Fishing is often at its very best when carried out in solitude. This is not surprising, as the sport is extremely personal and rewarding when pursued this way. That said, there’s nothing quite like fishing as a part of a team. It’s also a personal and rewarding experience — not to mention loud, exciting, exhilarating and just plain fun.
When it comes to the arena of high-stakes, competitive team fishing (whether in tournaments or just normal, everyday fishing), Miami’s Capt. Ray Rosher commands a high degree of respect. Regarded by many as the pre-eminent offshore captain in South Florida, his tournament pedigree is also a cut above the rest. He offers a few thoughts here on team fishing.
Everyone Has a Job
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In the offshore world of marlin and tuna, fishing is almost always a team sport. It has to be when dealing with such large animals. The traditional make-up of such a team includes a skipper, an angler and two mates — a wire man and a gaff or tag man.
But there’s more to team fishing than meets the eye, especially when it comes to the various types of tournaments.
Take, for instance, the all-release sailfish events that Rosher competes in throughout South Florida. Depending on the size of the boat he’s running, the number of lines allowed and the number anglers permitted, Rosher might have anywhere from one to five mates working in the cockpit below, in addition to several anglers.
That’s a lot of bodies — but one simple rule always applies: Everybody’s got to work as a team.
“In everyday charter fishing, one guy generally watches the lines on one side of the boat, while another watches the other side,” says Rosher. “But in tournament fishing, one guy’s watching two baits at most, and preferably only one.”
When the bite is on, triple and even quadruple hookups are not uncommon in these tournaments, and communication becomes critical.
“When I’m running a boat from the tower, it’s sometimes impossible to hear me below because of the wind,” says Rosher, “so I need to rely on an experienced alpha mate. We’ve got to be on the same page. I might holler a couple of words to that mate, and he’s got to quickly translate to the rest of the team. It’s almost like a quarterback making calls on the fly.”
In a perfect world, the teammates react as a singular, efficient unit, pulling together in their various capacities to get the job done. But that’s only part of it.
Versatility Is Key
There’s another intangible quality that Rosher looks for in his individual team members and strives to achieve with his team as a whole: versatility.
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It’s crucial for each man to stick to his job and do it well. “But anytime someone can cross over from job to job, including the anglers, the better the team becomes,” says Rosher.
An angler who is also adept at quickly rigging baits and gaffing fish is a valuable man on a boat. And this kind of nimbleness is also an excellent quality for the man at the helm.
“I don’t always run the boat,” says Rosher. “Every year, I want to spend some time in the cockpit as a mate. I think it really helps me appreciate how hard that job is to accomplish, especially during tournaments. It makes me a little more patient when things go wrong in the pit and I’m running the boat. In fact, I firmly believe the best captains are also excellent mates. That’s often where we start. Think about it: How can a person run a business successfully if he doesn’t understand the jobs of those below him?”
When a skipper is willing to get down in the trenches, it builds a natural sense of unity, and while the captain plays an important role, Rosher says his mates and his anglers are just as important — if not more so — when it comes to making split-second decisions that usually affect the outcome of tournaments.
“There’s a pecking order that develops,” says Rosher, “and we usually have at least one younger or less-experienced crewman on the boat who does the more-nonessential things. It’s the nature of the business. But this person is crucial; you need him floating around to make sure everything is good. You don’t want too many chiefs in one cockpit — having all levels of the hierarchy creates a well-rounded team.”
But invariably, problems arise during intense competitive fishing. The best teams try to anticipate those problems before they happen, both at the docks and during slow times on the water.
“We’ll verbally go through the various situations,” says Rosher. “If a clip doesn’t pop out of a kite line, what do we do? Or if a fish comes up jumping before you’re tight, what do we do? The list goes on. If you don’t have a plan, you’re going to have chaos.”
Of course, Rosher notes that even on the best boats, chaos does occur from time to time. So what does he do during those instances?
“First, you determine if the problem is fixable,” he says. “If it’s unfixable, you keep your mouth shut. True professionals don’t need to be scolded. They beat themselves up enough. When issues arise, we try to address them at the end of the day during calmer moments.”
In that sense, boat psychology among teammates becomes just as important as fishing skill. And it’s a big part of the reason that Rosher places a higher degree on attitude and values than fishing experience when hiring mates. He looks for hard workers who love to fish and are good communicators, noting that positive-minded crewmen are very important to the end results of tournament fishing.
“Every mood in the cockpit can potentially swing the mood of others,” he says. “Happiness creates happiness, and the best thing you can do when a problem occurs is to make a joke and laugh at yourself. In the end, that’s much more productive and keeps you in the game.”
And staying in the game during tournaments is what it’s all about.