Sometimes, you just have a hunch! You talk with a potential customer and you sense right away whether it’s going to be a great trip or not. It might be from the first question they ask. For instance, if it’s about rates, rather than availability or the fish we catch, that may indicate they are more concerned with getting the best price they can, rather than the best trip. As a “high end” boat, we tend to have more success getting a trip and having a great time when the first question isn’t about money. Granted, that’s a generalization but, after 11 years at this game, I’ve noticed that the initial contact often sets the tone for the entire trip. Monday, April 14th, was a prime example.
I was having my usual beer, or three, at the Conch Republic “Happy Hour,” when I got a call from a female voice inquiring about our availability for a full day trip that week. From the way she phrased her inquiry, I could just sense that she wanted to get the best trip possible and was willing to take the time and spend the money to get it (i.e., it wasn’t “how much do you get for a half day?”). I told her that Thursday was our first open full day and volunteered the price, as well as the mate’s normal tip expectation of 20%. All she said was “let me check that date with my fishin’ buddy” and, a few seconds later, I had the trip booked. No haggling, and I sensed a genuine enthusiasm! I got her name – Suzanne Herrick; sent her a text confirming things; and got an almost immediate text back that she and her buddy – another woman named Vickie Baker – were looking forward to the day.
Based on that brief first encounter, so was I! You can call it subliminal messaging. Whatever, I just had the sense this was going to be a great trip. Our mate Jerry and I love what we do, and we love it most when customers give us the full opportunity to show them the best experience possible. We can make more money running two half-days rather than one full, but it’s just not as much fun for us - or the customer.
The full day lets us “go for the gold” ( i.e., best fish possible) with plan A, and still have time to fall back to a plan B, or even C, if A doesn’t work. On half-days, you can’t just run as far as you might like, and often have to junk plan A way too soon just to make sure you catch something. I can tell you that Jerry’s face lights up like a kid at Christmas when I tell him a customer wants to give him a full day to work his offshore magic and I think that he subconsciously puts out that 110% effort when he gets that shot. A happy and hard-working mate usually makes for a happy customer – and a happy captain! Don’t get me wrong. I realize that full days are not for everybody, especially if young kids are involved, and we do love having kids on board. Half-days can get great results depending on your wants/expectations and whether the fish are there on a given day. All I’m saying is that Jerry and I prefer the full days because we truly love being on the water catching the best fish possible and love not feeling time-compressed in making our fishing decisions. (By the way, as the ladies were from Minnesota, maybe I should have said “gopher the gold” above.)
When Suzanne and Vickie arrived for our 7 AM charter, we felt even better. Actually, even before that! Although they were running only a couple of minutes late, they gave us the courtesy of a text advising us of that; a sign that they considered our time as important as theirs. When they did arrive, it was with smiles and their enthusiasm was contagious. The other thing that put us at ease was their attire. No expensive designer fishing blouses, etc., just the kind of comfortable, “get-‘em dirty” clothes that Jerry and I wear on these trips. We told them we wanted to go for the home run ( i,e., head far offshore so we could eventually reach the edge of the Gulfstream - about 30 miles out - with time to work it before we had to turn back). They jumped at that suggestion. From that, we could sense that they weren’t new to the game and were more interested in catching “real fish” rather than just getting “bites” and a nice boat ride. That’s our favorite customer!
We ran to 800’ - about 15 miles out and 3 miles inside the shelf drop-off known as Wood’s-Wall; put our lines in there, then trolled south toward our Gulfstream goal. About an hour and 7 miles later, Jerry noticed a frigate bird scouring the water to the southeast, in an area of some thin, scattered bay grass and Sargasso weed. We chased it briefly and it led us to a narrow current “rip” with small pieces of debris interspersed in the weed. Shortly after we turned on it, two lines went down and then a third. DOLPHIN ON!!! They were nice gaffer-size fish and the ladies did a great job of getting them to the boat. The pressure was off -- and the party was just starting! That rip kept producing bites; we found some flotsam and another rip later that were also productive; and we continued to get bites from good-size dolphin for the next few hours. We returned with 17 dolphin, all substantially bigger than the legal minimum, and even threw back at least one well larger than legal size, just to let it grow bigger and maybe provide a fun time and a meal for some future anglers. On top of that, our lady anglers never lost a fish we hooked!! I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect charter trip but, at least from this captain’s point of view, this one came close. We caught a lot of big fish for great customers. They let us call the shots; they gave us enough time to do it the way we wanted; and they had the patience to wait until good things started to happen. Even better, the ladies turned out to be deft anglers mechanically; were a joy to have on board – great easy-going, down-to-earth personalities; and they tipped Jerry VERY well on our return. Suzanne even helped Jerry with the filleting. It don’t get no better!!!
Turns out our ladies were not the stereotypical women anglers. Suzanne is the president of Fedoruk & Associates, Inc., a public relations firm in Minneapolis, and Vickie successfully raised four children. They both are married to successful husbands who love to fly their own planes but don’t have the fishing bug the ladies do. As a result, Suzanne and Vickie have taken multiple fishing trips together - at least 10 a year for the last several years - and have fished all over North and South America. Those trips have included both salt and fresh water adventures, and even ice-fishing! (C’mon guys – admit it – you’re thinking: “Why can’t I meet a chick like that!”) Despite those experiences, they were very attentive to Jerry’s guidance and followed his instructions to a “T.” In that regard, both Jerry and I have said in the past that our favorite anglers tend to be women and kids just for that reason, - they don’t think they know it all; they don’t have egos; they listen; and they do better as result!
I guess the lesson here if you are a charter customer is that your attitude can have a great influence on that of your crew and on the success of your trip. Be respectful of your crew; show up with a smile on your face; and let your crew do what they do best. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how your crew will respond and that can make the whole day a lot more pleasant and productive for you - and for them!
In closing, I just want to thank Suzanne and Vickie for giving Jerry and me one of our most fun days on the water ever!! GIRLS ROCK!!!
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