I am at my best, at my happiest when I am on the water. It’s the place that never fails to amaze me, never fails to show me something new, lets me experience something fresh. Taking guest out each day is a blessing that can hardly be expressed in words. How lucky are we that get to do this… and get paid for it on top of that? It’s the dream of so many, the reality for a very small few. But the life of a charter captain is not all monster fish, happy customers and generous tips. Nope more often its long days, broken stuff, and internal panic as you try to find fish that were just here yesterday!!
For this months “From the Crow’s Nest” piece, I wanted to touch on the topic of the “romantic” title of being called a Charter Captain and Professional Guide and what we can do to make our businesses and the FGA even stronger.
Up at 0400, out the door by 0430. Boat launched and in the water by 0515, gear placed, everything wiped down and ready for guest 0545. At the bait shop by 0600, back at the dock and waiting for my guest by 0630. Guest arrive 0645 and we depart, back to the dock at 1500, clean fish and shake hands with everyone. Guest depart by 1600, wash the boat, gas the boat, rig tomorrows gear and load back on trailer and back home about 1730. Only a 13.5 hour day.
I am going to bet, that this is pretty typical for most of our FGA Guide Members out there. Of course there are some variations to the schedule as many are running double trips, net bait before the guest arrive etc. etc. but the basics are pretty much the same. The days are long, the work is hard and the rewards are earned each and every trip. But for a great many of us, there is nothing we think is better in this world. We love the work, we love the challenge, we love the guest and we love pursuing the fish. It’s a primal thing I think, our desire to hunt, to out-think, to outsmart a wild creature, and add to that, taking someone with us who has never even been on a boat or held a fishing rod in their life and with our guidance and experience is able to have a shot at success, man that’s as good as it gets!!
But every day is not roses and sunshine and unless you are running someone else’s boat, the price to play is high and going up each and every year. From filling the gas tank, to icing the box, new rods and reels, boat registrations, CPR and First Aid classes, outboard repairs, charter insurance, slip fees the list goes on and on and on. And going back to that 13.5 hour day and just using a random average full day rate of $700 divided by those 13.5 long hours’ converts to $51.85 per hour.
Now to the average person that may seem like some very high wages for simply taking folks fishing but that’s gross not net of course, and all that stuff I just mentioned has to be taken out and paid for. Fuel is usually the biggest daily expense, followed by bait and ice and gear and on and on. If you cut that $700 in half for expenses and divide again by the 13.5 hour day now we are at $25.92 per hour. Again to someone working a 9 to 5 on the hill a pretty high rate for taking folks fishing each day, but don’t forget guides don’t get sick days, they don’t get pension plans and benefits packages. AND even the best of the best will have days where no one books a trip.
Carrying the title of Captain/Guide for those that run their own charters, means being CEO and chief toilet scrubber all at the same time. It’s a lifestyle, and not for everyone. Only a small majority make it in the industry for a variety of reasons. Great fisherman are not always great guides as it’s not what you can catch, but what you can teach you guest how to catch. Those that don’t know their cost, don’t usually make it, and those that don’t save up for slow times don’t make it. Also I have found those that don’t constantly find an edge that separates themselves and their business from the pack will struggle.
When I started my charter business years back, I joined the Florida Guides Association solely for more visibility and exposure. Over the years that has changed, but at the time the website listing was a big help in getting my name out. From there I started attending every show the FGA set the booth up at. While it cost me in gas and a day off the water, I quickly found that booking trips with folks that stopped by a show was far easier than over the phone or via an email.
These are easy ways that every FGA member can utilize their FGA membership to try and work on increasing their trip count. If we have a booth, as a member you can participate and represent the FGA and pass out your business cards and talk with attendees about your fishery and business. You also are encouraged to send us fishing reports to showcase what’s the hot bite in your area, again an easy and free way to present yourself to all the readers of this newsletter. Our Facebook page is another, for all you social media gurus, post of video of a happy customer, send us a picture and we will share it and help you promote yourself.
Few ever take advantage of these opportunities and I find that a puzzling thing. All of us catch fish, have boats and fishing rods, again it’s what you can do to increase your charter business a little ahead of your competitor. For me, I will never turn down an opportunity that presents itself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never at a good time, and will often result in lost sleep and extra work, but I want to be here 20 years from now and nothing good is ever easy. If I have an opportunity to write an article, assist with a show or attend an event, I am your guy.
The FGA wants to see you succeed, for with your success comes your continued support of the FGA mission. We cannot do what we do without you, and we are working very hard to be a help in running your business. All the shows and events the FGA attends are to not only promote the FGA to new guides and captains but also to let the recreational sector know that when they seek a guide, it should be a FGA guide. And in 2017 we will start for the first time attending shows in other states for the sole purpose of telling the recreational sector who we are and why they should seek out an FGA guide for their next trip.
As the President of the Florida Guides Association, I never forget that it is OUR association. As a guy who has personally struggled, scratched and clawed to secure his personal business a secure footing for the future, it’s very important to me that as a large professional association we do all we can to help in any way we can our members be successful in their business. Quoting a favorite song lyric, “when you get where you’re going, don’t forget to turn back around, and help the next one in line” is one of the best examples the responsibility we all have in guaranteeing the next string of Captains and Guides have the opportunities we do today. You old salts teaching the rookies, and you rookies taking the time to listen.
The job we have is a tough one, very few of us will ever be rich, very few will ever be famous or a household name. But my gosh, doesn’t it seem like a dream sometimes when the seas are calm, the fish are chewing and clients are smiling? As a matter of fact, “living the dream” is my unofficial motto.. As long as people are calling you Captain and Guide, the FGA will be here to support you. For 25 years we have been the leader of the industry and with your continued support we will only grow.
Thank you for all you do out there each and every day. Thank you for the hard work, thank you for taking guest out each day and doing all you can to help them find success, and getting them back to the dock safely and responsibly. Thank you for your support of the Florida Guides Association. As always any feedback is always welcomed and if I can assist with anything, don’t hesitate to ask.