Pay your dues. How many times have we heard that line? It’s often used in competitive sports or bustling offices, but it gets used on the water as well.
Shane Austin has paid his dues. After 20 years of working as a mate on prominent charter boats and cashing in at the Big Rock, he’s ready for something new. He’s ready to try his hand as a captain and run his own boat. We sat down with Shane to talk about what it’s like to spend all that time on the water working as a mate, and to find out what’s next.
CH: Thanks for giving us a few minutes of your time. So how did you get started in the charter fishing industry?
SA: Well, I would say it was probably around age 13. I started working with one of my friends on a headboat. That was in 1983. So really it was my first summer job, working on that boat whenever I could. I kept it up until I was 19, then made a change and worked in construction for a while. But I came back to work on boats soon enough.
CH: So how many years have you spent working on boats?
SA: At this point I’ve been working as a mate on charter boats for over 20 years.
CH: That’s a long time you’ve spent on the deck – what would you say is your career highlight so far?
SA: Well, winning the Big Rock with Sea Creature (captained by Steve Coulter) is the easy one to list here. But it’s really been a lot of moments out on the water that no one knows about. I remember being out with a father and his 8-year old son, and the mother had passed away from cancer the year before. It was just father/son quality time for them. And you know what? They caught a grand slam that day. A blue marlin, a white marlin, and a sailfish. I’m just happy to be along for the ride when moments like that happen.
CH: People who go out on a charter fishing trip often ask “What exactly does a mate do?” Can you tell us what the mate might take care of on a typical day of deep sea fishing?
SA: The mate’s main job is to prepare the boat and the guests. That means getting all of the tackle and bait ready and loading it on the boat, and working with the captain to set a plan for the day. You know, if a mate is well prepared, it helps everyone have a good time on the water. And the better the captain and mate work together, the more fun everyone has. They’re a team. The mate is there to help educate guests on the boat too, giving them information so they can actually catch the fish. You want to get guests involved if they have some experience, you want them to catch the fish themselves, not just shove them in the fighting chair.
There’s a lot more that goes into it, setting the lines out, cleaning up the boat when it returns, but at the end of the day it’s about getting the guest involved – the more involved and active they are in bring the fish onto the boat, the better the results are for everyone.
CH: That sounds like a lot of work. How do mates get paid for all of that work?
SA: It will definitely keep you busy. You know, it’s not much different than a restaurant – the mate depends on tips. The tip is completely up to the guest. Sometimes there’s a little confusion by the guests, they might not know all the things a mate is responsible for. It’s important that we keep all of the knowledgeable mates out there on the water, those are the ones who make for a good charter fishing experience. If there’s a lot of turnover and some of these guys start looking at other lines of work, you might have an inexperienced mate who can’t manage the trip as well.
CH: We hear you’re working on your own boat, how’s that coming along?
SA: It’s getting there. It’ll be called the Old School. I’ve worked for free before, but I’ve never had to pay to work. It’s definitely a new experience for me. But we’re getting there and it’s exciting. I’m hoping we’ll be running trips in the late spring or early summer of 2015.
CH: It seems that some of the best charter captains have taken a similar path as you – first as a mate for several years, then taking to the tower.
SA: It’s not that common. Sometimes it’s people that were doing something else in life that end up being a captain. A doctor or an entrepreneur just shifts gears and wants to do something different. But it sure helps when the captain has been a mate before. Other mates tend to respect that experience in the captains they work for. I feel like the time I spent as a mate will help me with the next step, and I’m working as hard as I can to get the Old School ready.
Shane Austin is completing his boat project, but you can see him in action on the Chaser during parts of 2015.