Overcoming Crew Conundrums

By Lee Brake


Everything looks perfect: the weather, the tides, the moon phase, your horoscope, the entrails of a holy sacrificial goat… But there’s one small problem your usual crew is in hospital or jail (the only two acceptable excuses).

You could go for a solo mission but, if you’re like me, a great fishing trip is more fun when shared. There’s also aspects of safety and affordability; if you’re heading offshore, it’s much safer with multiple anglers and it also means you can split expenses (hopefully). With all that in mind, this article is based around the common conundrums one faces when finding, fishing with, and communicating with new crew members. What follows isn’t just for boat owners, either. If you’re looking at volunteering for a trip with a new angling acquaintance, read on carefully. I guarantee it will help you secure a repeat invitation.


Finding a crew

We live in an age of social media, so gone are the days of going through your little black book calling every fisho you know to see if they are available. Now it’s as easy as sending out a group email or Facebook message to your favoured fishing friends. If you still don’t fill the spot, it’s time to cast a wider net. An open post on Facebook is a great option, but be warned: it might lead to an awkward conversation if the flirty co-worker your wife hates, your overly “grabby” aunty, or your deodorant-allergic, chain-smoking neighbour puts up their hand. It’s probably better to put up a post on a fishing-related forum or Facebook page. It only takes some quick Googling to find some excellent forums (Aus Fish, Active Angler etc,.) or a motza of Facebook pages based on location, fishing style or species preference. Then it’s a matter of putting out some feelers. I’d recommend being specific to begin with. For example, try posting something like: “Wanted: crew for reef trip tomorrow to share fuel and bait costs; must have own gear and some experience”. Post on a few pages and you should have a selection of candidates.

Picking from a selection of strangers can be tricky, but, like you would when screening job or rental applicants, do a little social media investigation. Their pictures will quickly show you how often they fish and other interesting fishing info. For example, if you’re a catch and release angler and the prospective crew member has 20 shots of his or her backyard covered in dead fish, they might not be someone you’ll see eye-to-eye with. If you’re someone who doesn’t drink while you fish and all their photos are of them passed out on footpaths, you might also clash. It’s also worth noting if they own a boat or not. Fellow boat owners are often not only more experienced, they are also in a position to return the favour one day. Another tip is to see if they are a friend of a friend (a great Facebook feature). If they are, you can quickly get a “fishing reference” off your mutual mate.

Communication is key

Okay, so the above might seem a bit over the top. After all, you’re just going fishing with them, right? Well, we’ve all experienced or heard of nightmare crew members. There’s the “jellyfish” who cracks their first tinnie at sun-up and is an incoherent blob on the deck by lunchtime, the “legend” who has caught everything bigger than everyone yet arrives for a reef trip with a K-mart Special and a hook tied on with three granny knots, the “Kermit” who turns green the moment you leave the harbour heads, or the “Houdini” who vanishes the moment it’s time to clean up and chip in fuel and bait money. A quick check can help you avoid ruined trips with these individuals and then some simple pre-trip communication can overcome any other hurdles. These points apply to both crew members and skippers: make a list, make a schedule, discuss food, drinks, and anticipated costs and have some boat rules.

Lists are great. I have a mate who’s a keen but fairly amateur angler and before every trip he goes on, whether with me or someone else, he’ll ring me and ask me what he should bring. Once I know the destination and fishing style, I’ll tell him what gear he needs and he makes a shopping list. The lesson here is to either ask for a list or, if you’re the skipper, politely suggest some items to bring. Simple things like the correct sizes, types and weights of sinkers, jigheads, lures, hooks and leader are very important, and ask if they have a suitable outfit. If they don’t, either offer them a loaner or suggest they get hold of something suitable. If it’s going to be an offshore trip, ask if they get seasick and suggest they dose up on seasick pills before you leave once they feel sick, it’s too late!  

Be aware too that, as a new crew member, you can bring too much. Boat space is limited, so while it might be handy to bring a few small extras like a filleting knife, a pair of pliers or a good torch; it’s best to check before bringing your 200ltr esky, a tackle shop worth of gear and every rod you own!

It also helps to let your crew know very early on what the costs are likely to be so they can opt out if it’s over their budget. Also, if you suddenly plan to change your destination and increase the costs, it’s polite to let your crew know first. Nothing sours a good trip like a disagreement over money when it comes time to divvy up. On the other side of things, if you are a new crew member on someone’s boat and they don’t bring it up, make sure you offer to share the fuel costs. They might say “don’t worry about it”, but, by offering, you’ll be invited back a lot quicker than someone who doesn’t! If they don’t want money, a lotto ticket or something similar can be a nice gesture.

A schedule is also important. Let your crew know when you want to leave, but also let them know of any before or after chores you will need help with. A lot of non-boaters don’t realise what goes into setting up and cleaning up, so some will think that their time commitment starts and finishes at the boat ramp. If you need help setting up and cleaning up, don’t expect them to know that some won’t.

Lastly, food and drink is well worth discussing. I’ve done a few day trips with new anglers where I’ve ended up sharing my lunch with them, and sometimes even my water bottle, because they haven’t thought to pack anything. It’s odd, but it happens. Discuss options first. Usually I find it easier on day trips if everyone brings their own, but if one person is bringing the food for everyone, make sure any allergies and preferences are known. There’s nothing worse than sending your new crew member into anaphylactic shock with a PB & J sanger.

Drinks are the same. Usually, as skipper, it pays to bring extra water just in case, but if it’s an overnighter and you plan to have a few drinks, suggest they bring their own and also think about making a cans-only rule they crush down to save rubbish space and there’s no risk of broken glass on the deck.      

Lastly, as skipper, it’s your right to have some boat rules and it helps to keep everyone safe, which is also your responsibility. Give everyone a run down on all the safety gear and the location of other key things like the rubbish bin, landing nets, gaffs, pliers etc. If you’re new crew smokes, you might want to tell them the best spot on the boat to do so. Also, if you’re on a trip where you plan to take home a feed, it doesn’t hurt to discuss how you want to divvy up fillets. Agree early on whether everyone fishes for themselves or “for the boat”. If everyone’s fishing for themselves, then devise a marking system like nicks in fins or coloured cable ties. Personally, I’ve always found that sharing out the catch equally at the end of the trip is the easiest and most amiable way. Plus, it gives you even more reason to celebrate every catch, even if it’s not yours!    

It’s a learning curve

Up until this point, you might think that taking out someone new is possibly more trouble than it’s worth. However, apart from the safety and financial advantages, fishing with a variety of anglers is a great way to learn. The number of tricks I’ve learnt from fishing with and observing other anglers is astronomical. For example, I remember one trip out to the reef wide of Mackay I noticed one of the anglers rigging his squid and pilchards with the pilchard inside the squid skirt. It was something I’d never seen before and it worked well for him. Another angler once pointed out a sea snake on the surface to me and mentioned that he’d found a lot of isolated structure by sounding under sea snakes. Sure enough, we found a little rubble patch with some nice fish on it. It’s these little tricks that you don’t pick up by fishing with the same crowd week in week out. The trick is to be observant and open to suggestions.

It’s also important to be patient. Not every last minute addition to your crew is going to be up to your level, but if they are willing to learn, it’ll pay big dividends to take the time to teach them the basics. I’d rather go fishing with someone who’s mad keen and willing to learn a new knot or jigging technique over someone who thinks they know everything and is obnoxious.

Overall, there are a lot of advantages to be had from putting yourself out there, meeting new anglers and adding to your “prospective crew” list. You can make great new friends, learn a lot, fish with peace of mind knowing that if you fall over, someone can raise the alarm, save a bit of money and hopefully increase your catch. Go about it the right way and it can be a lot of fun. Invite just anyone though and expect them to automatically know what to do and bring, and you are just asking for disappointment.

Fish hard and stay safe,

Lee Brake