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Know any up and comers? InTheBite is calling for nominations for our Young Guns features. To be eligible must be a full time sportfishing captain (private or charter) 33 years old or younger. Having a great story, running an interesting operation, or just being a good person who can catch fish will put a nomination in the running.
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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 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.
Captain Mike Merritt: 50 Years in Fishing and Still Going Strong
by Capt. Dale E. Wills
While at the helm of the 52-foot Irvin Forbes-built Billfisher, Captain Mike Merritt had a young deckhand named Arch Bracher. One day Bracher asked if he could try something different when it came to leader material. Capt. Merritt, in his easy-going style said, “Sure go ahead as long as it doesn’t cost us any fish.”
Weeks later the Billfisher was steadily doing just a little better than the remainder of the Oregon Inlet charter fleet. It was evident something was going on when one day as they approached the marina. “I’ll be behind your boat when we get in,” radioed Capt. Bull Tolson. That evening when the Billfisher backed into its slip at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Capt. John Bayliss helped with one stern line and Tolson helped tie up the other. The impromptu meeting and the tackle inspection that ensued changed white marlin fishing to this day. The year was 1988.
Prior to the Billfisher’s experiment, the entire North Carolina fleet used wire leader with ballyhoo. Bracher’s decision to use mono leader and dink ballyhoo baits, similar to his Mexico sailfishing spread, brought about change in the fleet. Bracher’s eagerness to catch more fish and Capt. Mike’s willingness to change is one of many contributions Merritt and his crews have developed for the sportfishing industry.
A Life Spent on the Water
Capt. Mike “Bubble Gum” Merritt, is 50-year fishing professional. Growing up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he was destined to live a working life mostly on the water. “At the age of six, I had a bicycle and a fishing pole and every day I could, I would ride down to the water and fish. One day a thunderstorm blew in and my mother got real worried and hopped in her car and came looking for me. When she found me, I was unphased by the storm and continued to fish. From that day on, my mother would tell anyone who listened, ‘That boy is going to be a fisherman when he grows up.’”
In 1968, fresh out of high school, Capt. Merritt’s first full-time job came as a mate on a 48-foot Manteo-built boat named Germel with Capt. Dan Lewark. “I made $90.00 a day for an offshore trip,” says Merritt. After seven years as a mate, in 1976, Merritt stepped up to the bridge on his own 40-foot Warren O’Neil, the Billfisher. “I only had a VHF radio, a compass and a Flasher for electronics. We would use landmarks for navigation. Upon returning to port from offshore, at the first sight of land, if we saw cottages, a water tower and/or a lighthouse, we were five or ten miles north of Oregon Inlet. If we just saw beaches, we were south of the inlet,” recalls Merritt. From 1976 through 1991, Merritt was a fixture in the Oregon Inlet Charter fleet along with the Billfisher boat name. Boat builders, such as Sheldon Midget, Billy Holton and Irvin Forbes each had a Billfisher name on the transom through the years. “The 52-foot Irvin Forbes was my first twin motor boat in the late 80s,” says Merritt.
“One day in 1991, while getting fuel for my charter boat, a man asked me to run his boat. At that point, I wanted to give the private gig a try. It didn’t take long before I was traveling the world. I fished Bermuda, St. Thomas, Mexico (Puerto Aventuras) and the Bahamas.” Asked about his biggest catches, Merritt reflects on some large fish. “We weighed in a 958-pound marlin in Oregon Inlet, released a bigger blue in St. Thomas and a big one in Venezuela. I’ve seen a lot of big fish in my career,” says Merritt, humbly.
When asked about his role models, Merritt reflects, “Tony and Omie Tillett come to mind, but I have just too many to name.” It turns out that the fishing is only one of the things Merritt cherishes from a life on the water. “It’s been the dock comradery and the people who make up the fishing community which have made my career so blessed. I’ve had some great times around the dock.” In a chuckle Merritt says, “The Oregon Inlet Charter Fleet is home to some of biggest pranksters you’ll find anywhere. I could go on and on about the stuff we would pull on each other.” Here is one of Merritt’s favorites.
“In the early 90s, we were fishing a tournament when a small outboard decided to try to drive through the middle of the fleet. As luck would have it, the outboard hooked up with a nice marlin. It didn’t take long before the outboard gets on the radio telling everyone how big his marlin is.”
“As time passed any boat remotely pointed in the outboard’s direction was given instructions to deviate course. The outboard continued drifting with the current and miles from where it first hooked up when the situation took on another dynamic. The captain began desperately trying to communicate with a big Japanese tanker ship.”
“’Japanese tanker, this is the outboard with the twin motors, please alter your course, we are fighting a marlin….Please turn left.’ After failed attempts to reach the ship, the desperate outboard called anyone asking if they knew what channel the tanker was on. ‘You have to use channel 13’, I responded.”
“Seconds later, with the entire charter fleet tuned in… ‘Japanese tanker, this is the twin outboard, can you please turn, you are going to run over my fish. Merritt, in his best broken accent responded, “‘Ahhhhh, twin outboard, no can turn ship.” In disgust, the outboard radioed one of buddies saying “I can’t believe he won’t turn and every one of my radios onboard were made in Japan.” Eventually, the tanker passed, and I’m not sure if the outboard ever caught the fish, but us charter captains sure had a good laugh after that,” says Merritt.
Today, Capt. Merritt has returned to the charter business and can be found at Pirate’s Cove running the Sandra D. When asked about the difference of captains and crew compared to days gone by, Merritt says candidly, “Electronics and dredges.” So what advice would you give a future captain or mate? “Choose this industry because you love meeting people and you love fishing. It takes a certain character trait to do what we do as a career. I’ve never thought about doing anything else.”
You can charter Merritt by visiting www.sandradsportfishing.com or call 252-305-2825
by Capt. Jen Copeland
Some say commercial fishermen make the best fishermen: because they are just, well, fishy. At age seven Mark DeCabia began as most fishermen do, fishing with his father. Surrounded by commercial fishermen as a boy, he and his father would go tuna fishing with friends. As Mark neared his teenaged years, he found himself frequenting New York’s commercial tuna boats – eventually landing himself a deck job at age 13. “My dad would drive me to the dock each morning at 4:00 a.m.,” says Mark. “By the time I was 15, I knew this was the only thing I wanted to do for a living.”
Mark’s father was concerned his childhood love would falter, so DeCabia promised he would go to (and finish) college, “just in case.” Four years later, with a degree in Business Management and Fisheries Science from the University of Rhode Island, Mark took a job on the Canyon Runner out of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “I started off running the boat in Miami,” he recalls. “I remember going eight for eight on sails, with a double header of swords that same night.” After a first day on the job like that, it’s no wonder that Captain Mark DeCabia hasn’t regretted a single moment since he began his fishing career.
Then 18-year-old Mark DeCabia became “Captain Mark DeCabia” – earning his ticket just one week before taking the helm of the Canyon Runner. He was working deck on a charter boat called Reel Action when a blood infection took his captain out of the game, forcing Mark to run the boat for the remainder of the season. “I was basically fed to the sharks,” he laughs. “I threw up every morning before the first ten trips I ran by myself.” Mark’s nerves finally settled, and 16 years later, he confidently splits time between Stuart, Florida and Long Island running the 52-foot Viking express called the Rebel.
“I still fish the same spots today I did as a kid,” says Mark, “but I use totally different techniques.” His modus operandi may have changed, but it has all been for the better. In 2014, DeCabia placed first in the Hamptons Offshore Invitational and placed second in 2015 in the same tournament. 2016 got him the second-place tuna award at the Montauk Canyon Challenge, and he followed that up with the MCC top boat trophy in 2017, all on the Rebel.
DeCabia’s hard-charging, private boat outlook runs a close parallel with his commercial fishing – which he still does today. “I’m the first one to the boat every morning, and the last one to leave every night, whether I’m fun fishing, commercial fishing, or tournament fishing,” he tells me. “In this business, if you’re not first, your last.” With few good, private jobs available, you must stay focused and positive to keep yours.
Mark says he is “over-prepared and confident, always staying three steps ahead” whether blue marlin fishing or targeting bait. “I try and remember on any given day there could be five guys standing on the dock waiting to take my job.” So, “when it’s time to ‘punch in’, it’s 110% until the boat is safely secured and clean.” This outlook is rooted in his dad’s advice – which Mark has taken very seriously.
With rock star influences such as Gina Lisa’s Danny Scotti, Canyon Runner’s Phil Dulanie and Northeast tuna legend Cookie Murray, I’d say whatever DeCabia took from these guys is worth its weight in gold. Scotti has been on the Gina Lisa for 31 years and is Mark’s go-to for “private” advice – like how to approach the owners when it comes to the boat. Dulanie, although he refused to give up any of his fishing “secrets,” showed Mark how to fix most of the problems that occur on a boat.
“These are the fixes you could never read from a book, they were real-life situations,” Mark points out. When looking back, Mark is smart enough to realize that the lessons these guys taught him were more valuable than any fishing secret he could ever been given. And as for Cookie, the man who he has emulated for most of his life, Mark is just happy to be competing with him head-to-head these days.
With all the different professional philosophies floating around in the world of sportfishing, this fact remains: we are only as good as those who teach us. For Captain Mark, his philosophy is plain and simple: the safety of his passengers and condition of the boat comes first, the owner’s enjoyment follows a close second, because without them, there is no boat job, and “everything else is minor.”
Confident, trustworthy, endowed with good communication skills and an ability to adapt from commercial to private and back again, 34-year-old Captain Mark DeCabia will no doubt have some young gun naming him as an influence in the years to come. They say love what you do, and Mark is a believer… “I always want to be the first out of the inlet and the last to come home because when you love something, it’s not really work.”
This Article was in our latest April/May 2018 issue of InTheBite the Professionals’ Sportfishing Magazine. We’re adding a new feature addition to go along with the ‘Young Guns of Sportfishing’ in our next June issue that we think you’ll enjoy.. CLICK HERE & SUBSCRIBE NOW to get your copy!
The Young Guns of Sportfishing
Captain Chris Kaulen, Marlin Darlin – 62-foot Spencer Yacht
by Capt. Jen Copeland
Recent evolution in the sportfishing industry is creating opportunities for younger, level-headed, smart captains. These days, many of the owners are younger, many of the boats are faster with more range. For many operations, young captains provide the perfect fit between experience and confidence that allow today’s sportfishing programs to flourish. Just as advancement in technology allows young captains to gain experience faster, being over-confident – or just plain cocky – could easily turn bad: not smart. This series showcases some of the today’s young captains who are getting it right.
At just 29-years old, Captain Chris Kaulen found himself jumping from the cockpit to the bridge in the middle of the Bahamas tournament season. Owner Bobby Jacobsen’s confidence in young Chris was realized in May of 2015. Having worked for Jacobsen the previous three years, Chris knew the boat and hoped he was ready. The pressure was on, but Jacobsen’s decision proved true in June that same year when the Marlin Darlin won the Baker’s Bay Invitational, only to repeat the win in 2016.
To what does Chris credit the seeming ease of his transition to the bridge? “Staying positive and working hard,” says Kaulen. “No one treated me any differently once I became the captain,” he said, “I didn’t have to do anything special to prove myself, I just did the job and stayed humble.”
If you are lucky enough to know “Little Chris,” you know he is humble. Soft-spoken, supportive, and friendly, Chris knows how to make you love him – unknowingly of course. Respected for his warm personality and integrity, Captain Chris has been at this boating thing for a while.
Growing up on Pumpkin Cay, an isolated island in Biscayne Bay just a half-mile from the Ocean Reef Club, Chris found himself in a small boat at a very young age. In fact, Chris drove his boat to and from school each day. For as long as he can remember he had an interest in fishing. And at 13, young Chris was freelancing and working charters for the likes of Captains George Mitchell, Greg Graham, and Ron Crisp.
Landing his first private, traveling job on Captain Kevin Dunn’s Cajun Dancer at the age of 18 soon led Kaulen to more distant locales – mating for Ohana’s Captain Eddie Wheeler and Captain Bryce Garvey’s Bree. “I fished with as many people as I could,” says Chris, “I tried to adopt the best attributes from each captain so I could create my own style, my own philosophy.”
So, what exactly makes him Captain Chris? “Attention to detail,” he insists, “you must stay ahead of things – the boat’s schedule, the boss’ schedule, the maintenance.” When you are suddenly propelled from a position of “neck-down,” it takes a little adjustment. “Trying to grasp the fact that your responsibilities are now totally different…that’s the hardest part.”
Today’s young, aspiring captain must work hard and continue to learn from his mistakes, without putting the entire program out of business. Chris believes one of the biggest worries owners may face when considering a young gun would be lack of experience. Additionally, the mate who has his eye on the helm must go above and beyond the scope of his job without stepping on any toes. “When the time is right, it will happen,” says Kaulen, “no one knows that magic number (of years) when it comes to experience, but each year – each day – counts.” Obviously, nothing beats real-world experience on the water, and Kaulen believes you must be honest with yourself and know your limitations. “Mental maturity – way past your years – is extremely important in this business,” he says. On a boat there must always be the voice of reason – a leader – and that is the captain’s job.
With a new 66-foot Spencer boat on the horizon for 2018, and a Bahamas-Caribbean tour that could wear out even the hardiest of crews, Captain Chris tries to be sure anyone who steps foot on his Darlin, enjoys sportfishing as much as he does. He continues to learn – as we all should aspire to do – at the helm of the Marlin Darlin, perfecting his style and his team in the never-ceasing quest to be a competitive force in this industry. With no plans of moving on anytime soon, this skipper believes most in leading by example: “Be happy, work as a team, continue to compete, and try to win as much as possible.” After all, happy boats catch fish, don’t they?