goes a long way. It’s not that hard to be nice (or at least fake it for a few hours). The “everything/everywhere” guy can be found appearing to have no fun at all, scoffing at what others are doing, and getting mad when they don’t catch any billfish (even when they were in the meat and had a good day). Maybe you have spent multiple seasons on the Great Barrier Reef or wired a thousand blue marlin, that doesn’t give you a license to be a jerk.
I have actually found that the folks who truly have been around the block are some of the nicest, most knowledgeable captains and mates. It’s the ones who want you to think they have done it all, are the ones who really haven’t. So for the guy who always looks like he has seen everything and been everywhere, lighten up. If you aren’t having fun doing your job then maybe you should be looking for employment elsewhere.
The mate-captain can be found in the cockpit, second guessing all of the captain’s knowledge, while low-key bad mouthing the captain about what he is doing wrong. Again, this creates an awkward situation for the guests and anglers. Whatever your thoughts may be, the captain’s word is usually the most important. I’m not saying that the captain telling you to pull a spreader bar through heavy grass while mahi fishing is smart or fun, but you can at least run up the bridge and privately give him your thoughts. Offshore fishing is all about controlled chaos. It’s important to keep the lines of communications clear so everyone can have a good/productive time.
Don’t Be Weird
If you are an owner, captain, or mate, don’t be weird. I asked Jay Blount, one of the captains I used to fish with (who now lives and freelances in Hawaii), about the weirdest or most off-putting trait he remembers dealing with. He told about an owner (not the owner we worked for) who asked about installing a check valve into the gray water tank. That’s all good, and nothing out of the ordinary, until the owner came down into the hallway butt naked trying to maintain a conversation about the state of repairs. I understand that it’s the owner’s boat, but it doesn’t mean it’s the YMCA locker room. Have some decency, if it seems strange it probably is!
The Rich Cheap Guy
Boats are expensive, no question about it. Anyone who owns a sportfish has probably been successful, except for the guy who hired me a few times that is in federal prison for bank fraud (I’ll save that for another story). While I think being paid real wages in the sport fishing industry is a problem, I am not advocating that owners just throw money at their crew. That being said, don’t skimp on your captain and mate’s wages while you brag about spending $25,000 + at Teasers during the WMO week.
I spoke to a captain whose owner invited him, the mate, and the guests out to a nice dinner. When the check came the owner asked to divide it two ways, he would take himself and the guests and the captain/mate were on their own. If you invite your crew out to dinner and pick up the tab for everyone BUT your crew, that’s poor form. I’d be willing to bet your crew would have rather chilled out and eaten a frozen pizza on the boat instead of spending $75 each on dinner with the guests. Even when it’s not fishing, as long as the crew is entertaining or hanging out on the boat, it’s still work.
Dumb Stuff is Ok if They Pay
Even if your boss’s wife and kids or your charter are doing the dumbest thing possible, it’s their money and time on the water. We once had a guy that only wanted to fly-fish for mahi. The problem was that he couldn’t fly fish and was extremely uncoordinated. The only thing accomplished was fly-line in the rigger and a tangled up squid chain teaser.
We trolled a way back dink, but he refused to reel in every mahi we caught. It was pretty frustrating, especially when you are offshore and it feel like you are wasting time (or you are wasting your time). Sometimes you just have to sit back and have a laugh – after all it’s their money and they bought the boat time. If the charter wants to jig for AJ’s until their arms fall off or fly-fish for sharks, that’s their right. Moral of the story, be nice and if something stupid happens just bite your tongue (unless it puts you or the boat in danger)!
The Captain Who is Never Wrong
The captain runs the operation and is the boss of the crew, but that doesn’t give him a license to discount what anyone else thinks. Everyone comes to the table with different experiences, which can be helpful to round out a program. Whether it’s mates networking about where the fish were or knowing how to perform a repair (that the captain may not know how to do), it’s important to listen to those around you.
One example comes from the time we were provisioning the boat to head to the Abacos. After buying as much beer as we could stow aboard, the captain grabbed some baby wipes. On another boat I had recently had the glorious job of disassembling the head due to someone’s “operator error.” I knew that baby wipes weren’t going to make it past the macerator pump and told the captain the baby wipers should be a no-go. Well, he didn’t listen, and (you guessed it) we got another crash course in head assembly right before dinner…. I still don’t let that person forget about that incident! Although the captain usually has the experience, don’t discount other folks’ knowledge just because they may not have been fishing or cruising as long as you.
The Full House Charter
We all know these folks, they jump on the boat and throughout the day they use every head and somehow lay down in every bed. They leave handprints everywhere and eat random food – even the stuff that probably expired a few years ago. Again, in a charter situation, they “paid” for the boat, but it’s when these folks don’t listen to any of the ground rules that it becomes problematic. Most guests never realize the amount of cleanup time it takes for the interior alone – especially on a yacht or semi-yacht finish vessel. It’s the little things that that are noticed and appreciated by the crew – such as applying spray sun tan lotion (if allowed onboard) with the wind going off the boat or eating fried chicken or potato chips off the side of and not over the teak. A cognizant guest is an appreciated entity who will be welcome back anytime. It also helps if they bring some good food and drinks!
The Unfriendly Bridge
Fishing can be stressful – especially when it’s your profession. The term that always comes to mind is “you are only as good as your next day.” Being successful on the water takes skill, concentration, finesse, and luck. Apart from the fishing, it also takes compatible personalities. If everyone cannot get along, it’s going to be a long day and a short job.
Having fished with various folks through the years, the one variable among different boats is the approachability of the captain. I think the approachability of the captain and their “bridge accessibility” goes a long way. Many folks charter certain boats based on the captain. These guests hope to glean some information, often with the intent to book more charter days in the future.
There was a guy around North Carolina who was notorious for being a curmudgeon and having a crappy attitude, but he was a good fisherman. He usually had a job for bit, but was the consummate job jumper. After a couple of trips, most owners tired quickly of that sort of behavior. One day he took out the owner and his wife, only to yell at the wife while she was fighting an average wahoo. He didn’t have a job much longer after that. The best fisherman, with the worst attitude is going to be looking for a job more often than not. Whether it’s a fishing tip, a funny story, or a just a different view of the spread, I think it benefits captains to be approachable and give folks the option of hanging out on the bridge.
The Do Everything Mate
Again, there is no doubt that the captain is in charge, but (usually) the mate has control over the tackle and the captain has responsibilities over the vessel and the vessel’s systems. Of course the mate aids in maintenance and issues while underway, but I think it’s important for the captain to take personal responsibility over “boat stuff.” Take getting an entanglement in the running gear, for example. Most people don’t enjoy jumping off a perfectly good boat in god-knows-where, but I think it’s a bad look when the captain tells the mate to jump in the water first. Leadership is an important trait. If you never take ownership of situations and rather delegate everything away, it may foster a sense of entitlement or laziness. These situations, if lingering long enough, can create a toxic crew environment which, inevitably, leads to crew turnover and resentment.
Team work, like that needed on a sportfishing boat, requires give and take. Successful fishing over the long haul is all about playing hard and working hard. I think a well-tuned crew appears to be having a good time while enjoying their time on the water. While everyone wants to be good at their jobs, taking yourself too seriously or being the embodiment of one of these “Don’t Be That Guy” stereotypes is not good for anybody. I hope this article can aid in some personnel traits and remember, don’t be too weird!