|A rising tide, it’s said, floats all boats. Unfortunately, an ebbing economy can have the opposite effect. With inflation at levels that haven’t been seen in decades and gas prices rising even more, you can bet that charter captains and fishing guides across the country are feeling a shark-sized bite right where they keep their wallets.|
“It’s tough to make a living on the water when the cost of fuel and other expenses keeps rising,” says National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) president, Patrick Neu. “If you’re a charter captain, licensed guide or tournament angler you’ve certainly got some challenges to overcome. As an organization, we know inflation and higher fuel prices are going to negatively impact our members. Still, we’ve seen enterprising businesspeople throughout the fishing and boating industries battle these drags on our economy before and come out stronger than ever.”
Staying afloat in these rocky seas requires business owners of any type to show resolve, run things more efficiently, and view rising expenses as an opportunity to rise above the competition. That way, when the economy bounces back, you’ll be a better position to take advantage of the next bounce.
Take Adam Rasmussen, owner of Rasmussen Outdoors Guide Service and Salmon Depot Charters in Sturgeon Bay, WI. With more than 15 years of experience running charters for bass, walleye and salmon, he’s seen a few ups and downs but has always managed to push ahead. Today, he runs three boats and says his phone is still ringing off the hook.
|Adam Rasmussen, owner of Rasmussen Outdoors Guide Service and Salmon Depot Charters|
|Adam Rasmussen: Don’t Cut Corners|
“I’m just trying to see things through day-by-day and give my customers the best fishing experience they’ve ever had,” says Rasmussen. “Sure, I’m watching my expenses more, but I’m not cutting any corners when it comes to fishing success. I’m hitting the same spots that always produce even if it means taking a longer run to find better action. I haven’t made any adjustments to my bass and walleye trip prices as of yet. Most of those are local and if I have to eat an extra $30 in gas, that’s the price of running a professional outfit.”
On salmon adventures, which require a larger boat and more running/trolling time, Rasmussen has added a $50 fuel surcharge and says he may need to increase that to $100 depending on if the price of fuel continues to rise.
“I usually carry four to six people on salmon trips,” he explains. “Split that between fares and it’s only $25 or less apiece. In the short salmon season here, I can’t afford to lose $100 a day. I explain that up front and my customers seem to understand – especially those who’ve seen how hard I work in the past.”
It just goes to show that honesty is the best policy continues Rasmussen – and providing a professional experience pays dividends down the road. “If you need to raise your price, keep increases reasonable. I know guys that have added a couple-hundred dollars to the price of a salmon trip. I fish from a 34-foot Pursuit, and I’ve added on $50 to cover my fuel. Which one of us will get those customers next summer?”
|Matt Steffun, Port Mansfield Fishing Charters|
|Matt Steffun: Keep Saving|
Long time NPAA member Matt Steffen, of Port Mansfield, TX, also believes professionalism, honesty and a fair deal are keys to moving forward. He runs Port Mansfield Fishing Charters and points out that captains and guides need to not only cover daily expenses but to put away money from each trip in case engine maintenance or hull repair is needed down the line – even during tough economic circumstances.
“When I started out, an experienced skipper took me aside and said that to survive in this business, you need to save an amount equal to about half your gas expenditure on each trip for a rainy day,” recalls Steffen. “I took that advice to heart and it’s served me well over the years.
Matt has also found it important to be upfront with his customers.
“When I realized I’d have to increase my price for ocean trolling trips, I put a survey on my media page and asked if anglers would prefer I add a gas surcharge or adjust the billing at the end of the trip based on how much gas was used,” Steffen said. “Everyone who answered the survey chose the surcharge.”
Like Rasmussen, Steffen increased his fare for local fishing, mostly in the bays, but only by $50. He also runs an air boat for hunting tips and his price for those has remained unchanged. His offshore trips, however, increased by $300, which reduced his offshore bookings. His ‘regulars’ have continued to run with him but new prospects have sometimes chosen to book lower-priced trips offered by captains who keep prices low not putting anything aside for repairs.
“That makes it a little tough for me right now,” he says, “but we’ll see what happens when they miss a month or two of the season, while trying to find money to fix their boats. Part of being professional is being responsible and planning ahead for problems. Every vessel breaks down.”
|Photo courtesy of Sand City Fishing Charters|
|Gage Simon: Take the High Road|
Targeting striped bass, bluefish, fluke, scup and blackfish on Long Island Sound, Capt. Gaige Simon runs Sand City Fishing Charters out of Huntington, NY. He’s been in the boating and fishing industry for over 20 years but started his charter operation just this spring.
“I hadn’t fully priced in the inflation rate and rising gas prices when I first splashed the water,” he admits, “but I’m lucky there isn’t much competition in my area. I also caught a break when the stripers and blues absolutely invaded our waters so there’s been little need to go searching for fish. I’m sure I could jack the price up and blame the gas situation right now but that’s not my style. I plan to keep my fare the same for the rest of this year. I’ll make an adjustment next season, if necessary, but only if inflation warrants it.”
While Simon’s decision turned out to be an easy one – take the professional high road – he welcomed the opportunity to discuss his options. “It’s great to belong to an organization where captains talk openly about business options,” he says. “It gives newbies like me some guidance and different perspectives to think about. I’ve paid my dues in this industry, but this is my first year as a charter skipper. I’ll take all the help I can get from more experienced captains willing to share their knowledge. That’s one of the reasons I joined the NPAA.”
And that’s exactly what you’re likely to get with an NPAA membership. Yes, it’s another expense–but it’s also a smart investment.
“Our members learn what it truly means to be a professional and build a successful business strategy by networking with other members and attending our annual conference. At $100, our yearly dues are one of the few things in this world that hasn’t gone up in price for nearly two decades. It really is a bargain.”
To learn more about the NPAA, it’s member benefits, or to join the organization visit www.npaa.net.