PL AYERS

Marlin - - CONTENTS DEPARTMENTS - —Austin Coit

Your back story is a lit­tle atyp­i­cal in the sense that fish­ing wasn’t re­ally in the plan when you were grow­ing up, right?

I did a lot of fresh­wa­ter fish­ing grow­ing up. A lit­tle salt­wa­ter stuff. My grand­par­ents had a house on the wa­ter in Mas­sachusetts, and back then my fish of choice was tau­tog. That and blue­fish.

How did you go from blue­fish to blue marlin?

A big part of that was meet­ing Frank Mather. Frank was a sci­en­tist at Woods Hole Oceano­graphic In­sti­tu­tion whose re­search led to the first conservation mea­sures for At­lantic bluefin tuna in the United States. I was in high school and needed a sum­mer job. Frank had a home in Mas­sachusetts on the Cape, and one in Key Bis­cayne. That gave me the op­por­tu­nity to fish both lo­ca­tions. Most of our fish­ing was up north, in a 28-foot Ber­tram. That job opened me up to bluewater fish­ing.

How did that re­la­tion­ship come about?

I had a fam­ily friend who in­tro­duced us. Some­body men­tioned to him that I was look­ing for a fish­ing job that I could do for the sum­mer, and the rest is his­tory.

As a pri­vate boat cap­tain, which boats did you run?

My first boat was a 57-foot Billy Holton called Ke­owee. Then a 54 Ber­tram, Miss Guided; Blank Check, which was a 53-foot Hat­teras; Key Ven­ture, which was also a 53 Hat­teras; Fi­nal

Fan­tasy, a 54 Ber­tram; and briefly, a 60-foot Hat­teras called HZO. We went all the way from Ore­gon In­let, North Carolina, to Venezuela. We also fished the Florida Keys, St. Thomas, Turks and Caicos, Cozumel and Isla Mu­jeres.

What was your best year?

Well, once the dust set­tled, we caught 248 blue marlin in one sea­son in 1996, which in re­al­ity was more like six months of fish­ing. The marlin bite was good in Venezuela very early the year be­fore, and we got there around the first of April think­ing it was go­ing to be good again, and it was a bust. Green wa­ter, and it was cold — all of us were wear­ing fleece jack­ets marlin fish­ing. So we gave that up and headed to St. Thomas in June. The fish­ing was al­ready good by the time we got there, and we only had 15 re­leases for the year. But from mid-June un­til Septem­ber, we caught 88 blue marlin, and then went back to Venezuela for the reg­u­lar fall sea­son there. Catch­ing five or six marlin in a day back then was damn good fish­ing. The num­bers are kind of skewed now with the FADs, but it was re­ally good that year.

Where did you catch your first blue marlin?

With Frank Mather, ac­tu­ally, at Walker’s Cay in the Ba­hamas in 1977. I was work­ing as Frank’s mate, fish­ing on his 28-foot Ber­tram, Ahi. I think his wife, Natalie, was with us, but that was it. We were pulling mul­let, bal­ly­hoo and bone­fish in the spread, which was cus­tom­ary at the time — ob­vi­ously things are dif­fer­ent now. We rigged ev­ery­thing on No. 12 or 15 wire. We had a long rigger bite from a nice fish that we missed. A few hours later, we had a bite on the mul­let, and we caught that marlin. That one kind of so­lid­i­fied the no­tion of, Yeah, I re­ally want to do this for a liv­ing.

A lot of peo­ple as­so­ciate Mather with tuna conservation. Did you guys do a lot of tag­ging while fish­ing to­gether?

We did tag a lot of fish

to­gether. Frank de­vel­oped the Co­op­er­a­tive Game Fish Tag­ging Pro­gram while he was at Woods Hole. All with the spaghetti tags, though. PSATs did not, un­til many years af­ter, be­come some­thing peo­ple did. When TBF came out with the new ny­lon tags, we did com­par­i­son tag­ging, where our tag pole had two tags. We were sus­pi­cious that the alu­minum darts on the older tags were cor­rod­ing and fall­ing out. And that’s ex­actly what we found. Any fish we had re­cov­ered, if the fish was miss­ing a tag, it was al­ways the older one.

How did you end up in the Keys?

I was liv­ing in Key Bis­cayne with a guy who knew Richard Stanczyk — who had just pur­chased Bud n’ Mary’s Ma­rina in Is­lam­orada — so he called Richard and said, “I got this guy who’s all ea­ger to fish,” to which Richard replied, “Send him down; we’ll put him to work.” I started fish­ing out of Bud n’ Mary’s not long af­ter that.

How did the mate-to­cap­tain trans­for­ma­tion oc­cur for you?

The cap­tain who I was work­ing for got fired, and I got hired to run the boat. Sim­ple as that. I al­ready knew about run­ning the boat and ev­ery­thing else, so that was fine with me.

Then you got into the pri­vate boat scene.

Well, if you wanted to hire me as the cap­tain, I needed to be able to run the boat for char­ter in the down­time, when the owner wasn’t fish­ing with us, or I wasn’t go­ing to work for you. Be­cause I didn’t want to sit around like so many guys did, wait­ing on the owner to show up and pol­ish­ing alu­minum in the mean­time. So I ac­tu­ally got to fish a lot. But most of the own­ers were not all that keen on me char­ter­ing the boat when they were not there.

At what point did you de­cide you wanted to be your own boss?

I just got tired of the re­volv­ing door of own­ers and boats. There are those ex­am­ples of cap­tains who have long runs with a sin­gle owner, but that’s the ex­cep­tion, not the rule. It seemed like ev­ery cou­ple of years you would hear an owner say, “Oh, well, the boat’s for sale — see ya.” The part I dis­liked most was the up­stairs-down­stairs dy­namic that oc­curred fre­quently. The feel­ing that you are the hired help drove me crazy.

What is one se­cret to your fish­ing suc­cess?

I’d find out when the boat next to me was leav­ing the dock, and I’d leave an hour ear­lier. You have to put in the time on the wa­ter to be suc­cess­ful. That was some­thing I learned very early in my fish­ing ca­reer.

What is one change you have seen for the worse over the years?

The boats are too big and too com­pli­cated nowa­days. I don’t want to take my condo fish­ing.

Any pets?

I’m a pug fancier. My wife and I are par­ents to four pugs.

What are the best and worst parts about work­ing for your­self ?

Run­ning your own boat and mak­ing your own rules is the best part. The down­side is that you don’t get to fish all of the ex­cit­ing places any­more. You have to find a good spot and call that “home.”

Simonds preps the tackle for a day of blue marlin fish­ing aboard South­paw.Dur­ing his ten­ure at the helm, he has helped train le­gions of deck­hands over the years, with many be­com­ing no­table cap­tains them­selves along the way.

Pur­pose-built for char­ter fish­ing, the 43-foot sin­gle-en­gine Tor­res (right) is low main­te­nance, much like its cap­tain. Re­liv­ing the glory days as a globe-trot­ting pri­vate-boat skip­per (be­low). Simonds earned a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the hard­est­work­ing cap­tains in the game.

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