By Charlie Levine
One of Capt. Alex Tallman’s core values is to always be friendly and respectful to clients and other fishermen. This mantra has served him well as a young captain who scored his dream job, on his dream boat. The Florida-raised Tallman has been running the 63 Ricky Scarborough, Big Smooth, owned by Steve Johnson. Tallman met Johnson through a mutual acquaintance after Johnson purchased some property at Baker’s Bay in the Bahamas and stationed a 39-foot Nor-Tech center console there.
“Steve showed me the properties and the center console,” Tallman says. “I had spent ten years in that area, so I knew it very well. I told him that I liked the setup, but I wanted to fish on a sportfish boat. He said, ‘OK, why don’t you go find one?’ So, that’s what I did.” They purchased the Waterman a 2015 Ricky Scarborough and took to updating her to meet the needs of Bahamas/East Coast operation. “This is one of my favorite boats that I’ve ever been on,” Tallman says. “She’s quick, not too big, and easy to maintain.”
Growing up in Florida, Tallman always had an affinity for fishing. As a young boy he targeted bass and would hit the local lakes whenever he could. He eventually graduated to salt water fishing and would ride his bike down to Juno Pier to fish for snook. He’d save any money he got his hands on to go out on the Blue Heron drift boat out of Jupiter.
He inherited a desire to work on the water from his family which had many ties to the maritime world. His uncle, mother and grandfather all carved out careers on boats. “I always wanted to pursue a job on the water,” Tallman says. “I worked at Jonathan’s Landing Marina through high school, managing the marina’s fleet of boats. It was maybe 40 boats that I would kind of take care of and show people how to use, everything from center consoles to 50-foot cabin cruisers.”
After high school, Tallman attended the Chapman School of Seamanship, his mom’s alma mater, and graduated with a 100 Ton Master Captain’s License. With his license in hand, Tallman hopped on a 75-foot Hatteras motoryacht and spent a year in the Bahamas. “That was a great experience,” he says. “They had a center console as well. We’d fish and spearfish and that kept me interested. I learned how to deal with higher-end owners and keep a really tight boat. The captain was a real stickler and taught me everything from how to turn down beds to cleaning the interior and exterior. It gave me a good basis on the importance of paying attention to detail.” Tallman, just 19 at the time, also ran the boat on short trips.
From there, Tallman moved into the offshore fishing world when he scored a job on the El Lobo, a 90-foot sportfisher run by Frank Gibbs. “Frank saw me grinding away on the motoryacht in the Bahamas, walked up and said he’d been watching how hard I work, and he’d love to get me on board as a mate.”
With a crew of just two people to run the 90-footer, Tallman took advantage of the opportunity to learn from the experienced captain. “Frank is a super mechanical guy and taught me a lot in the engine room. We spent three months in the yard with multiple systems that had to get redone. We worked together for close to a year before that program changed and I jumped ship.”
His next gig was on the ThomCat, a 68-foot enclosed-bridge Hatteras, run by Capt. Bill Davis. The boat spent six months in Palm Beach fishing live bait for sails and trolling for pelagics and six months targeting billfish and bottomfish in the Abacos. “We did it all,” Tallman says. “Anything that had eyes we caught. Bill Davis is one of best fishermen I’ve worked for. He would wake up thinking about fish and go to bed thinking about fish. I had never seen someone that wanted to fish more, and he really got my drive going. All we talked about and thought about was fishing.”
Tallman spent five years on ThomCat, but the program wasn’t changing, and he was getting an itch to travel and experience more fishing spots. When the opportunity to jump on the 90-foot John Bayliss Singularis came about, Tallman made the move.
“I jumped on Singularis right after it was built,” he says. “That was definitely the most traveling I did on a boat. We went everywhere. As soon as the boat was christened, we left to fish the Big Rock, the White Marlin Open and went as far north as Nantucket.” From there they fished throughout the Caribbean and motored through the Panama Canal to Costa Rica.
Again, Tallman got to learn from an experienced captain. “The captain of Singularis, Jerry Lanzerotti, is a super mechanical guy who can fix anything. I would listen and watch how he did things. Every program I worked on, I’d watch and see what I like and add that to my tool box. I wanted to take everything I learned and bring it to my own program.”
From Costa Rica, Tallman fished with the Fanjul family who own Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic on their 74 Viking. That program ended in the Abacos and that’s when Tallman met Steve Jonson and decided to take the gig. But there was one more adventure the aspiring captain wanted to put on his resume – heavy tackle black marlin fishing on the Great Barrier Reef.
“I met Tim Richardson in the D.R. and I knew his mate Garrett Penley from Costa Rica. I fished with them on Tim’s G&S the Chaser in the D.R. and told him that I’d love to go to Australia and got hired on as a second mate to fish on the Tradition.” Richardson, an Aussie, has fished the Great Barrier Reef since the late 1980s. For the past few years, Richardson has also fished the Caribbean part of the year on the Chaser.
“Australia was a difficult job but it’s by far one of my biggest accomplishments. Garrett’s a complete animal in the cockpit and Tim is so experienced and well known. Every time we backed down on a fish, I was comfortable because I knew Tim would keep up with the fish and I could hang on for dear life. I’d seen a few big ones in the Bahamas, but nothing compares to Australia.” The crew would catch nearly 70 marlin that season and win top tagging mate and boat honors from The Billfish Foundation for Pacific black marlin.
After Australia, Tallman went right to work for Johnson on Big Smooth. The boat’s owner is a commercial real estate developer whose company is based in Tennessee. Johnson actually played pro football for the Patriots and the name “Big Smooth” comes from a nickname he earned during his playing days. “Steve’s a 100-percent team player. He’s very open-minded and truly a great guy to work for,” Tallman says. “He lets me run the program on the fishing aspect, and never questions my motives.”
They spent seven months in the Abacos and ended up going to Ocean City to fish the White Marlin Open. “That was definitely an eye opener for me. That was the first time I’ve run a boat up there and you’re fishing against best crews in the world.” They didn’t land in the money, but for Tallman, experiencing a new fishing area is his favorite part of the job. “I love the travel program, going to new places and fishing new water,” he says. “You see different techniques, different types of baits, and I love that aspect.” He admits that he misses the action in the cockpit but he’s not about to give up his seat at the helm.
“Driving the boat is the easy part, knowing the ins and outs of your boat as well as learning from your mistakes is key,” he says. “At some point in time, something will go wrong. How you approach and overcome those obstacles will truly define you as a pro. Doing your maintenance, looking around, and trusting your intuition could prevent a serious mechanical failure. My mate, Anthony Delgreco, is a huge help in this aspect.”
And if he can’t fix it, Tallman’s not afraid to reach out for help and advice. Having a network of other captains that you can bounce things off of has been an invaluable resource to him.
“Any captain that knows me, knows I’m all in,” he says. “There is not a job you can ask me to do that I will not do. I’m always there to give a hand and I never want to burn any bridges. You never know, there may come a day when you’re out in middle ocean and need to call for help. It’s critical that you can make that call and have someone to count on.”
Charlie Levine is the publisher of FishTrack.com and the author of the fishing book, “Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel,” available on Amazon.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.
Capt. Austin Ensor
Ocean City, Maryland
By Charlie Levine
You don’t often meet a captain in their 20s with multiple tournament wins on his resume. It’s even rarer that you meet a captain this young who has just purchased a 54-foot sportfisher and is in the middle of a major refit. That’s what makes Austin Ensor unique. It is his passion and dedication to offshore fishing that has helped Austin earn the respect of the top captains in one of the biggest sportfishing ports on the East Coast, Ocean City, Maryland.
Austin grew up in the Ocean City area, where sportfishing is as commonplace as sand in your shoes. He immediately fell in love with all types of fishing and would fish the Chesapeake Bay with his family and friends. But Austin wanted to make fishing more than a hobby and at the very young age of ten, he scored his first job on the Bay, working as a mate catching rockfish (striped bass).
The burgeoning angler spent a few years focusing on the inshore grounds, but he longed to fish farther offshore and target larger, more challenging fish. He grabbed every fishing magazine he could find and looked through countless pages of fishing forums online, educating himself as much as possible.
Austin would go with his family on vacation to North Carolina. When he was 12, he convinced his father to tow the family boat down to Oregon Inlet so they could go tuna fishing. “Catching tuna was all I cared about,” Austin said. “My dad had never tuna fished before, but we went. We were tuna fishing with some Penn Senators and we ended up catching wahoo and some yellowfin. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Austin also used these family vacations to do some practical research. Before his family trip, the 12-year-old went online and emailed every captain in Oregon Inlet, asking if he could clean their boat and spend some time poking around. Captain Dennis Endee on the A-Salt Weapon responded.
“He answered my email and said, ‘Yeah, come on down to the boat.’ I got to talk to him and he let me clean his boat and he showed me around,” Austin says.
It’s hard to deny this young up-and-comer would do just about anything to learn more about the boats and gear used to target his beloved pelagics.
Over his teenage years, Austin worked for Tommy Baldwin on the Lady Luck, a 60-foot Paul Mann. It was Baldwin who really taught him the ins and outs of offshore fishing. When Austin was 17, he started running the family boat, a 28-foot Mako center console.
His parents must’ve really trusted the teenager as they allowed him to take the boat 60 miles offshore with his buddies unsupervised. “There was probably some safety violations going on there, but we learned a lot,” he says. “Me and my friends chipped in for fuel to get out there. We did pretty well.”
One trip they really pushed the envelope, going way above Wilmington Canyon, fishing 86 miles offshore. “My buddy said the fish were there the day before, so we went for it,” Austin says. “We caught 12 yellowfin. That was one of the pivotal points of getting into tuna fishing.”
Austin and his crew would overnight at the canyons, fishing for makos and tuna.
As much as Austin loved fishing, he never lost sight of his other goals. He attended Salisbury University, not far from the docks in Ocean City, and graduated in 2015 with a business management degree. He fished summers, jumping around from boat to boat, and worked as a firefighter in the winters. He became friends with Kyle Peet who runs the No Quarter, a 54 Taylor Made and has become one of Austin’s mentors.
“I came into this industry not knowing a single person or anything about it,” Austin says. “He (Kyle) taught me how to fish. I’d fish with him here and there, and he keeps me in check when I have questions and things like that. We talk every day in the summer. I help him, we work together. He has gone from a friend to part of my family.”
In 2016, Austin, some friends and family bought a 28-foot Carolina Classic. “I wanted to venture from freelance mate to being a competitive force on the tournament scene,” he says. The young team, ranging in age from 21 to 30, have held their own, winning $38,000 to date. “We’ve never been all in,” Austin says of the team’s Calcutta entries. “We put in what we can.”
But they always go all-in when it comes to planning and preparing. The team has a group text chain where every logistical element of the trip is discussed. “I get everyone organized and each person works at their own capacity. Everyone knows their job,” he says. “My anglers like Tommy Clark, who did 26 trips in 2018, are the key to our success. The loyalty my guys have to our program is unmatched. Even though I am 25, they have never doubted me.”
The night before the tournament, Austin talks to his network of guys. “That’s probably the most important part,” he says. “We’re tied in with some of great captains of Ocean City, working together.”
Austin and his crew purchased a 54 Blackwell, the old Floridian once run by the very successful Captain Glenn Cameron. This meant rebuilding the engine, a Caterpillar 3412, and gutting the interior. He’s moved from a small private operation to a boat available for charter. He’s got some very well-known guys helping him out.
“Jon Duffie is doing a lot of the work I’m not comfortable doing,” Austin said. “Jon is such a passionate person and knows so much about fishing and boats. He’s been a lifeline. Having the best guy in the world redo your boat has been unreal.”
The boat will open more doors for Austin and his crew. They’ll have more range and be able to fish in more conditions.
“My dream is to catch as many fish as I can. The amount of guys lending a helping a hand is unreal. They see my drive. This fishing thing is 365 days year. If I’m not working on it, I’m learning. I’ll go to seminars and travel to hear people talk. I want to learn as much as I can.”
For the boat’s name, he chose Primary Search, which harkens back to his work as a firefighter. At a house fire, you search the entire property to make sure there’s no one inside. In fishing, Austin leaves early to be the first ones on the fishing grounds and he stays later than most of the other boats. It’s the same philosophy.
They don’t want to miss a single fish.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.
57-foot Capps Boatworks
Owner: Paul Knowles
By Charlie Levine
Many captains are born into the fishing industry and taken under the wing of their fathers or an uncle. But you don’t have to be born into this industry to succeed. The majority of captains who make it to the top of the ladder work harder than the rest and never stop learning. Drake Sawyer falls in line with that ethos. And when you have some of the biggest names in offshore fishing singing your praises, you know you’re doing something right.
The 29-year-old captain is originally from Port Aransas, Texas. Drake began working on boats at 14 and never stopped. He started as a mate on charter boats and head boats (party boats, if you’re from Port Aransas), fishing for king mackerel and red snapper in the Gulf. When he was 16, he fished his first billfish tournament on a 31 Bertram.
“That was my first exposure to tournaments,” Sawyer says. “The runs were long and very wet on that 31. We didn’t billfish much on that boat, but we fished a handful of tournaments. The majority of the time we were meat fishing.”
Throughout high school the burgeoning young skipper bounced around and kept working on head boats. Soon he landed a job on a 61-footer but when the skipper took the boat to Mexico, he left Drake without a ride.
“That winter I had just left college and I was working on any boat I could,” he says. “The captain of a 42 Tiara named On Location saw me buffing a boat in the middle of a cold front and asked me if I could help him. After he had seen my hard work, he asked me to fish with him in Mexico, so I ended up fishing down there that season regardless.”
On Location was owned by Paul Knowles from Corpus Christi, Texas. Ten years later, Drake is still working for Paul. From 2009 to 2011 Drake mated on the boat as they fished Isla Mujeres and Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, and then headed back to the Gulf for the summer.
In 2010, Paul purchased a 57-foot custom boat built by Nelva Capps of Virginia Beach, Virginia. The boat was only four years old at the time and had 800 hours on it. With a larger boat, the On Location team began traveling more. They ventured over the Bahamas then up to Massachusetts in search of giant bluefin tuna before heading back down the coast to fish the Gulf circuit. Then in 2013 they set sail for the Pacific, running through the Panama Canal.
They fished Piñas Bay, and upon the urging of Drake, decided to hit the FADs in Costa Rica. That was their home base until this past fall.
As the mate, Drake kept learning everything he could from tackle to engine maintenance. In 2014, Drake got his shot to run the program. He was 24.
“A lot of the things the previous captains taught me turned out to be incorrect,” Drake says. “We started fishing the tournaments in Costa Rica and I realized I had no idea how to sailfish, at least down there where you’re fishing next to some of the best in the world in one of the best fisheries. We needed to learn how to do this or we were just wasting money. I asked questions to everyone on the dock I possibly could.”
The young skipper befriended some of the most respected captains in the industry. Gentlemen like Bubba Carter, John Bayliss and Chip Shafer. Those were the men he fished next to, and those were the men he emulated. Drake’s hard work in the cockpit and bilge paid off. He caught an average of 900 billfish per season in Costa Rica and released his 1,000th blue marlin at the age of 28.
“I took the boat over with 3,000 hours on it,” he says. “We’re at 10,700 now, in the last five years. We’ve been fishing it hard.”
In Costa Rica, the crew exclusively teaser fished, and they’ve got it dialed. “Paul would come by himself to fish the FADs for five days, and he pitches every single fish,” Drake says. “On his best day he caught 20 blue marlin. The boat caught 22. The only reason Paul didn’t catch the other two was because they were doubles.”
For any boat to put up big numbers and hit goals, the crew must work together. “Paul is a really good boss to work for,” Drake says. “We always come up with a game plan, but when it comes time to fish, he trusts me to make the calls.”
After finishing their Costa Rica deployment in 2018, the On Location headed to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to fish Cabo and Mag Bay. “I’d been egging Paul on to do that trip for the last couple of years. When we decided to move the boat out of the Pacific, it made sense to take advantage of that destination before we go. We got lucky and hit it on a good year.”
The team fished three multi-day trips out of Mag Bay for a total of 12 days of fishing. They released 652 striped marlin – more than 200 billfish per trip! “It’s an absolute incredible fishery,” Drake says.
After Mag Bay, the On Location headed back to the U.S. to get some work done for its next big adventure… Madeira, the Canaries and Portugal. “We let our 1,000th blue marlin go this last FAD season in Costa Rica and now we want to go and try to catch a 1,000-pounder,” Drake says. That’s quite a changeup from teaser fishing on light tackle.
The plan is to ship the boat to Madeira in June and keep it there for two seasons. In 2020, they’ll embark on some serious travel, fishing for tuna in the Canary Islands in March and April, grander blue marlin in Madeira from May through August, white marlin off Portugal in September and October, then back to the Canaries.
There is much work to be done. It’s a 13-year-old custom boat, so there’s plenty of glass and finish work to keep them busy. They’re also installing a transformer to be able to keep regular voltage with Euro power. And then there’s the tackle.
“We’ve got a lot to learn about heavy tackle,” Drake says. “I’m looking forward to switching gears. It’s a whole new fishery to put my mind to. My boss and I have been working really hard. He’s working on his technique as an angler, and I’m working on mine as a captain.”
They’ll be fishing 130-pound tackle almost exclusively, at least in the beginning. “I don’t want the right one to show up and be under-gunned,” Drake says. “I’m starting to gear my head toward the tackle and getting as many recommendations as I can as to what we need before I get over there. It’s going to be fun.”
The crew has caught two blues around 700 pounds in the Gulf of Mexico and a handful of blue marlin in the 350- to 400-pound range in Costa Rica. It’s definitely a big learning curve but the young captain is ready to put his skills to the test.
“We will start lure fishing then move over to teaser fishing,” he says. “If we get to switch on one over 800 pounds, we’ll have accomplished our goal.”
The opportunity to travel and experience new fisheries is the ultimate dream job for Capt. Drake Sawyer, but it took a lot of hard work to make it happen. “Fishing is all I’ve ever done,” he says. “Luckily I’ve had an owner like Paul who has given me lots of opportunity to spend time on the water.”
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.
By Charlie Levine
On September 13, 2016, Capt. Kyle Peet left Ocean City headed for the grounds aboard his 54-foot Taylor Made, No Quarter. Aboard were Peet, his mate Erik Mateer and a group of anglers from Xtratuf boots. Peet had his sights on a piece of water 85 miles offshore for an overnighter.
“I wanted to try for a grand slam,” he says. “That’s all I wanted to catch. I’d never caught a grand slam here.”
The bite was on. In the first five minutes of trolling, the No Quarter hooked a triple header of white marlin. Packs of fish mobbed the spread. As soon as they put new baits back, the fish bit.
“It was one of the coolest experiences ever. It was like fishing in Costa Rica, but it was right here in my back yard. I was marking 20 at a time,” Kyle said. By lunchtime, they had released 12 whites. Then they got a blind bite that turned out to be a 200-pound blue. Peet hammered the throttles in reverse to get the release. A few
minutes after that release, they turned loose a sail. Kyle had his grand slam… and a lot more time to fish.
Late in the day the boys hooked another billfish, thinking it might be a blue. As they got the fish to the boat, it turned out to be a longbill spearfish. Their fourth billfish species on the day. They now had a super slam!
They trolled till dark, releasing more whites. The next move was an obvious one—put out the swordfish gear and hope for the fabled fantasy slam. While grilling steaks, the swordfish rod went off. What happened next was an epic, 7-hour battle. “It was absolutely the most mental experience of my life,” Kyle says. “Driving around all night in the dark fighting this fish.”
The sword came up the surface and sounded again. It was no slouch. The battle continued until finally they got the fish close and the boys sank the gaffs. Just as Kyle was yelling to the crew to not let go, he saw a big mako make its move. The shark took a bite out of the sword’s tail, but they were able to haul the fish in. Oh, and they caught the mako, too. The end result was the first fantasy slam ever caught in US waters.
As the sun was coming up, acres of cutting marlin showed up on the surface, balling bait. Peet and crew couldn’t leave that action behind. They caught another 12 whites by noon before finally calling it quits. The final tally for the trip: 23 white marlin, two longbill spearfish, one blue marlin, one sail, a 345-pound sword and a 247-pound mako.
The young captain had certainly made his mark. Now 32 years old, Peet began fishing offshore with his father Mike when he was ten years old. They mostly charter fished, going offshore just about every week. It didn’t take long for the young angler to enter the charter ranks. At 15 he started working as a second mate. The next summer he did it again.
“I probably fished 120 days a summer for two summers in a row. It was the school of hard knocks for me. I just tried to learn everything I could,” he says.
Kyle graduated from high school in 2005 and went to work full time on a charter boat. He also tried his hand at commercial fishing, doing a two-month stint on a longliner. Peet saved up and bought a 23-foot Regulator, fishing weekends and working in the family business during the week.
“One day my dad came out with me and we got caught in storm,” Peet says.
This experience lead to the decision that it was time for a larger boat. They were still chartering a lot and it made sense to put that money toward a boat of their own. In 2010, after looking at 30 boats, they settled on a 54-foot TaylorMade. Not just any 54 Taylor-Made, but a boat that was previously the Tijereta, having spent six years fishing Venezuela with the legendary Bubba Carter behind the wheel.
“We knew she was a fishy rig,” Peet says. “But she was in rough shape.”
The father and son team began refitting the boat—a process that they’ve plugged away at for the past eight years. The only original thing left is the planking and some of the bottom.
The Peets repowered with Cat C18s, put in a mezzanine, updated the interior, installed new electronics, running gear—you name it. They renamed the boat No Quarter, and decided to charter when not fishing tournaments.
Capt. Butch Davis and Jon Meade, who were fishing on Cerveza and winning a ton of tournaments, fished with the Peets on No Quarter that first summer. Kyle worked the cockpit with John, getting an education in bait rigging and running the pit.
The next summer Kyle shadowed Butch on the bridge.
“I fished with Butch for close to three years,” Peet says. “What I’ve learned and how I apply it was 100 percent through him. He didn’t have to teach me, but he did.”
In 2013, Kyle took over as captain. He had the honor of catching the first white marlin of the year out of Ocean City. Then he won first place in the first tournament he fished, netting the team $330,000. He became the youngest captain to ever win the Ocean City Tuna Tournament. In the following years, the No Quarter has topped the leaderboard in the Ocean City Marlin Club’s annual tally several times.
In 2017. they were named top charter boat and released the most billfish overall, beating out Capt. Jon Duffie on Billfisher, who had dominated for a decade. “It was cool. No one caught 100 that year. Fishing was slow and I was persistent,” Kyle says.
In September, you typically get ten bites or so out of Ocean City, but in 2017 you were lucky if you caught one fish a day. “I kept going and going. It taught me lot of patience. I fished 90 days to catch 80 fish. That’s what it took to beat him.”
The local Ocean City boats are competitive with each other. In 2018, Peet had an active battle with Capt. Gary Stamm, one of his mentors. “We had one of best fishing experiences of my life for the whole month of September,” Kyle says.
The two boats, docked right behind one another, were in the top two spots all month.
“We talked about it every night, where we were going, what we were doing. It was a gentlemanly thing.”
It went down to the wire, and Stamm ended up beating Kyle by two fish. Kyle caught 149 billfish over his 92-day season. Going into the 2020 season, the Peets are phasing No Quarter out of the charter fleet but Kyle still has his eye on the prize.
“I spend hours studying the water,” he says. “I grew up playing ice hockey and they teach you that you don’t want to be where the puck is, you want to be where the puck is going. You want to be ahead of the fish.”
You can bet that when the bite turns on, No Quarter will be on them.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.
Capt. Evan Salvay
45 Sea Hunter
Owner: Ivan Vanortwick Boat: Stella June, 45 Sea Hunter
By Charline Levine
With a Bisbee win on his resume and his finger directly on the pulse of the burgeoning bluefin tuna bite, at just 27 years old Capt. Evan Salvay has established himself as one of the top fishermen in Southern California. The trick to his success? A run-and-gun style that focuses on finding fish and doing whatever it takes to get tight. But like all successful captains, Evan started out young and learned a bunch of different skill sets before he made a name for himself.
Evan began fishing on the local sport boats (what So Cal guys call party boats) in middle school and wet his feet by helping out the deckhands. When he was 16, he started working for a six-pack boat based in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island. Home to the Tuna Club of Avalon since 1898, Catalina is one of the storied spots in the annals of sport-fishing history.
His first gig charter fishing was in 2009, not the best timing. An economic crash and slow fishing were not doing any favors for the charter industry, but it was a big year for Evan as he got to fish with Capt. Mike Arujo, a well-known marlin fisherman who ran the Vertigo, a 70-foot custom out of Newport Beach. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Arujo was among a small group of elite striped marlin captains in the area. It was Arujo who introduced the young mate to tournament fishing. Around this same time, Evan headed down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and fished with his uncle in some money events. In 2010, Evan was on a team that won a daily in the Western Outdoor News Tuna Jackpot. It was his first taste of prize money.
The marlin fishing in Southern California slowed to a trickle from 2011 to 2014 and several of the big-time tourneys in the area ceased operations. “I took a hiatus for a few seasons,” Evan says. “The tournaments were putting up one fish for the entire fleet over three days of fishing. There weren’t many opportunities in So Cal for a young person trying to progress. It’s not like the East Coast.”
When the marlin scene dried up, Evan bought a 17-foot Boston Whaler and started to fish the salt-water bass circuit. He’d also roll the dice and run that small boat out to San Clemente Island for yellowtail. They built a custom, 52-gallon gas tank under the leaning post to make the 60-mile run in open ocean. “My dad would drop us off and say, ‘See ya later.’ We’d circumnavigate the entire island. We did it every week. We’d hit atrocious weather and giant swells. Luckily it didn’t kill us,” he says.
In 2014, Evan got his captain’s license just as an El Niño kicked in and the fishing started to improve. “I started to transition back to offshore,” he says. He purchased a 29-foot Crystaliner, an express style So Cal boat with twin Cummins. This time, the timing was just right. In 2016, the offshore fleet saw one of the best striped marlin bites in modern history. “There was a wide stretch of fish. We ran out of San Pedro and fished striped marlin around Santa Barbara Island and as far north as Santa Cruz Island. It was the same year we saw wahoo locally and blue marlin were around in catchable volumes. That bite may never be repeated in my lifetime.” Salvay and his crew landed a 474-pound blue in their home waters, which was one of the highlights of his young career.
The bluefin tuna also began to show up en masse with big fish over 200 pounds in the mix. “This bite never existed here before, and the whole scope of my business started to revolve around the bluefin,” he says. But these tuna were not easily caught. Crews would find massive schools of ‘foamers’ busting up on the surface but had to get creative to catch them. That’s really where Evan’s skills shined. He began to focus on jigging and popping techniques and that propelled him to the top of the game.
“I was at the right place at the right time,” he says. “The fishery is cooking strong right now and it’s perfectly suited to young people. It’s an active style of fishing.” Evan spends most of the day in the tower, scanning in the gyros for pods of fish. When he finds them, he hammers the throttles to get in on the action and then anglers use a mix of poppers, kite baits, stick baits and iron to get tight. This isn’t a slow-trolling affair, it’s action-packed.
Throughout this period, Evan continued to go to Cabo and fish 15 to 20 tournaments a year. In 2017 he took his tournament program in Mexico up a few notches. He linked up with a client, Davis Ahn, and they purchased a Cabo 40 express. They sent the boat to Mexico about a month before the kickoff of the tourney season. Evan got the program together quickly, learning the boat and getting it set up to his liking. They pulled it off and landed a 442-pound blue on the first day of the 2017 Bisbee’s Black and Blue. The fish didn’t take home the daily, but they finished the tournament in fifth place and got to collect a check. “We were four guys in our 20s that were somehow given a shot,” Evan says. “I think we were the youngest team to ever walk on that stage.”
The next year they went back to Cabo and fished on the same boat with the same crew. There were three qualifiers caught going into the final day, but the big money had rolled over and
there was a pile of cash up for grabs. “We went out that day and did what we wanted to do,” Evan says. “We filled the tuna tubes with 10- to 15-pound tuna and slow-trolled live bait.” They got bit around 11 a.m. and Charlie Lee caught the fish in just under two hours. The fish won the tournament, netting the Chinito Bonito a cool $3 million! The second largest tournament payout in sport-fishing.
“That was my dream,” Evan says. “I don’t know if it was luck or fate or what, but you put together a good program, put your time in and hope that luck kicks in. We got the bite we wanted. For someone who grows up fishing striped marlin in California and suffers through slow fishing, and to have your career skyrocket during some of the best fishing, it’s a dream come true.”
Right now, Evan is taking a hiatus from charter fishing and running a private boat that’s a big departure for the So Cal scene. The Stella June is a 45-foot Sea Hunter with quad 425-hp Yamahas, a full tower and a Seakeeper gyro. The boat is owned by Ivan Vanortwick who enjoys the same style of fishing as Evan.
“A lot of fishing is on the bow out here, not behind the boat,” Evan says. “We’ve got the biggest center console out here and it suits what we do. We utilize the speed and hunting ability to create a more active, engaging opportunity. I have a boss who’s into that. He likes to throw poppers and stick baits. You can’t always do that if you have an older boss who wants to sit in the cabin.”
They plan to take the Sea Hunter to Cabo and fish the tournaments in the fall. “We’re looking forward to see what we can do with a boat that has speed, bait capacity and good, technical anglers,” he says.
CAPTAIN SHANE O’BRIEN
43 Merritt, Kona, Hawaii
Wild Hooker: 68 Blackwell
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Owner: Allen Stuart
By Charlie Levine
Multigenerational fishing families run deep in Kona, Hawaii. The Big Island breeds good fishermen because the well-worn skills are handed down from captain to son (or daughter). Once inherited, fishing ability is modified, improved upon – rinsed and repeated. Thirty-year-old Captain Shane O’Brien is definitely part of that tradition.
Shane’s father, Fran O’Brien is one of the best wiremen in the business. He’s pulled on more granders than any other person in Kona. When Capt. Bart Miller had the notorious 1,656-blue marlin on, Fran jumped over from Bobby Brown’s No Problem and wired the fish. His fishing acumen runs deep, and he has passed it down to Shane. While the two O’Briens never fished together much professionally, the elder captain opened many doors for his son.
“My dad introduced me to everyone and made it easy to get in the fishing business here,” Shane says. “He gave me every contact in the world.” At 12-years-old, Shane scored his first fishing job as a mate on a small charter outfit, making a whopping $20 a day. “I would’ve done it for free,” Shane says. “On the first day we caught a 465-pound marlin and I got to gaff it. Th at was the first fl yer I ever threw. He probably gave me a little more freedom than he should have, but I’m glad he did. It worked out.” Shane never looked back.
The next captain to take Shane under his wing was Kerwin Masunaga, a commercial captain and just about the fishiest guy you could meet (Masunaga was named InTheBite Hawaii Division Captain of the Year in 2017 and 2018). Together they’d target tuna, wahoo and a lot of bottom fish from Masunaga’s 34-footer. They’d run two- to four-day trips down to the southside of the island. It was a quick education for Shane in a range of fishing types, as well as boat handling and tackle prep.
When he turned 16, Shane started crewing one of the better charter boats, Foxy Lady, with Capt. Boyd Decoito during the summer. When he was 17, he got his first big tournament win. Th e boat took home $112,000. Th at win changed everything. Not only did he put some money in his pocket, he got to win with Allen Stuart – the man who would ultimately hire Shane to fish tournaments in Cabo and the Gulf Coast.
“When you win a big tournament like that, especially at 17… I was just high on life,” Shane says. Later that year Shane fished the Bisbee with Allen on the 61-foot C-Ya. They caught a couple small fish and didn’t place in the money but it was the same year that the crew on Bad Company won $3.9 million. “It was exciting to be around that kind of money,” Shane says. And seeing that crew accept that big check put an image in Shane’s mind of what he wanted to achieve as a captain. He didn’t wait long and got his captain’s license when he turned 18.
In 2007, Stuart bought the Five Star, a beautiful 1979, 43-foot Merritt stationed in Kona and named it the Strong Persuader. Aussie captain Craig Denham ran it and Shane worked under him and would fill in when Denham was gone. Before long, Shane was running the boat full time. “I’d decided I wanted to be a captain after I met my boss and knew there was longevity with him,” Shane says. “So many guys blaze in, fish one or two years and get out. With Allen, as far as fishing goes, he truly enjoys it.
He’s not doing it for the glory, or fame. He has a good time and has traveled the world.” For the first few years running the boat in Kona, Shane would fish with Allen three to four weeks straight in June and July. “We’d go hard,” he says. “We’d be the first to leave and come back after everybody was in. We’d stay out on the grounds overnight to get more fishing time in.” Their drive paid off. Shane and Allen won the second tournament they fished that year, the Skins, and took home $130,000. “As a brand new captain, it was exciting. It gave me a lot of drive,” Shane says. The operation expanded. Allen added the Wild Hooker, a 61-foot Blackwell stationed in Cabo and a second Wild Hooker, a 68 Blackwell to fish the Gulf of Mexico tournament circuit. They were soon fishing 10 to 14 events each year.
They’d start pre-fishing the Gulf in April and May to get ready for the tournaments in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle. When those tournaments were done, they’d park the boat, fly to Hawaii
and fish four or five more events including the World Cup. Then it was back to the Gulf for late July. Sometimes they’d add in some Texas tournaments. Then off to Baja for the Bisbee’s and Los Cabos. That’s a lot of water and a lot of different styles of fishing.
“Live-baiting is pretty familiar to me, growing up in Hawaii,” Shane says. “The biggest difference is navigating the Gulf. We’d run 300 miles one way to fish these rigs in the middle of the Gulf. Then we’d go back to Hawaii where you might put the lures in one mile offshore. You’re always adapting but it’s the same core principles. Current, water temperature and structure and the basic ingredients for blue marlin. Then you put a few twists on it by networking with local boats.” Fishing in the Gulf can be excellent, but it’s a lot of effort and a lot of fuel. Shane says it wasn’t uncommon for them to burn 3,400 gallons a trip.
Like any good captain, a large portion of Shane’s responsibility takes place below the waterline. Fixing systems, updating electronics and when you have an old Merritt, a lot of varnish work. Being from Hawaii, where there is not an abundance of tradesmen around, you have to learn how to care for your boats yourself. That’s something he learned from his father – and the many other top captains in Kona. “All of the guys out here
are so good, and almost all of them helped me,” he says. “They’re always open with information, always answering questions. A lot of the captains here feel like my uncles.”
Shane’s boss just sold the 61 Blackwell and moved the 68 down to Cabo so the operation is purely Pacific now, but he’s still fishing the Gulf on friends’ boats. It’s hard to resist the opportunity to add some more trophies and dollar signs to the $2.7 million he’s already been a part of in his young career.
A young captain with an impressive tournament resume, Shane O’Brien is a name to remember.
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