Picking a Charter Company, What You Don’t know Will Hurt You Written by Stan Gabruk of Master Baiter’s Sportfishing and Tackle Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Since the year 2000, Master Baiter’s has been in the Sportfishing Charter business. Some call it Deep Sea Fishing, others call it Sportfishing, what ever you choose to call it, it’s expensive and there’s no way around that simple fact of life. I always have potential clients enter my shop on the boardwalk in Marina Vallarta and they naturally ask for prices. When I collect all the information I need from them to make a recommendation, they are seldom happy about the price and that in itself is a deal breaker. Especially for many vacationing Anglers with a “whim” to go fishing for “Moby Dick”. When I do finally figure out the correct or best option for the client, he’s usually grabbing his chest from the heart palpitations he’s experiencing. I can understand that reaction for sure. When you tell a potential client that a ten hour trip on a nice and nicely equipped boat is going to run on average $1,000.00 usd for up to five people (total, not each person), this is normal. After years of this I think it’s finally time to get down in writing why things are the way they are. When you stop and realize that for the same money, you can rent a Jet Ski and pay more for that per hour than you are for a multi-hundred thousand dollar boat! Just to put things in perspective. Lets go into a little more detail on this since it can be a deal breaker.
Start-up and Operating Expenses: First, let’s take a look at the expense of the boat itself. If you’re lucky and you buy a three year old Luhrs Express with fresh engines for example, you’d be lucky to get one of these for $180,000.00 usd (it’s a ball park number so don’t beat me up for this over present market conditions). Now the engines on a Charter Boat that’s going out 15 to 20 times a month (which is a lot) will last three years before you’ll need to start thinking about what the engines remaining life span is. Without getting into this too heavily, I use the accounting / business standard three year return on my investment (ROI) formula for this, as do some others in Marina Vallarta. The boat payment alone, without interest attached for 36 months (3 yrs) is a $6,000.00 usd per month payment alone. Most financing a boat like this will extend the terms so their payment is in the neighborhood of $2,000.00 usd per month for multiple years, with a substantial down payment. Tack on Fuel, insurance, water, electricity, cleaning products, oil changes, Equipment, salaries, fishing licenses for a year, Line, Lures, Poles, maintenance, Reels, ADVERTISING, more equipment and you start to get a feel for what the upfront expenses are before you ever see a dime in profit. Don’t forget, you’re a startup company so people won’t know of or about you. With all these expenses and some I didn’t mention, the actual running expenses / cost of the 32 ft. boat will ultimately run approx. $743.00 usd per 12 trip (1/3 to 1/2 being fuel alone, rest being fixed cost). If as an owner you charge $1,000.00 for that trip, the owner saw maybe $257.00 usd over operating expenses in profit. Hit this amount with taxes or Hacienda as they call it here in Mexico, and I’m sure you can see where this is going. I’d also like to emphasize that 15 trips a month is considered a heavy traffic month, so the numbers can go south in a heart beat if demand for your services dry up due to bad economies like in the USA now. Put this all together and you’ve got a dicey situation for the Deep Sea Fishing industry, especially if you’re new in the “neighborhood”. A risky business venture to be sure, yet we get those who want to retire and become Jimmy Buffet Living in Margarita Ville where life is a constant party. Well folks, it doesn’t work like that, it’s not glamorous or a big money maker.
Average time in business for start up charter companies is 2.5 yrs in business or less. That’s how long it usually takes people to figure out they’re not having fun or making any money and most likely both. Hell, they’re not even covering their expenses with low charter months and eventually the money will just dry up and there goes the fantasy. The competition doesn’t help when they sell their boats for less than operating cost, but hey, they got few dollars I their pocket today. They worry about tomorrow when they can’t avoid it any longer.
Charter Services in Florida, Hawaii, and Cabo all price their charters considerably higher which makes Puerto Vallarta the best value for your Sportfishing dollar as things stand now! With Marine Fuel in the $2.40 (conservative) a gallon range, it’s less than half what they’re paying for it in the Caribbean, Hawaii or Florida!
Recently in PV, Many existing charter companies with good reputations are updating their charter boats with newer boats, yet prices are staying stable because of a noticeable slow down in tourism. With all the financial balls people are juggling in North America the budget fisherman has been hit hard. But the growth in popularity of Puerto Vallarta and the sport is off setting the lower levels in tourism. People with money will always have the money they want to do what they want. Big Game Fishing has never been cheap and it never will be. For those with the necessary cash flow, The World has turned its eyes our way and things are changing accordingly…..
One thing to look out for is the guy who says he can take a deposit on a specific boat, he may even have a slip of paper with a number on it, but it doesn’t mean a thing amigo. Last week I placed two different sets of people who gave a person a deposit for a day of fishing, just to find out when it came time to go, the boat was no where to be found. No contact, Nobody. I tried calling the boat that was “chartered” only to find the boat was already booked and confirmed for other people. Those unsuspecting folks were robbed and didn’t find out for three days after they dropped the deposit. Don’t be fooled, Use an established Charter company with an office from which they work from. If you don’t have that, and I don’t mean a mini mart, you’ve got a possible vacation disaster. So beware of who you’re dealing with…..
About Captains and Crews: They say there is no substitute for experience and here in Puerto Vallarta (PV) truer words were never spoken. Many, if not most of the Captains here grew up on the docks learning from their Fathers and Grand Fathers. There are many third generation charter Captains that know this area better than the back of their hand. The problem is, this is Mexico and most Mexican Captains and crews don’t speak English (all of ours do). This can make communication difficult for the vacationing Angler. So the Captain with good, maybe not great English skills will be favored over the non-English speaking Captains. Now I can more than understand this since a person coming down from Canada or the States will find a comfort factor in being able to communicate with the Captain….. Imagine that. So when a boat owner chooses a Captain, he has to choose from a limited few that may or may not be the best choice available. Coming down to the Marina or reading articles online will help the decision making process but you never know what you’ve got until you’ve been out with one. Many people come to PV year after year going from one company to another looking for the correct combination of ability, quality, comfort factor, and price! Since people are creatures of habit, if they have fun, you’ve got a locked in return client! They’ll come back year after year, since they already like the boat and crew, why change??
Some Captains come in consistently with fish, while others will tell you they’re the best, yet choke when the chips are down. Now we all know fishing is fishing and on any given day you can come in skunked, it happens to the best of us. But as a charter company owner I’m looking for everything, Perfect English, Experience, reliability, a dash of personality and the ability to come in with a full fish box when others are coming back “empty handed”. For those off days when you come back with an empty fish box, we’ve all heard the horror stories, the very least you want is a Captain and Crew that you feel gave it their all. Changed lure color often, tried different things and had the tools necessary for several fishing methods! Not just trolling the six lures they may have.
So how would the general public coming down to Puerto Vallarta know which Captain is best for them? Well amigos, it’s almost impossible to tell if you’re not in the middle of the action. That’s where we come in, making sure we have the best Captains available on our boats so you don’t have to worry about such things. The boat you were on last year may have been great then, but things change rapidly in Marina Vallarta and the captain and crew, hell even the owner may have changed since the last time you went out fishing with them. Everything has changed about that boat, except the name that is. So choose a reputable Fishing Charter Company and you’ll most likely not be disappointed with your day on the water.
Now remember, this article is for the average guy hoping to learn a little something from an insiders view. Again the goal of this article is to share information with the average person so “he” can better understand why things are, the way they are!
Lets Talk Equipment / Tackle: Sportfishing makes the expense of Golf look like nothing in comparison. When it comes to Big Game or Deep Sea Fishing here in Puerto Vallarta (PV), where it’s very possible to boat a world record fish, you just know it’s going to be expensive. If you compare a rig as I call it, or a fishing pole / reel set-up to that of a bag of golf clubs (about the same cost, balls and all), you could spend between $1,200.00 to $2,000.00 usd dollars in the blink of an eye. Take this number, multiply it by ten to fifteen times and you’ll have a basic idea of the minimum requirements for a professional charter boat when it comes to poles, reels, line and lures. If you’re looking for smaller fish inshore or larger fish at El Banco or Corbetena, you have to have the correct rig for the species targeted and for conditions that day. Mix in hooks, line, Flouro Carbon leader (expensive), gaffs, harnesses, swivels ($15 usd each), Kites, Down Riggers etc. , the list just goes on and on. Nothing is cheap, tack 30% on to the normal USA cost for these items just because you’re buying them in Mexico and you start to see what we’re talking about. You can try sneaking it in, but good luck, they love finding new fishing gear in suitcases as they’re checked in Customs.
Now the Charter Boat that doesn’t have the best equipment and tackle, well this will become obvious when you head out and snap the line ten times in one day on a boat who’s using stressed line….. We all lose fish, but not a bunch in a row from broken line. If this happens it’s old, chaffed, and ready for the trash bin. The Angler spending a thousand dollars for a trip to catch Moby Dick deserves much more than the opportunity to lose a fish on a half full spool of stressed line.
That’s another point, Getting spooled in this day and age is unacceptable and you should never go on a boat that doesn’t have Spectra Backed reels. Especially when you’re looking at Grander Marlin and Monster Yellowfin tuna from June to Mid January! Once you’ve boated or fought a larger billfish or Yellowfin Monster you’ll be glad you had new line. But even then, the life span of the line is between five and ten big fish, especially billfish. The fishing line these days are designed to perform, but not forever. It stretches and gets chaffed by bills, sun, salt and age. Fresh line on full reels is very easy to see and is an indicator for what you could expect on that charter boat. So the next time you’re out choosing a charter, ask to see the equipment if possible. The whole day will depend on the mere fact that the charter boat owner spends fifty dollars to reline a reel so these things won’t happen for the worse constantly. But remember, like I said earlier, breaking line is part of the game, but not ten times in one day! Everyone wants to save a buck or two, but make sure you get what you think you’re paying for, not what your wallet tells you. You’re better off waiting another year and doing it right with the opportunity to have the time of your life….
Let’s talk about the service end of the business: I’ve talked before on how people look for a charter company. First they may check out the internet at home, but many wait until they come down to Puerto Vallarta to get the “feel” of the area. First they talk with the guy who gets their luggage to the taxi at the airport when you first arrive. Then he’ll talk with the taxi driver, Next comes the concierge at the hotel, the waiter in the restaurant, people around the pool and finally he’ll find his way to Marina Vallarta and walk the gauntlet. There are companies in Marina Vallarta that are the flavor of the month. One guy or company which just sprung up this past summer went out of business selling Roasted Chicken and now books really cheap boats out of Los Penas Marina. They’ve got a nice, cheap office with pretty furniture and a nice logo to impress you. Then also got a guy who’s standing on the board walk (or walking the boardwalk) asking you if you need anything from a tour to a fishing charter. Now this guy can’t tell you what kind of baits are working right now, but he’s quick to talk of his twelve boats. Of course he can’t remember the names of but two, but he’s got twelve!
Check out internet travel forum sites about the area or sites like Trip Adviser, World Wide Fishing Guide, Fodor’s travel guide, Linely Planet, or Fromers etc. where slouch companies can’t afford the price of participation. Look for recommendations from travel agencies, articles, travel guides again like Fodor’s, the hotel concierge, but locals that live in the area are always the best. Word of mouth is still the best advertising as long as you’re not talking to a taxi driver about his brother in law that just bought this new boat and he´s cheap. English speaking types that live in the area are your best bets. Vacationers and travelers in general are always more than willing to share their experiences, mostly bad. I’ve always found that flattering words may go unsaid, but a bad time will get plenty of volume when it’s time to speak of horrible experiences.
Service is first and foremost, no matter how much you paid for your day on the water. Naturally lower cost providers should come with lowered expectations. Having said that, I don’t care if you live in Mexico or on Mars, service is a basic fact of life in any business. Service doesn’t cost the operator or Owner a thin dime more than he’s already spending. It all comes down to getting the most from your people and making sure clients are not only having fun, but are being provided the service they don’t know they need. Do they meet you on time at an agreed to meeting place? Is the boat fueled up with bait and ice, ready to go? Are there any money issues that you’re unaware of until that moment of departure (This happens all the time)? Do you have your contact persons phone number if need be? Do you know your boats name / location?
All important stuff that should not be a mystery! Was the crew courteous and pleasant? Do they interact with you? Do they listen to your request? Do they release when informed of this desire or not? Did they tell you they speak English, just to later discover they know ten words of English? This and the list could go on for ever. All very important things to consider when choosing a charter company…..
I have another article I Have written. I will post that article after I get this up….
If you should have any questions, feel free to ask: www.MasterBaiters.com.mx or CatchFish@MasterBaiters.com.mx Facebook: MasterBaiter Stan Tshits: www.MasterBaitersGear.com (big sellers and very funny).