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Bringing in the Big Ones

Whether you’re chasing fish or charter customers, it’s knowing how to set the hook that makes all the difference.


Early in my charter boat career, I often walked back to the docks after dinner and sat in the cockpit of my boat striking up conversations with people passing by on their way to waterfront bars and restaurants. This was a good way to spend summer evening hours out of the house while drumming up future business. And it was also how I learned that it didn’t matter how many trips all the saltier skippers said they had booked in advance but rather how many you actually sailed during the season. You didn’t make dollars sitting at the dock and if your so-called booked trip failed to show up in the morning, it was a lost day that could never be recovered. But I also learned one other thing: that simply hanging out in the cockpit wasn’t always the best way to hawk up business because people passing by could be shy or even intimidated about talking to strangers. Besides there was no way to tell if they were even interested in spending the next day fishing.

So I had a slightly different strategy, one that was honed and as purposeful as a point on a sharp gaff. Rather than call out to people as they wandered down the dock I would stand in the cockpit with a couple of fishing rods in the rod holders and act busy tying and retying swivels on the end of the lines. I carefully dressed the fish box lid with several green and yellow nylons if the bluefish were running and a handful of tuna feathers later in the summer when bluefins, bonito, and skipjack were around. If I had caught tuna that day and was flying a flag, I made sure to move it down the outrigger line so it was at eye level for the dock strollers.

Conversations were easy to start and most would be curious about what I was doing. I would ask the people where they were from and which restaurant they were headed to as I tugged on a monofilament line. I made sure the reel clicker was engaged to make a little noise as the line played out. I would explain this was the sound you wanted to hear which meant a nice fish was on the other end, and likely the same fish they would have for their dinner in a little while. Their stomachs may have been grumbling for dinner but the longer they stayed behind the boat, the more I knew I had some interested people and good prospects for the following day or later in the season. Usually by this point, they had noticed the lures on the fishbox and I explained what was running and why the lures looked the way they did. If there were children in the mix they would gleefully comment on the lure colors and I would hand them one so they could feel the soft, silky fibers and feathers. Extra points added up quickly if the lure heads wore any teeth marks from the denizens of the offshore water wars and I made sure their little fingers checked them out carefully.  

Every sport fish is basically caught when it bites the hook, but knowing when to rightly set that hook counts a lot, too. So when asked how much it would cost to go out fishing on my boat, I would look the person in the eye, smile and say, “Nothing.” The response was usually incredulous but I’d continue to smile and add, “Sure, I’ll take you out there for nothing, but it will cost you for me to bring you back.” Many, many times that response would keep them close to the boat like a school of fish swimming around a chum bag and it helped me book many trips and build a good charter business.

Most fishermen like to talk, whether on the VHF radio, at the dock, or while seated on a stool at the local charter boat bar. In fact few would argue that there are likely more and larger fish caught at charter boat bars than anywhere else in the world. But I can’t think of a better way to build personal and family relationships than standing shoulder to shoulder with another person, each of you holding a fishing rod. Fishing brings people together like nothing else I know, other than perhaps actually catching something. For proof, consider this. If you are fishing from a boat and there is not another vessel within a mile of you, all you need to do is raise your net like you are ready to land a big one. I guarantee that before the last drop of water has dripped from the netting, you will be surrounded by an amazing fleet and you will wonder where they all came from.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.