How FishingBooker Helped Me Kickstart My Charter Business

Jun 13, 2022 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

For many anglers across the globe, fishing full-time for a living is the ultimate dream. And running your very own charter company? Well, that’s just the cherry on top of the cake. However, getting the word out about your business and growing it so it becomes truly profitable can take some time. The reality can be a lot tougher than expected.

Captain Cole poses with a Redfish with the mangroves in the background

Truth is, many anglers need some financial security behind them while they get their charter companies up and running. It can also take time to make the transition into becoming a full-time charter captain with a booming business. Take Captain Cole McDade of Southern Mayhem Fishing Charters, for example.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, and growing up in Cocoa Beach, Capt. Cole developed a love of all things angling at a young age thanks to his dad, a lifelong angler. “The majority of my life growing up was running along the river and the local inshore waters, learning what it all has to offer,” he says.

Capt. Cole never doubted that he wanted to run charters for a living. However, he also knew that he had other plans in store. He wanted to go to college, for one, and he wanted to be able to balance his education with running charter trips, a dream he’d had since his parents first trusted him to run his own skiff.

Right now, Capt. Cole is a student at the University of Central Florida who runs inshore fishing trips part-time in the fall and spring, and full time in the summer. In 2021, he ran 89 trips just through FishingBooker. His ultimate goal, however, is to expand his charter business as soon as he’s graduated. Here’s how FishingBooker is helping him to do that…

How it All Started

When did you get into fishing?

I’d say my dad’s definitely the biggest reason I got into fishing – I was very young when he introduced me to it. He grew up fishing with his friends and never did it professionally, but he just loved the sport. He started taking me out here and there when I was young, especially to ponds to fish for Bass.

It’s fair to say my passion just grew from there. Unlike most kids who wanted to play baseball or other sports, I always just wanted to fish. When I got to the age where my parents trusted me to run a skiff, I started spending my afternoons on the river exploring. I was spending as much of my time on the water as I possibly could, picking up new things.

Sounds like the best way to learn! Is there any particular style of fishing you’re most fond of?

A guest onboard Captain Cole's boat holds a large Redfish

Although I started out Bass fishing, one of my favorite things to do is definitely fishing the mangrove lines in this part of Florida. I usually chunk for Redfish, and then bring live bait for Snook and Tarpon. On top of that, I really like fishing structure. I like that there’s a little bit of a visual aspect to it. You need to make the right cast to be successful.

Because I know this area well, I can rely on fish being in a certain spot on a certain day. It’s the most productive way to fish this area. I usually opt for cut baits or live baits. If I could choose the perfect day of fishing? It would be to start early in the morning and just start working mangrove lines all day.

You obviously have a lot of fishing experience yourself. But what do you think makes an angler a perfect fishing guide?

I would say one of the biggest things is being personable. You have to be able to talk to people and you have to be able to do it in a friendly way. And obviously, being good at fishing is another big part.  

One other aspect of the job that a lot of people look over a little bit is being reliable. You have to be at a certain place at a certain time every day, and there’s no excuse to not be there. I personally try to get to the boat ramp about an hour and a half before my clients will be arriving.  

That’s it, really – be personable, good at fishing, and reliable!

Something else I think is important is to enjoy the challenge of fishing a new area for new species. It’s not necessarily something that you’ll experience in chartering on a daily basis, but you always have to be on the lookout and find your guests a fishery that’s consistent.

Personally, I also like the challenge of chartering. It brings you anglers with so many different levels of experience. You get people who’ve fished their whole lives, as well as newbies that have never held a rod. That definitely brings challenges with it. Something I’ve found is that no matter their skill level, people enjoy having a target. I’ll point out productive areas and tell them where to cast for the best results.

Running a Successful Charter

Your business has been growing pretty rapidly since you’ve listed with us. What do you think has made you so successful?

A collage with two photos showing guests holding Tarpon

FishingBooker has honestly been a little bit of a blessing since I started. One thing it’s really made me focus on is creating an experience for my customers on board Southern Mayhem Fishing Charters. A lot of fishing guides get too caught up in worrying about how many fish they catch or what fish they catch. 

My charter also offers a more hands-on style of fishing. For example, if we were trolling offshore or something, I would be hooking fish and doing most of the work, before handing my customers the rod and telling them to reel in the catch. But this way, they get to cast themselves and learn the ropes. It’s a little bit more of a rewarding experience when they figure out how to make a good cast and catch a big fish.

Finally, catching fish definitely helps! But the biggest thing for me is I want to make sure everyone on the boat is having a good time. I think that’s what helped me stand out among some of the other captains in this area. There are slow days of fishing, for sure, so you’ve got to create an enjoyable experience for your clients all around. You’ve got to be personable and make them feel like it’s been worth their time no matter what.

Would you say that Fishing Booker has now become one of your more reliable sources of bookings?

Absolutely. I would say around 80% of my business comes through FishingBooker.  It’s a really great platform because people can see real-time reviews from actual customers. A lot of guests tell me that the positive reviews are a big reason why they booked with me.

Using your platform also shows guests that I’m legitimate. Some people get kind of weary about scams and stuff like that, especially if they’re going to someone’s personal website. Managing bookings through your site is a really easy experience for me and my clients. My guests like being able to place a security deposit and get a confirmed date.

Something else that I offer for them is Instant Book. As soon as they put in their card information, they know that they have a trip booked with me. I would say that FishingBooker accounts for the majority of my business. It’s an easy-to-use platform that makes my job a lot simpler!

Speaking of reviews, it’s interesting how guests always mention you by your name. There’s definitely a strong relationship there. Do you do anything specifically ahead of the trip to set customer expectations?

A child aboard Captain Cole's charter holds a Redfish with the water behind him

One of the things I try to do is to relate with my customers. It’s all about starting conversations. I want people to feel comfortable in my boat – and that goes for my mates, too. I don’t want my customers or my mates to feel like they’re working for me.  I’ve mated on other fishing boats where the captain was kind of bossing everyone around, including the clients, and that just creates an unenjoyable experience for everyone.

A lot of times people look pretty far in advance when booking a fishing charter, and I make sure I immediately respond to their initial message. I’ll say, “You know, that sounds great,” or if they have a question I’ll address it straight away.

In their initial message, a lot of people tell me what they’re hoping to catch. If it’s something that I don’t think is going to be good, I’ll set the expectation for them by letting them know. If someone asks me for Tarpon or something, I’ll say, “You know, Tarpon could be a little challenging at this time of year, but I’ll do my best to find some before the trip.”

Another important thing is maintaining contact with my guests. I’ll always send a follow-up message saying, “Hey, our charter is coming up a couple of days from now, let’s meet at this boat ramp at 7:00 A.M. This is what I’ll be bringing with me, and this is what you should bring.” I always tell people, “If you have any questions, feel free to message me.”

One thing that I think I do well is maintaining contact and showing my guests that I’m open to any questions or any concerns they may have.

Nice! That must be helpful, especially for inexperienced guests. How do you manage your business when things start to get busier?

A man and child stand aboard Captain Cole's charters holding a Redfish each

One thing I have is a master calendar where I put bookings that come from everywhere. If I get a notification for an Instant Book trip through FishingBooker, I immediately go and block that time slot on my master calendar. That way, I know I won’t be double booked. 

As far as FishingBooker goes, that’s one thing you have to stay on top of, especially if you have Instant Book.

Looking Forward to the Future

Are you looking to expand your business at some point?

The overall goal is to expand. Right now, I’m actually a full-time student at the University of Central Florida. I run my charter part-time in the fall and the spring, and then full-time in the summer.  Once I graduate, though, I hope to get at least another inshore boat. Then I’d eventually like to start running an offshore boat as well. 

Sounds like a good plan! I hope we’ll be there to help you along the way.

Captain Cole and a young guests stand aboard his charter holding a Redfish

I appreciate that. Like I said, you guys have brought me more business than I could’ve ever expected. So I’m a loyal FishingBooker captain!

We hope you found Capt. Cole’s insights useful. Got your own story you’d like to share? Drop us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

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