By Joe Byrum
Like almost every industry, the current sportfishing landscape looks completely different than it did 40 years ago. While time changes everything all of the time, in the last five years alone advances in technology and equipment have inspired the development of outcome-driven techniques, altering the state of the mate in a particularly impactful way. With the widespread adoption of innovation, the individuals involved in our sport have changed as well, be it for better or for worse.
We all know the importance of having a competent crew. The vast majority of sportfishing operations employ a captain and at least one mate to even leave and return to the slip safely, not to mention rig baits and tackle, clean the boat and accommodate the day’s fishing group among many other integral tasks.
To further address the mate profession through anecdotal accounts, I interviewed esteemed captains around the country for a deeper understanding regarding workforce training, leadership development, crew longevity and how things have changed over the years.
When it comes to the dependence on technology, work ethic and perseverance of millennials, everyone loves to speculate…
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By Elliott Stark
As we all sit here awaiting the world’s return to normalcy, the fact that the world is more connected now than ever before is an inescapable conclusion. Everything is interwoven. Events and decisions that are made in one place can affect many others—even those that live on the opposite side of the world.
While much of this interconnectedness–and the impact that personal choice can have on others– has been focused on the health side of the equation, there are many aspects to consider. Fishing is something that is normally considered an individual activity or one that is accomplished by a small crew of people—after all part of the charm of going fishing is that you’re not doing it at the mall surrounded by 5,000 people.
Unlike the iconic image of a lone fisherman walking down a deserted beach or stream, the sportfishing industry is far from a singular entity. It rather depends on an interconnected web of commerce and purchase decisions made by people across not only the United States, but the world. As with most any business, those within the sportfishing industry rely on a series of transactions to generate the revenue they need to keep going. For many businesses around the world Covid-19 and its associated decreases in travel, consumption, and overall economic activity has interrupted the necessary chain of commerce.
As we wait this deal out, there may be nothing that we can do to speed along the freedom to travel—you couldn’t jump on a plane to your favorite international destination today if you wanted to (even if you flew down there on your own private jet, they might not let you in). There are however decisions that we can make to help sportfishing businesses weather this time of lost income and general uncertainty. For many, the essence of this movement has been captured in the phrase “Postpone, don’t cancel.”
Postpone, Don’t Cancel
If you have a trip on the books that has to be moved because of the pandemic, consider postponing it rather than canceling it. This helps charter businesses considerably. Will Drost, who operates Maverick Sportfishing (https://www.mavericksportfish.com/) out of Los Sueños explains it like this, “For us the best case is for clients to plan long range trips. We know that nothing in our industry hasn’t been affected by this, but we appreciate that most of our clients have been postponing instead of canceling trips. For our situation, everything is in place for postponing trips—airline companies have been issuing credits for displaced travel.”
Captain Kiwi Van Leeuwen who, with his wife, owns and operates the Sailfish Oasis Lodge in Guatemala (https://sailfishoasis.com/) provides a bit more context. “All of our clients have rescheduled instead of canceled, we are thankful for that. For us, it’s best if clients can reschedule for later this year instead of the same dates next year. If that happens (rescheduling for the same dates next year), we effectively lose those days. We are hopeful to be back in business by October. We feel that the Guatemalan tourist industry is in a relatively good position because the government acted early and closed the borders. We hope that this will mitigate the impact that we feel in the country a bit.”
The Charter Industry is Particularly Vulnerable
The men and women who own and operate charter boats and fishing lodges depend on visiting anglers for their livelihoods. While most within the general public might think of a fishing trip as a vacation– an optional trip that can be cancelled without too much inconvenience, the money spent by charter guests is the lifeblood of charter boat businesses and the livelihoods of those who operate them.
Operators in this segment are particularly impacted by the virus. This impact is felt on two levels. The first and most obvious lies in the impact of the travel ban. If you are physically prevented from visiting an area, you most certainly cannot fish there. This leaves operators and lodges forced to close their doors—even if it is the peak of their season. Have you seen the tuna videos coming out of Venice, Louisiana in the days leading up to when the marina was closed? It was the best it had been in years.
The travel bans, and decreased travel in places where it is not banned outright, effect fishing operators all over the world. Those international lodges that rely on US customers suffer from closed borders. There are also travel restrictions in the states as well—you can’t get into the Florida Keys without proof of residency. Marinas are closed and fishing has ground to a halt in many of the hotbeds of the charter industry—the Gulf Coast of Florida, Venice, Louisiana, Ocean City, Maryland, the Outer Banks, South Florida—you name it.
Restricted travel is but the first level of vulnerability faced by fishing operators. The second layer is less obvious, but no less daunting. For many, a fishing vacation is considered a luxury item. What is the first thing that is cut back when someone feels an economic pinch? Luxury items.
How does that happen? The economic impacts from the pandemic are widespread. Beyond those whose jobs or livelihoods have been directly affected to this point, many others have tightened their purse strings as they worry about what the future holds. Economists describe this level of impact in terms of consumer confidence.
As a general rule, when things are good and consumers (people who buy things) are confident that they will continue to be good into the future, people spend money freely. When consumers face uncertainty—such as that caused by the virus and how long its impacts will last—they tend to spend less money. When they decide to spend less money, the fishing trips and other “optional” items are the first to go. Both of these scenarios- restricted travel and dampened consumer outlook– impact the bottom line when it comes to businesses in the sportfishing space.
What Can You Do?
Let’s start with a couple of conclusions. The men and women who operate sportfishing businesses provide a hell of an important service to all of us. Unless you have your own boat or happen to have a good buddy that does, about the only chance for the average person to fish offshore is by hiring a fishing guide. Many of the people that now currently own boats can trace their desire to purchase one to an experience fishing with a guide or lodge. They are also the type of local, small businesses that every community needs.
The second consideration has two facets: Charter boat owners face bills and overhead whether they are chartering or not. Bills such as dockage, maintenance and overhead must be paid whether there are clients coming down the docks or not. Beyond the fact that bills are due whether clients come or not, charter fishing for many operators is a seasonal affair.
In most places, operators make the bulk of their income for the year during their high seasons. For some—like operators in the Bahamas, places like Destin, Florida that depend on spring break business or sailfish operators in Costa Rica—the high season is now. The effect of closures for these men and women is doubled. Not only are they forced to close now, now may be the time that they earn the money they need for the rest of the year.
Captain Adam Peeples runs One Shot Charters (http://oneshotcharters.com/) in Destin. He explains the situation like this, “The big thing for us is that we don’t know when we can get back to work. Having to refund deposits hurts. The beaches are closed through April 30. Right now I have a good May and June on the books, but if the closures are extended it could really hurt. The optimal situation for us right now would be for customers to be flexible. Without knowing when things will open, if they could reschedule to come down when they’re able that would really help.”
“The charter community here typically spends quite a bit of money over the winter time getting the boat ready for our spring break business. The average charter guy’s financial situation tends to be pretty tight—you do this because you love it not because you’re going to get super rich. You spend the money in the winter time to recoup it in the spring. The spring break season in Destin is lots of bottom fishing—four and six hour trips, but it’s a lot of business. Being down March and April, I might be down 60 or 70% on the year. Its recoverable if we have a good remainder of the year.”
“The consensus around here is that this is worse than the BP Oil Spill or the recession (of 2008).”
Now is a perfect time to….
If you and your family have been fortunate enough to not have been financially impacted by the pandemic, now might be a good time to consider planning a fishing trip. Thinking about—and better yet starting to plan for—a future fishing trip makes the time of being stuck around the house in quarantine that much more palatable. This is a direct benefit to you.
More than that however, putting a deposit down for a future trip can inject some cash into a local fishing business that could probably really use some about now. You can think of it in whatever terms you like, but the deposit could well be used for groceries or a mortgage payment for your favorite charter captain and his family. Not only can a deposit now inject some cash, having a day booked in the future helps with providing the confidence that every small business owner could use about now—that there is hope for a solid rebound once all of this craziness subsides.
Sometimes things are about fishing. Sometimes they are about humanity. Then there are times when the two interconnect. That fishing and humanity intersect so tangibly shouldn’t be surprising anymore—after all, it seems like just about everything in the world depends on something else these days.
If we can help you with any charter recommendations in the United States or beyond, shoot us a note…
Captain Shane Jarvis’ story is one of the meeting of opportunity, passion and hard work. Jarvis and his father have transformed a remote island in Panama into a first-class fishing operation – from the ground up. Here is his story.
Think running a charter boat in Miami or the Outer Banks is a tough way to make a buck on the water? Try operating a completely self-sufficient fishing lodge on a private island 12 miles off the coast of Panama. Were the need for self-sufficiency not enough, now consider that the island was bare when you bought it. Captain Shane Jarvis and his father may have undertaken the fishing equivalent of “Field of Dreams” – if you build it, they will come.
While overseeing such an operation comes with a long list of challenges, there is an equally long list of advantages. For Shane Jarvis, who owns Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge and captains one of the boats, the easy access to the famed waters of Hannibal Bank and Isla Montuosa represent the ultimate payoff for all of the hard work.
The variety of big fish, both inshore and off, found right out his front door keeps on delivering year after year and he’s created a very unique fishing lodge experience. When asked about his best fishing day off Panama, he had to think about it for a minute.
“There have been a lot over the years,” he says, “but if I had to pick one, I’d say the day we got a 50-pound dorado, a 50-pound cubera snapper, caught a bunch of tunas up to 100-pounds or so and released two black marlin.” Yes, that was all in the same day.
The now 47-year-old fisherman took his first trip to Panama with his father in 2001, and they got a taste of the fishing in the Gulf of Chiriqui. “I was amazed with all of the different species, the size of the fish and the amount of life we saw,” he recalls.
A few years later, Shane and his father worked a deal to build on some land located on Isla Paridas – a private, lush-as-a-jungle piece of land off the coast of Boca Chica. “My dad made a ‘will build to suit’ deal with a guy on the island who was a carpenter and had realized that the dream house he was building was something he couldn’t swing financially.
At the time, I was taking a year off down in Key West fishing because the company I was working for had just been bought out,” Shane says. “My dad called me up and asked me if I wanted to send my boat down to Panama to help build the new vacation house. I jumped right on it.” They shipped down a 25-foot Sea Craft and Shane packed a bag, planning to stay for six months. After a few months exploring the area, the idea of creating an upscale boutique fishing lodge with plush amenities, solid fishing boats and top-of-the-line equipment came to life.
“The fishing is off the charts, and the outfits that I had seen were not doing justice to what I thought could be done,” he says. “I started running day charters out of Boca Chica in 2004/2005 and we enlarged the plans of the houses we were building on the island. My dad sent his 33-foot World Cat down, we put up a website and I started to host clients on the island a couple of years later. We have been growing and growing every year to where we are now.”
But learning how to run a lodge and fishing operation off the grid came with a steep learning curve. The two houses on the island are totally self-reliant. Electricity comes from generators and solar panels. “There’s a lot of things that you can take for granted. Septic tanks, digging wells, pumping and storing water,” Jarvis says, describing all that goes into creating a remote lodge from the ground up. The lodge must provision itself with water, fuel, food, drinks and tackle, and be able to fix whatever breaks.
“The logistics are a bitch,” Shane admits. “Our team works hard maintaining everything and keeping all of the systems in order. Everything has to be brought out by boat, so planning is key. We have learned mostly from our mistakes over the years and have a pretty good system down now that flows relatively smoothly.”
They customized a small barge that holds 800 gallons of gas for the fishing boats and 200 gallons of diesel for generators. The barge is powered by twin 90-hp outboards and makes the 12-mile run to Boca Chica in about 45 minutes. To make things even more challenging, there’s an 18-foot tide swing in town.
So, they have to meet the fuel truck at just the right time because the tanks in the boat are gravity fed. Shane keeps a staff of six or seven guys to help him run the operation. While there are some nuances to operating the barge, the story of its creation speaks for itself.
“We bought it in Asheville, North Carolina. We had it specially made by an aluminum fabricator that does a lot of workboats. It’s basically a 30’ by 12’ x 3’ deep box that is reinforced all over. We didn’t want to install any tanks internally because they would be hard to work on if something broke, so we mounted bolt-on tanks that can be removed if we haul anything big,” Jarvis recalls.
“We modified a trailer for it. It was one of those catamaran trailers with the two platforms and the stanchion in the middle – we removed the stanchion. We had to get wide load permits in four states when we trailered it from North Carolina to Port Everglades in Florida. We shipped it down to Colon (the Caribbean entry of the Panama Canal).
I then pulled the trailer on my truck from Colon to David.” The lodge offers two guest houses — one sleeps five and the other sleeps eight. Most groups take up the entire lodge. Sometimes there may be two small groups on the property at the same time. A big group is eight anglers, though the lodge can accommodate up to 12.
The lodge runs two 33-foot World Cat center consoles and the 25-foot Sea Craft. The fishing season kicks off in November and runs through August, but the prime fishing time is from January through May. The marlin and dorado fishing is great from November to February and the tuna bite is best from March to July.
Black marlin action peaks from June through August. And the inshore fishing is good all year long. With so much variety, it’s not hard to find something biting. “The great thing about the fishery here is that there are so many different looks,” Shane says.
On a normal fishing day, he’ll run 40 to 50 miles out unless the client wants to fish inshore. Most days they’ll fish offshore and hit some inshore spots on the way in. Shane prefers to fish live bait, cast poppers and swim baits on big spinners or live-line and chunk for tuna.
“I’ll slow-troll if we want to focus on marlin, generally live-baiting with bonito,” he says. “Sometimes that doesn’t work, or bait isn’t available, and we will troll plastic if that’s what the client wants.” On the way back in, they’ll stop at one of the rocks by the island and end the day with a few rooster fish and cubera snapper. It’s a very personalized fishing experience.
When you head to Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge, you pretty much own the place. It’s just you and your group, the boats and the Pacific Ocean as your playground. Given how smoothly it flows now, it may be easy to forget that the fishing and the logistics are in many ways the result of Jarvis mastering the learning curve.
by Dave Ferrell
Taking the helm of a sportfishing boat, travelling the world’s oceans in pursuit of billfish, represents a “dream job” for a whole lot of people…many of which have never spent much time offshore. The image of a tanned captain, beard wagging in the sea breeze, steering the boat over the horizon with nothing but freedom and fishing on the calendar for the days ahead, fuels a lot of daydreams in corporate boardrooms all across America. It’s like being a quarterback for the Dolphins (Give me a break, I’m from Florida!) or photo editor for Playboy magazine…you just can’t imagine having a bad day at the office!
Well, you all know that while that there are some incredible perks that may come along with the job – travel to foreign hotspots; extra tournament money; insane bites; and making incredible memories. The captain’s chair, however, also comes with a whole host of pitfalls and enormous responsibilities – not the least of which is having the lives of your crew and guests in the palm of your hand.
Along with all the life-and-death stuff, a captain also takes care of a state-of-the-art piece of functional artwork that may cost many millions of dollars. You almost need to be a museum curator and an industrial engineer rolled into one to care of one of these machines, and we haven’t even started fishing yet! If all of this weren’t enough, a captain must also skillfully navigate a whole host of egos and character flaws that find their way onboard. You know the type – the psychotic mates that seemed just fine back on the dock or an owner’s guests that can drink more liquor in one day than an entire frat house consumes on homecoming weekend!
Factor in the competitive fishing aspect, whether that means tournament success or just keeping up with the rest of the dock every day, and the captain’s chair turns into a hot seat rather quickly if your boat doesn’t live up to the owner’s expectations. As dream jobs go, it’s one of the toughest ones there is. Amazingly enough, there’s no one route to the captain’s chair. If there ever was one single path, it’s no doubt changed dramatically over the last 25 years or so, just as certain aspects and responsibilities of the job have as well.
Run Before You Fly
One of the few things you can get captains to agree on is that you have to be a good mate before you can be a good captain. I first met Capt. Newt Cagle while he was working the deck for the legendary Capt. Butch Cox at Marlin U in the Dominican Republic. He instantly impressed me with his teak-side manner, treating my students like royalty and patiently answering all their questions as politely as possible…even the most absurd ones. He was an excellent mate and has since become a successful captain on the tournament trail. That’s not a coincidence. “A captain is only as good as his mate. A good mate really makes the captain shine. No matter how good the guy upstairs is, if you don’t have a good mate things aren’t going to go well.”
Legendary Capt. Randy Baker came to fame as one of the best mates in the world, not as a captain. He’s since made quite a name for himself upstairs as well. Baker got his start on his father’s charterboat and on the docks in Destin, Florida. He began working on private boats in his teens and soon found himself working on the most prestigious fishing team in the world, Dunaway’s fabulous Madam and Hooker operation. “I preferred the mating part in my early days. But in my opinion you can’t be a good captain unless you’ve been a good mate for a while…you really need to know both sides of it,” says Baker. “It’s very important to get on a good boat that travels and fishes a lot. You have to get some good time on the water. You definitely need to be a mate before you step up to the wheel. That way, you know what the guy’s going through down in the pit.”
Baker’s first day as a captain was on the Hooker, a pretty sweet first captain’s gig. “I mated on the boat for several years, and after a while, I became like the second captain. Whenever Trevor [Cockle] had to leave or take care of something, I’d run the boat. My first full-time captain’s job was with Jerry Dunaway when we built the 43-foot Hooker that was sent to Madeira. Fishing and working on boats is all I’ve ever done…I’ve never had a job on land.”
Capt. Bill Harrison got his start on Miami’s legendary Pier 5 in the early 50s. He went from working the decks of full time charter boats to chasing blue marlin all over the Caribbean with Ralph Christianson. He agrees with Baker and Cagle and thinks it’s imperative that a captain starts out as mate. “I like those guys who are doing the same things at 60 that they were doing at six,” says Harrison. “A lot of guys never even cared about becoming a captain. They were good mates and they enjoyed doing that. It was a 9 to 5 job for those guys back then. They were in it to make a day’s pay. They’d get off the boat and didn’t want to talk about fishing or anything like that. It was just a job. Sometimes these guys would be 30, 40 or 50 years old.”
Harrison says that the reason the mates and captains at Pier Five were so good was that they pursued a wide variety of different species. “We learned how to catch everything because we would sell it. We could catch sharks, groupers, mackerels, whatever was running we were fishing for it. This translated to learning a lot of different fishing techniques,” says Harrison.
On that first trip, Newt told me that he wanted to be the captain of a sportfishing boat for as long as he could remember…he never wanted to do anything else. “I was very lucky to grow up around boats and fishing, so it’s all I really ever knew. My father was an owner operator and my uncle owned a charterboat. I started out by washing boats for free, just so I could ride out and be a part of the team. I’d help the mate out, watch the baits and do anything just to learn from those guys. That’s something that’s changed quite a bit. There’s no longer any kids coming around these days with the burning desire to work on the boat or get the chance to be around the boat. Nowadays when a kid wants to go fishing, he wants to know exactly what he’s going to get paid and he already has a list of demands for me! I would do anything just to get to go fishing. I’d drive on the ride out or in, let the captain take a nap, do anything just for the chance to go. Kids today won’t even do that now. Everybody you talk to is going to give you the same story,” says Cagle.
Keeping Up Electronically
One of the greatest challenges that today’s captains face is the rapid pace at which ship’s systems evolve. From the complex navigation and communication suites on the flybridge to the electronic engine controls down below and the high-tech A/V equipment in the salon, the race to keep up with the latest and greatest, or just to keep things working properly, can run a crew ragged. Experience with how boats are put together and how all these systems operate and interact goes a long way these days.
“My Dad built several boats and I was always very involved in the build. My Dad was a very hands-on guy, so it was a sad day around here if he had to call a mechanic or someone to fix something. I try to fix everything on the boat by myself, but I also realize that a man has to realize his limitations,” says Cagle. “You can screw something up worse if you try to fix it without knowing what you are doing.”
“Nowadays you really can’t do anything with the motors. If you get a problem and try and tackle it yourself you can make it worse or mess up your warranties,” says Cagle. “One thing that has really changed things for me has been the internet. Instead of calling my Dad or other people, I can just look online. I hate to say it, but if I have a problem or project, I have no problem going online to read other people’s advice on how to go about fixing it. This is especially helpful with my electronics. Instead of pushing buttons for hours on end, I can Google the problem and find several ways to do what I need to do.”
Baker grew up around boats so maintenance and mechanicals are second nature to him, but even he takes pause when it comes to messing around too much with the today’s new engines. “I can do all the maintenance and troubleshooting to a degree, but there’s so much computer stuff going on it’s better to just have the guys hook it up to the laptop,” says Baker. “I’m kind of old school that way. It’s been a little hard keeping up with all that stuff…I’m not that computer literate myself.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no text book to live by,” says Cagle. “There’s no standard operating procedure on how to be a boat captain or how to be a mate. It’s all about what you learned from the guys you worked for in the past. How they did things is normally how you do things. You just have to use your best judgement. There’s no manual you can refer to. The only thing you can do is hope you had a good teacher along the way.”
By Elliott Stark
Although you have to be pretty dedicated to fishing to buy and run a bluewater charter boat, there are some people whose desire to make a sportfishing career happen goes the extra mile. Captain Chris Kubik is one of those people. Having grown up in Atlanta, Kubik travelled to the Outer Banks in the summers as a child. When he was 16, he saved up enough to charter a boat. After catching a white marlin, he was hooked.
Growing up Kubik would read anything about fishing he could get his hands on – magazines, fishing reports, you name it. “I read a story about a guy who wanted to fish and headed to the dock to start handing out ice until he got a job fishing…So that’s what I did,” Kubik recalls.
“I loaded up my Honda Accord and headed to Oregon Inlet. I drove overnight from Atlanta, it took about nine hours. I got there early and slept in my car for an hour and I started handing out ice. I got a job on an inshore boat about three weeks later and started picking up freelance offshore trips from there,” he says.
Kubik rented a place to sleep while waiting for his fishing dreams to materialize. Does this sound like an awesome thing to do? “It definitely was not awesome. It was terrible. I rented a piece of crap trailer – it was the most God-awful place you could imagine. It was rented by the week, if that tells you anything. There was a house on some land with a bunch of trailers on the property. It was a bunch of crackheads and me. I was afraid to unload my stuff out of my car because they might have stolen it,” Kubik says.
Kubik worked on the inshore boat over the summer and soon made friends with a mate who had an extra room where he stayed. His living conditions improved and Kubik has never looked back. “Fin Gaddy had an opening,” Chris recalls. An owner/operator, Gaddy runs the Qualifier, a 54-foot Mann, out of Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. “I knew the mate who was leaving and Fin let me freelance for a couple of days. I’m not sure why he hired me because to be honest at the time I was not very good… I guess he thought he could teach me and he did.”
Kubik would fish with Gaddy for ten years. Fin provides a bit of perspective on what makes Kubik such a force on the water. “He just has a competitive spirit about him. When I first met him, he’d only fished a little bit offshore. He was such a genuinely nice and sincere person that it almost made me uncomfortable,” Gaddy says with a bit of a laugh. Soon after hiring Kubik, Gaddy and the Qualifier headed to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. “He’d never caught a sailfish. After two days he’d caught 58. It was sort of a trial by fire. Chris got to learn in the right places. It was his dream to come here and fish and he made it happen.”
“Fin taught me everything I know about marlin fishing – teasers, dredges, maneuvering on fish. Attention to detail was the biggest thing – the importance of keeping everything perfect… knots, connections, everything. He is very meticulous in that regard,” Kubik recalls. “If he wanted to teach me to rig something on our day off, he would pull out five or six mackerel and show me how to do it. A lot of guys won’t do that because they don’t want to waste the bait.”
“When I left the Qualifier, I started mating on the Point Runner. I would run it when Capt. Danny Wadsworth (owner/operator) needed a day off. I worked there for three years and bought it last year,” says Kubik. The Point Runner is a 60-foot Guthrie powered by c12.9 Cats. Kubik’s operation is based out of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. Kubik follows in one of sportfishing’s greatest traditions – the North Carolina owner/operator charterman.
When asked about the lessons he has learned along the way, Kubik provides some wise perspective. “Spend time learning before you think about moving up,” he says. Advice to young guys breaking into the industry? “Don’t feel like you deserve anything… because you don’t. These days it seems like there is a lot of entitlement. All the young kids want to be paid to ride out. Don’t be afraid to start on the bottom and work your way up. If you work hard and are motivated, you’ll succeed in fishing. If you look around at tournaments, most guys pull the same thing. But if you pay attention to detail, you can stand out.”
You can find Captain Chris Kubik and the Point Runner available for charter out of Oregon Inlet most of the year. In the winter time, Kubik runs a private boat – the Sea Hag, a 61-foot Blackwell – in Florida and Isla Mujeres. If you’d like to book a trip with Captain Chris Kubik, send him a note at Chris@pointrunner.com
or visit www.pointrunner.com.
by Dave Ferrell
Capt. Peter B. Wright, a guy that’s caught quite a lot of giant marlin, often says that the best fishing teams aren’t determined by how big a fish they catch…It’s how many they catch that matters. Wright’s logic says that you can’t determine the exact size of the fish that takes your bait, but you can control how many bites you get, and how many fish you successfully capture out of those bites.
Therefore, it is the team that can get a bite, catch a fish and then redeploy the baits quickly to get yet another bite that usually comes out on top in a numbers-based release event. It is for this reason that any team that places in the top five of an east Florida sailfish tournament can probably be plopped down in any of the world’s billfish hot spots and be kicking butt in no time at all. Fishing for sails in Florida is a numbers game. Those who play it seem to be getting faster and more efficient with every passing season.
Change is Good
While it might not seem like it to those close to the sport, a lot of things have changed over the years for those targeting sails. Not too long ago, it was wire leaders and split-tailed mullet that caught all the sails from West Palm to Key West. These days its dredge fishing, circle hooks, 40-pound fluorocarbon leaders and live-bait kite fishing that dominates the scene. When the bite gets hot, usually during the winter months, double digit days become commonplace and good crews can really rack up the numbers. Catching double digit Florida sails is not as easy as many people think…Atlantic sails can be finicky on the bite and only a tight-lipped white marlin is harder to hook than a petite Palm Beach sail.
Two changes are perhaps the most profound. For one thing, we don’t keep them anymore. That leaves a lot more of them available for you to catch. “The first Miami Billfish Tournament was a one-point-per-pound event. The second year it was a hybrid with points for release and killed fish,” says Capt. Ray Rosher, owner the Miss Britt out of Miami, Florida. “Later on, we all complained bitterly when we were forced to use circle hooks in the tournaments. Now we would pay double to get to use them…sometimes, change is good.” Those two changes alone, the advent of the release ethic and the use of circle hooks, probably contribute as much, or more, to today’s double-digit numbers than any learned technique. Besides knowing how to kite fish, of course.
The practice of fishing live baits on circle hooks, dangling the baits just at, or below the water’s surface, is probably the most effective way to catch good numbers of sailfish, especially if they are concentrated in a certain area or depth. Capt. Bouncer Smith, who charter fishes his Bouncer’s Dusky, out of Miami, is an expert kite fisherman and has seen quite a few innovations in the game. “I had a customer one time that was watching me struggle with some helium balloons on a calm day. He decided he was going to help me out and invent a kite-shaped helium balloon,” said Bouncer. “He tinkered with the idea for a couple of years and tried to come up with a helium-filled kite that measured 36 x 36 x 4 inches. It had a lot of potential, but it never came to fruition.”
“Probably the two most notable things I’ve seen recently are the use of Mylar dredges in the kite spread and the use of underwater lights during the daytime,” says Bouncer. “They will take a dredge teaser, fill it with Mylar strips with ballyhoo or some other baitfish imprinted on them, and then hang it under a bullet float in between two kites.” Wave and wind action bobs the loaded dredge up and down and brings fish into sight range of the kite baits. “Guys are also strobing their underwater lights during the day to get fish’s attention as well,” says Bouncer.
“I usually use a sea anchor most of the time so that requires power fishing. This winter I plan on hanging one of those mylar dredges right underneath the center console. I think it will do well underneath the boat,” he says.
Not one to stay comfortable in the way he does things, Bouncer is willing to give anything a go if he thinks it might bring more action. “At one time, we put some underwater speakers out to see if they would attract sails and get them to come to the boat. We played the same noise that scientists use to call sharks [low frequency, pulsed, white noise], but it didn’t seem to work for us,” said Bouncer.
“I’m waiting for the day when a guy pulls his kites in and starts flying his lines out on a pair of drones! Can you imagine that? Not having to worry about the wind? Just two drones sitting out there at the perfect height…not even having to watch them? That would be the cat’s meow,” says Bouncer.
Good numbers only breed more innovation, as crews try to catch just one more fish than the guys in the next slip. Few work harder at trying to catch more fish, quickly and efficiently than Rosher. On top of his charter boat operations, Rosher also owns R&R Tackle – a company that manufactures all manner of innovative tackle and accessories. Most of the products he sells came about by trying to fulfill a need that he encountered on his daily outings.
Even so, he doesn’t make or sell either of his first two picks for recent great sailfish innovations. “One of the big changes,” says Rosher, “is the use of super-fast electric kite reels to retrieve the kites. Consequently, these reels have taught the guys the benefits of speed. We all have a basic understanding of how to take care of our baits, make the proper rigs, set up for a drift correctly etc. Now, it’s become a lot like NASCAR, where the quickest pit crews get the cars around faster. In fishing, the crew that gets the bites, and then redeploys quickly, catches more double and triples…and wins more tournaments,” says Rosher.
Rosher uses Hooker kite reels for several reasons. “I believe they are the fastest kite reels out there,” he says. “I don’t have experience with a lot of the other brands, but these are pretty fast reels. Guys used to be happy just having ANY electric reel, now we have these ultra-fast ones that can clear big marks. This allows you to put four clips on a kite line instead of three, which allows you to fish four lines on each side. And all four clips can fit on one kite reel.”
Even something so seemingly insignificant as a kite clip can become an item of intense scrutiny in Rosher’s quest for increased speed and efficiency. Rosher’s newly designed M2 clips are a fraction of the weight of traditional clips and excel on day’s with very light winds. “They work in all winds actually, but they really help on calm days. Even if you are using helium assist, kite lines will sag on calm days, and any added weight makes them sag even more. If your kite line is sagging and you get bit, a fish can burn through your other baits in an instant. Elevation is your friend in kite fishing. If your kite isn’t sagging you can lift the other baits out of the water and then get another bite. These clips allow you to fish more clips on very calm days.”
The additional clip also gives you the option of putting more baits out when one gets bit. “If the long gets bit, you can advance the other two baits and add another short. This puts a new bait right back into the spot where you got the first bite and results in a large number of doubles and triples,” says Rosher. “During a recent event we had some pretty tough fishing, but we got a bite on our right long – our shallowest bait. We backed up on it and caught it. I decided to put all of our stuff out a little shallower. By the time we had caught that one fish, all of our baits were up in our little tubes and I was moving an 1/8th of a mile back up in front of the pack. We ended up catching seven of them and doubled the next boat. I’m not trying to be some kind of braggart either, I’m just saying that good team work – speed and efficiency – wins tournaments.”
Advancements in kite design also allow you to spend more days on the water. “Kites have improved significantly,” says Rosher. “With both Lewis and SFE putting a lot of emphasis on light and heavy wind models. The ultralights really help if they can keep me from having to blow up a balloon with helium.”
As always, picking the right reel for the job is critical, especially when dealing with the long distances and light tackle commonly used when targeting sails with kites. “All of my reels are designed specifically for live bait sail fishing. Which means they have to have a high speed retrieve and very consistent drags. The reel I use is the Penn Fathom 40 NLDHS (Narrow Lever Drag High Speed). It retails for $249 and that’s very reasonable…I’m currently on my third season with the reels on my boat. There are others that do the same thing, but these are the ones I can talk about because I use them every day.”
Details Make a Difference
Nowhere was it more evident on how far Rosher will go to improve efficiency than when he talked about the design on his new rigging needles for live baits. “We like to bridle our live baits when kite fishing and we use a needle that we made to use with our specific bands,” he says. “Instead of a hole, it has a restrictor that lets you snap a band in place quickly and easily. It’s a synthetic needle [not metal] with soft edges so you can’t snag or damage a band. I tried to make them of metal, but I couldn’t make them as soft as I needed them to be. These are plenty strong enough to do the job, plus I can round the edges and flatten the sides to keep them from rolling around on a flat surface.”
“Our rigging bands come in two sizes, ½-inch and 1 3/8-inch, in either black or clear. They are made to our exact specifications because it’s really hard to get that sweet spot of being strong but not too strong. They need to hold the bait, but then let it go away on the hookup. You don’t want them to stay too well attached. I saw in Australia how those big baits tied on with 130-pound Dacron wouldn’t come off and the fish would come up shaking its head, throwing the whole thing away.”
It’s no secret that boats frequently placing near the top of most sailfish tournaments in south Florida use pen-raised live baits. Rosher, who does quite well in tournaments, is known as a master at raising and keeping live baits. “I put all of our focus on products that I needed…things I couldn’t find out in the marketplace. Our bait pens come with a food tray in them, and we even sell food…wet or dry. Our double fine mesh bait nets allow you to transfer large amounts of live baits very quickly, without damaging the slime layer. They even have a clear plastic bottom that holds water to keep them lubricated, but also fools the baits into swimming straight into the net instead of trying to avoid it.” Rosher even makes small bait tubes for pilchards and goggle eyes that feature adjustable, individual flow controls and that allow you to store bridled baits ready for deployment as soon as the boat stops.
Old School Too
Kite fishing might have inched ahead with more recent sail fishing innovations, and that’s just fine for traditional troll fisherman like Tony Huerta, owner of the Lo Que Sea. Huerta and crew are regular top five finishers in many of the most prestigious marlin and sailfish tournaments in south Florida and the Bahamas. Huerta chuckled when I asked him what, if anything, he’s been doing differently over the last few years that he thought might have improved his odds.
“We are doing the exact same things. We might pull a bigger dredge on tournament days – triples or even quads, but nothing much is different. We’ve got a blue and white dredge on one side, and a blue and black on the other. We still pull green squids and a blue and white express with a mackerel in it. We prospect one side, all day long, even in sunny conditions. A lot of boats use high speed reels, but we still use TLD 20 two speeds. I think a lot of anglers pull the baits away from the fish with the high speeds. There’s really not much to it…run them over and hang on to the ones you see,” he says.
Oh, if it were just that easy.
VIDEO: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Costa Rica sea mounts with Will Drost, and our friends at Maverick Sportfishing Costa Rica.
Grab the latest Oct/Nov issue for a story about one of the best fisheries in the world out of Los Sueños Resort & Marina.
Exile Charters a.k.a. Big Fish Grenada is a charter program based out of Grenada where the offshore fishing has the potential to be super slamming! In as little as a 5-10 mile run you can have sailfish balling bait, big Alison Tunas skying out on flying fish, Blue Marlin chasing the tunas and skipjacks, and White Marlin and spearfish roaming around at the same time. Grenada is a must fish location that offers year round fishing with it’s prime being December through May where you can expect multiple shots at sailfish, and the potential for a Grand Slam is very real any day as well as the opportunity to get strapped into the harness on a big Alison Tuna which are typically 100-200 pounders. Grenada also offers great wahoo fishing on it’s steep drops around the island year round as well as some good mahi action at random.
If you really want to experience Grenada’s fishery and get a real shot at seeing everything its waters have to offer, we recommend coming to fish 3-5 full days. Big Fish Grenada offers Full Day (8+ hours) and Half Day (5 hour) fishing trips on Exile 65 with Captain Ricky Wheeler and crew. Trips available on Exile with Dr. Frank Pettisani and others are Full Day (8+ hours) and Half Day (4 hour) fishing trips. Full Day Fishing Trips are highly recommended as it gives the crew the opportunity to get you on the fish and stay on them. At Big Fish Grenada, we want to get you on the fish and stay on them to increase the odds of catching you a fish that will forever remain engraved in your memory. Who wouldn’t want more time fishing on the beautiful blue waters of Grenada?
Not only is Grenada a must fish location, but it is becoming a must visit destination as well! Grenada is a very fun and safe island with plenty of flight options from the United States. It boasts various levels of accommodations from modest beachfront hotels to lavish villas and resorts. Grand Anse Beach has been labeled as one of the top ten beaches in the world! Accommodations are a close drive from the airport including the Big Fish Grenada Boats (20 minutes from the airport). If you’re a foodie, look no further as Grenada is known as the Spice Island and shows why at the many restaurants around the island that offer various choices of cuisines. Not everyone in your group looking to go fishing? There are plenty of activities to do aside from fishing such as snorkeling, diving, dune buggy tours, visiting Grenada’s rainforest and hiking to the exotic waterfalls, and so much more.
Boats available for charter with Big Fish Grenada are Exile 65, a 65’ Paul Mann Custom Sportfishing Boat, and Exile, a 45’ Hatteras Sportfishing Boat that we have customized to be a sportfishing machine. Both boats are incredible fishing platforms and offer the comfort and extra amenities to make your day on the water very enjoyable. You can be sure to have a trip to remember with Big Fish Grenada when you couple these boats with Crews that have so much fishing experience that shines through in top tournament finishes in numerous locations, a pure love for fishing, and the willingness to share their knowledge and the amazing experience of being on the water with others everyday.
Exile Charters has a lot of experience in the charter industry starting with Dr. Frank Pettisani and his boat Exile that spent the 90s running trips in Venezuela with Captain Luis Suarez. In the 2000s, Exile came back to New Jersey where Dr. Pettisani found Captain Ricky Wheeler. These two fished together for quite some time in New Jersey placing in many tournaments together and running charters until Ricky took the boat back to the Southern Caribbean again in 2010. Frank fished in Grenada almost every Winter since then with Exile and has placed 3 out of the last 4 times he has fished in the Spice Island Billfish Tournament in Grenada winning once with Captain Jimmy Grant at the helm, once with Captain Ricky Wheeler at the helm, and last year he placed 3rd with himself at the helm. Whether he is the Captain, the Mate, or the Angler, he is a major asset to the crew. Dr. Pettisani is also a great teacher for those looking to sharpen their skills as an angler and does whatever possible to help his guests have an amazing time on the water.
In the Summer of 2016 Dr. Pettisani acquired the 65’ Paul Mann Sportfishing Boat he named Exile 65, and Captain Ricky Wheeler has been fishing it nonstop ever since running trips in New Jersey, Mexico, the Bahamas, and now in Grenada’s incredible offshore fishery. Captain Ricky Wheeler is no stranger to the offshore fishing scene. Ricky has set 10 IGFA Line Class Records (8 of which are still holding) and 5 IGFA All Tackle Length Records as a Captain. He also has plenty of tournament wins and placements to his credit as both a Captain and a Mate, and continues to be highly competitive year in and year out. His passion and high level of enthusiasm for sportfishing shines through on every trip which makes him an absolute pleasure to fish with. He loves to teach and help people get on the fish of a lifetime every opportunity he gets. Fishing is all about having fun on the water, and Captain Ricky Wheeler wants to be sure everyone is having as much fun as him on every trip.
Grenada is sure to offer something fun for everyone, so come down with the family, with your friends, or even a couples trip and enjoy what this amazing island has to offer. From fishing with Big Fish Grenada to all of the extracurricular activities, Grenada will not disappoint!
by Capt. Jen Copeland
When the owner of Canyon Runner Charters, Captain Adam LaRosa, sends a message nominating one of his captains be featured in a future Young Guns expose’, it’s quite an endorsement. Rarely does an owner have the time to read such features, but to have him take the time to describe his captain is inspiring. Originally from Westport, Connecticut, Captain Deane Lambros, one of our younger guns, runs and oversees much of the Canyon Runner operations – from maintenance to charter trips. Deane has worked for the company since he was 19.
Six years ago, Lambros was in the middle of an oil change when Mr. LaRosa approached him with an opportunity that changed his life. One of the Runner’s captains was unable to make a scheduled trip and LaRosa asked if 22-year-old Deane was comfortable running the boat. Without hesitation, his answer was an unequivocal, “Yes.”
With three years of training fresh in his mind, Captain Deane took the helm of his first Canyon Runner charter. Banking on the confidence LaRosa had in him, and remembering the old adage “safety first,” Lambros managed to keep it together enough to produce a successful trip. “Being totally in charge for the first time was a real challenge,” says Lambros. The young captain recalls being a bit out of his comfort zone on his first trip. “I was dealing with fog and trying to keep the anxiety at bay, all the while smiling and producing bites,” he recalls. Lambros’ pep talk to himself that day was a familiar one to anyone who makes a living in this line of work – one that we all have to occasionally remind ourselves of. “We’re just going fishing.”
Today with 300+ giant tunas to his credit, some 15,000 hours of wheel time, and over ten top three tournament finishes under his belt, Captain Deane has put the work in by fishing hard, fishing fast and having fun while doing it. All traits of a great captain… traits he learned at Canyon Runner. At 28, Captain Deane Lambros names nearly all past and present Canyon Runner captains as his professional influences – each bringing certain philosophies and skills to Deane’s attention. From the knowledge he’s gained at Canyon Runner, he is able to understand the needs of his charters and is confident in the critical decisions that must be made day after day. As importantly, Lambros reads between the boss’ lines in order to compliment his personality and smoothly run a business in the aggressive northeast charter industry.
No matter how grateful he may be to the “A” list of qualified professional influences, Deane gives the first and foremost credit to his parents for the example they’ve set. According to Lambros, it was his parents who “rigorously reinforced” a strong and honest work ethic during his childhood. His father, who still works full-time at age 86, continues to lead by example to this day.
Lambros takes his job very seriously – something all prospective captains should aspire to do. He believes young men need to prove themselves to others by demonstrating they are polished, conscientious and driven. “It’s refreshing to see a young person wanting to be part of a team and asking questions with a willingness to learn, and if you put in the effort, you will succeed.”
Mates who put safety first and represent themselves in a manner which is non-threatening to the charter guests are an important part of the customer experience. For a charter operation, those who can’t relate with people put themselves out of the running for advancement. Whether charter or private, a young mate’s attitude toward his job is a direct reflection of himself. According to Deane, “There isn’t a single boat owner who wants a reckless, unprofessional captain running their boat.”
Captain Deane Lambros’ professional philosophy is one that sets him well for decades to come. His outlook is characterized by a high level of organizational skill, situational awareness, and an ability to “play well with others.” He executes a meticulous maintenance schedule that ensures tools and spare parts for repairs on the fly are readily available, keeping the program seamless and uninterrupted.
Mature and well-spoken, Lambros’ level-headed personality has allowed him to rise up quickly in LaRosa’s army of Canyon Runners. “I have been able to accomplish in ten years at Canyon Runner what may have taken me 30 years in the private sector,” he says. “Joining a charter program will plain and simply give you a fast learning curve.”
For a young man not yet 30, Lambros’ candid understanding of what it takes to succeed in his line of work is impressive. “Charter fishing is an industry of customer service,” Deane insists. “We are expectation managers. You must know what is expected of you by the owner, the guests, and the crew. You then draw from past experiences when the weather gets dicey, the fish get finicky or the boat breaks down.” Captain Deane fully understands the many facets that go along with charter fishing. There is little doubt that owner Adam LaRosa is thankful for this—perhaps that encouraged Deane’s nomination.