Barely Making it

A few times each year I get on a sportboat, there is just no way around it.  I do my best to learn something and make new friends, but I have this thing where I am always looking at ways to improve.  Its a curse really, to not be able to like things just the way they are I mean.  After a good nights sleep and some careful consideration I decided to write about it.  Maybe someone in the sportboat industry will read it and give a damn, maybe not.  At least I will feel better getting it off my chest.

I will preface by saying this is my opinions, and many guys do like things just the way they are.  I would also like to state that there are operations that do a very good job with what I am going to talk about, and it shows through their popularity and success.  Price is usually a good indicator, as quality service commands top dollar.

First and foremost I see a lack of personal attention or any effort to build lasting relationships with possible future customers.  Over the last few years the sportfishing industry has seen boats flat go out of business and back to the bank.  You’d think that the guys making a living by serving others would get it after a while?  Start by not giving “the speech” at the beginning of the trip by saying “Tom, Dick and Harry” will be helping you with whatever you need on deck.”  Bring the crew in and introduce them, one at a time.  When I was an operator, I made it a personal goal to learn the names (and remember them) of each and every passenger that paid to come on my boat.  The Captain needs to be friendly, helpful and accessible as well.  Something rarely seen these days.

Crew members need to lend a helping hand to those that are struggling and not just send them to the bow.  Yesterday there was a husband, wife and 13 year old (ish) kid with no sportboat experience.  They huddled together fishing with inappropriate rigs and tackle, and were totally ignored by the crew.  Mid day I finally pulled the kid aside and rigged him with something that at least gave him a CHANCE at hooking something.  Watching the crew ignore these passengers makes me worry about sportfishing as a whole.  Showing new anglers a good time is critical to our small, fragile economy.  Everyone complains about the admission price of Disneyland, but this family just paid the same amount to come out and be ignored.  They mentioned on the way home not enjoying the trip, so thats three lost instead of three gained.

Captains and crew have no control over the weather or fishing, but they do have control over the food.  Unanimously among all the guys I talk to, the food is the most important part of most sportboat operations.  Have the galley open and running in the grey!  I really wish I could have had a hot breakfast burrito in my hand before 8:30am, but it just was not an option.  So the bacon takes an hour to cook?  Start earlier.  If you are going to charge $9 for a breakfast (and not allow passengers to bring their own food), it better be over a pound and not 3 bites for a guy like me.  Better yet, make them $4.50 and I will order two.  Keep the crew out of galley, especially when I have been waiting over an hour for what I ordered only to watch a member of the crew walk by with a hot meal.  If I noticed it, so did a potential long term, repeat customer.  A loyal customer base would make any business a success, and we can all use more customers.  Lastly, when the ride home is going to be 2 hours (or more), keep the galley open.  Why do I mention this?  Yesterday when our fishing day ended the galley cook stopped taking orders for hot food.  This was discussed the entire ride home after a good day of fishing.  Way to end the trip on a bad note guys.

I do respect the lifestyle of being on the water 4-6 days a week this time of year, and the toll it takes on the entire crew.  Please remember that passengers look up to the Captain and crew, so you must act in a responsible manner.  Watching deckhands throw trash overboard all day was a hot topic amongst the passengers.  It was not uncommon to see soda boxes thrown out of the galley window, to the horror of those who saw it.  I watched a member of the crew knock over a trash can on the bow and keep going as the styrofoam cups and plastic food wrappers blew through the scuppers and overboard.  Completely unacceptable to those who saw it.  When I followed by lifting the trash can and putting what I could back in I got no kudos from the crew.  Sad.  It would seem logical to me that a professional waterman that makes a living utilizing a resource based on a clean healthy ocean would set a better example for others.

In this day and age most consumers can spot dishonesty a mile away, but a good fish count is hard to deny.  Please keep the fish counts honest, as well as the size of the catch. To be on a boat one day and know exactly what was caught and how big they were, only to see an overly inflated fish count the next day with a blatant  exaggeration of fish size shows a lack of integrity.  I can see where new customers will be lured onto the next trip, but the ones that just got off the boat will most likely never come back.  Getting the customers coming back again and again is what makes a successful business, not false advertising.  Also, do not advertise “tanks full of live squid” only to have empty tanks when customers arrive.  This was another complaint I heard discussed again and again, especially when we were jigging bait and not allowed to fish seabass as the sun came up.

In closing I will reiterate that these are my opinions and some observations of sportboat passengers over the years.  A lot of guys like things just the way they are, while sportboat operations are happy seeing those few faces on a regular basis.  Loyalty does exist, even on the boats with the worst reputations.  I know it sounds cliche, but in my business customer satisfaction is priority #1.  One unsatisfied client could seriously affect my business just through word of mouth, and frankly I can’t afford that.  Not monetarily or emotionally.  If I thought that things were fine the way they are I would not have have felt compelled to write this, but it saddens me to see this industry suffer when it could thrive by just doing a few things differently.   Maybe with a boat full of happy loyal customers sportboats would spend more money on tackle and in the galley making it affordable to take those new AQMD supplied free engines and kick it up a few knots.   That 6 hour ride home with a closed galley really does nothing to help passengers want to come racing back and spend more money, especially when we suspect the fish counts are inaccurate.    Just sayin’.



Unite As One, Or Lose It All

Recently we were informed that a new regulation has been implemented by the DFG.  The rockfish maximum depth that is 60 fathoms (360′) will be reduced to 50 fathoms (300′).  No, we were not informed that we had a say in the matter prior to the decision.  Odd, considering that we live in a democracy, where we should get a vote in the process of decisions such as these.  Instead of consulting the anglers that actually fish for rockfish, the DFG consulted an environmentally proponent panel of biologists and scientists.  Even if these lawmakers are going to continue to vote on policies behind closed doors, we should get to vote as to who is on such panels.  As of now, they are appointed and we have no say as to who is elected to such powerful decision making positions.

The truth is, we are a divided group that cannot come together as one and stand our ground effectively.  The anglers fight the free divers, the sportboat operators fight the private boaters, and different areas such as Newport fight against the Long Beach guys.  Together we make up a powerful force that can stand against the environmentalists.

The recent decision was made to protect the cow cod, a fish known for living on the deepest of rocks and structure.  Most recreational rock coders rarely (if ever) catch one, but those with the skill and equipment catch them at will and there seems to be no shortage of cow cod.  It’s obvious that there are ulterior motives to the poorly explained closures and regulations.  While the vast majority of recreational users of our local waters are the most environmentally friendly of all, we see no need for ridiculous salmon grouper limits or rock cod fishing depth restrictions.  What the end game plan is for these behind the scenes policy makers remains a mystery.  The evidence points to a complete closure of all local waters at some point in the not too distant future.  Even those who are not conspiracy theorists can see it coming.

Different groups have formed to try to unite all to battle the forces of evil, but a lack of trust keeps them from flourishing.  With no transparency, rumors of back door deals and embezzlement have flooded our fickle industry, and attempts to repair the reputation of such groups have failed.  The commercial industry stands alone with some success, but they are fighting to keep their boats and tradition alive.  The simple fact that commercial interests with their nets and state of the art equipment can sway the environmental policy makers with solidarity and money, is proof alone that we should come together as recreational users of our local waters.

If we could unite fuel dock and tackle store owners, landing operators, private and sportboat enthusiasts and operators, and tackle manufacturing giants, then we could stand on our own two feet and fight this insanity.  Shipyards and boat builders stand to lose on this deal also, and should stand with us.  Coastal cities stand to lose millions of dollars spent by surf fishermen and private boat anglers that stop to get groceries, ice, bait and pay for parking.  So local city governments should be easy to recruit.  A high percentage of hunters also fish, and the whole group could come on board with us as well as the NRA.  The number of trout and fresh water bass fishermen alone is enough to build a team powerful enough to combat those trying hard to take away what we love so much.  Lastly, surfers fall into the same category as us, “Watermen.”  If intelligently informed of our plight,  surfers might just be the straw that breaks the back of the politicians that are well paid by those trying to close our whole industry down.

So before you decide you hate someone you have not even met, just because they put on a wetsuit and jumped in on your kelp, think about it.  They could be on your team, our team.  Sportboat operators should see private boaters as one of the good guys, not the enemy (and visa versa).  The amount of on the water drama is on the rise these days and its only dividing us to the point where we are a useless bunch of unorganized crybabies.  The environmental factor is watching, and taking advantage of our childishness.

As a group the end game seems clear for us watermen.  We all want to protect the resource and take the necessary steps so it remains for our children, and our children’s children.  At the same time we want to be able to enjoy the resource responsibly today, without crippling the local economy and having our freedoms trampled by those with selfish motives.  It all comes down to how bad we want this thing, and anyone can decide to make a difference today.

Don’t just throw money into a jar and walk away, do something, anything.  Volunteer for a group that has our agenda in mind and get involved.  Recruit others, especially your kids to have a voice and an opinion.  It’s their waters that are being taken away.  Write letters, actual letters to congressmen and policy makers.  We don’t need to stomp our feet or occupy the DFG, we actually have a valid argument.  Our freedoms are being trashed with our own money, and its wrong.  If we don’t unite soon the end may be nearer than we think, and the local golf course is going to get really crowded.