#1 question…How do I fish for a living?
A fan writes:
"Hi Captains, I love the show. I’m 42 years and have a deep passion for fishing. Until recently, I worked 10 years for UM. But, I was never really happy because I wasn’t doing what I love. I am interested in working on a charter boat. How difficult is it to begin this? Do you have any tips? What is the average salary? Do you know of any captain’s having any openings, maybe even you guys?
I get this question all the time. When I say, “this question” and “all the time” I mean that I get some form of this question at least once per week and I have since reached the “tipping point”. The tipping point (read Malcolm Gladwell’s book with the same title) is when things just change and tip in the direction of success. For me, I reference the tipping point here as the moment when the outside world quit asking me when I was going to get a real job, or if I really thought I could make a living fishing, and started asking me questions like Robert just did.
I guess that if you just continue to do what you love long enough, people just kind of figure that you are doing ok, or maybe it was the infectious positive attitude, or the 14 hour days that I never complained about, or that I was always doing 14 hour days for months at a time, and on the one day off that I might have, I would do an 18 hour day for my own enjoyment. Behavior like this is so contrary to the 9-5 punch a clock mentality that is so prevalent in our society.
Robert, I promise that I am going to answer your question…hang in there.
Sometimes, I find it a little funny that anyone would ask me for advice on how to get started. It is funny because I did virtually everything wrong that can be done wrong and continued to do that until another “tipping point” where people just started assuming that if I had been doing it that way for a while, maybe it was the right way.
My father was not a professional fisherman or guide. I did not grow up in the Keys or near the ocean. I did not know anyone who had ever been a professional guide and I had only taken a couple of guided trips in my lifetime, from guides who were not people that I had any desire to emulate.
No, I just started fishing and loved it. When I say that I loved it, I mean it. Fishing became everything to me. When I was fishing, I had complete tunnel vision and laser focus. I was able to learn at a rate that I never knew in school and for the first time ever, I had a passion, an unrelenting desire to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible in the shortest amount of time. This was new to me.
High school was tough for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do and even less of a desire to figure it out. College was even worse.
However, I did take a risk and applied for a job in Yellowstone National Park for a summer. I got the job and found myself packing for a summer in a place I had never been before. One thing that made it into the backpack was a 8 1/2 foot 4 piece 6 weight Western Series Orvis fly rod. It was cool. I had no idea how to use it.
Once out there, I found my way to the Yellowstone River and managed somehow to tie a fly onto a leader. Having no idea what I was doing, I walked down the bank of the river and looked into the water. Floating 2 feet above the water was the most beautiful fish that I have ever seen. It was a Yellowstone Cutthroat trout and it was precisely 19 1/4 inches long.
As I stared at the fish and tried to understand how and why it was floating above the water, it hit me. Far from the muddy TN waters, I was just beginning to understand the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The fish wasn’t floating above the water, I had just never seen water this clear. It was as if there was no water at all. Confused, I started to put things together and the bottom, fish and surface of the water all began to align correctly and I realized that the fish was holding in the current about a foot below the surface.
Somehow, I managed to get my fly upstream of the fish and watched as he would not eat it because it was dragging unnaturally. I tried for about 2 hours until I changed flies, moved, and finally was able to get the right drift to the fish. As Yellowstone Cuttroats do, he tilted toward the surface, and began to slowly rise toward the fly. This fish knew something was not right and he drifted under the fly for a foot or so before actually opening his mouth and eating it. Miraculously, I set the hook and caught the fish.
When I landed the trout, I experienced an inner peace that I had never felt before. As he slipped out of my hands and back into the river, I knew that I would be a fisherman forever.
So Robert, the answer to your question comes now, in sort of a Yoda type way. Once I decided that I was going to be a fisherman in that moment on the Yellowstone River, I was committed. So committed, in fact, that I probably should have been committed. Nothing was going to stop me…nothing.
Not only was I willing to sleep in a car, scrub toilets, travel, work 18 hour days, make a fool out of myself, ask stupid questions, clean boats, hang around fly shops until they wanted to kick me out, work for free, be a camp cook, wash dishes, build fences, change bearings on trailers, take boat loads of firewood down class 2 whitewater, fix cars, teach flycasting for free, live in a commune with 20 other people, and many many other things to make it happen, but I did all of those things with a giant smile on my face.
I of course, like you, asked for advice and got plenty, but none that ever helped. I looked for any help to try to make my dream a reality. I am sure that some people probably gave me some great advice or contacts that may just not have made sense to me at the time. The fact is that my story of how I was able to become a professional guide is quite the same as others I know that did it and continue to do it well.
Want the secret? Well, here you go. First, determine what you want. You say that you want to work on a charter boat, others say they want to be a flats guide, an offshore guide, a tug boat captain, a trout fishing guide, an elk guide, a professional bow hunter…You name it. The method is all the same.
Just do it. That’s it. Just go out there and do it.
You are not happy with your job, your life, your situation? Change it.
Want to work on a charter boat…ok. Go where there are charter boats. Walk the docks. Talk to the Captains and tell them you want to work for them. They wont hire you? Of course they won’t. You just showed up! Stick around and take their shit until they do (you will be tested, because they will dish out A LOT of shit). Work for free, clean fish, scrub toilets, sleep in your car, LIVE in your car. One day, someone wont show up and you will be in. Then, you better work your ass off and make sure that the customers are happy, the boat is spotless and then clean it again. Be the best mate that has ever been on that boat, on that dock, in that town, in that State, in the United States, in the World.
I cant tell you how long it will take or if that first dock will be the right place, but if you are committed, it will happen for you. Make your decision and do it. In my opinion, being happy, hungry and doing what you want to do is better than being safe, fat and unhappy.
That’s my advice. Take it or leave it