WHEN I WAS A RECENT GUEST at Captains Sally and Aubrey Blacks’ lodge, Baffin Bay Rod and Gun (BBR&G), I was struck by a myriad of impressions. I was astounded by how the Blacks thoroughly and successfully combined comfort, modernity, and aesthetics in the facilities.
Guests enjoyed the peace and comfort of the lodge and the surrounding community of Rivera as well as the welcoming atmosphere, top flight food prepared by a four star chef and served by an efficient and professional staff. This and the world class fishing and hunting made them want to return again and again for future bookings.
More important is the sheer effort that the Blacks and their staff exert in making their guests’ stay at BBR&G the trip of a lifetime. This impressed upon me how exhausting the job catering to their clientele can be. Without any hyperbole, I’ll call their collective efforts “Herculean.”
I have long known—and discussed in these pages—just how tough being a fishing guide or an outfitter actually is. I’ve watched Captains Black; Gilbert Vela; the Neu brothers, Jeff and Danny; Daniel Land; Chad Kinney, and countless others I’d love to mention (but for lack of space) work very hard to accommodate clients.
Finding fish, accounting for clients’ safety (even when they seem to lack any common sense), ensuring their comfort, providing tackle, food and beverages, helping and teaching children and neophyte anglers, spot-repairing tackle and rods…
Tired yet? Even if they were, these men and women plug forth daily, sometimes twice or three times per day, five to seven days a week in the busy season. They dare not take time off unless absolutely necessary because there is no telling when feast becomes famine and business will drop off.
Owning a lodge compounds the effort. Now, a captain has the boarding of his clients to consider. The days of Rudy Grigar putting up his clients in a driftwood shack or army tents for three days while feeding them over a camp stove are long gone.
Guests expect four-star accommodations for their money. Hot water and soft beds are the bare minimum requirements. A fully stocked pantry, satellite television, and central air are expected. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget about the fishing and hunting, which have to be top notch, whether or not the fish and fowl are willing to cooperate.
The Blacks, McBride, and all the other outfitters work hard to supply their guests with all the features needed for their comfort.
It takes a huge effort and planning to set up for a client or party’s visit. Even then, there is no guarantee that the fish will bite, or ducks will fly. Sometimes the quarry has its own agenda. You can’t help that.
The problem is that four-star treatment sometimes leads to one-star behavior among these clients. Late cancellations for good or bad reasons are the bane of the industry.
Black recounted a recent dove hunt booking where the clientcancelled the day before check-in because of the threat of rain. Black tried to encourage the party to come on in, and if the weather did pot out they’d find a work-around, whether it was a re-scheduling or a Plan B, or any other option.
Instead, the customer opted to outright cancel, and the ripple effects were more profound than simply losing the date that another client could’ve booked. By the way, the “heavy rain” never materialized, and the bookings that did show up had a great day in the field and on the water.
Captains and hunting guides that were reserved for the days of the Cast and Blast still had to be paid their fees. Fresh food purchased for the days’ meals had to be frozen or consumed before it went to waste. Lodge staff still had to be paid, even though clients aren’t coming. Though the Blacks kept the deposit, they lost money due to the cancelation
I remember once being asked by a friend to help set up an offshore charter with a party boat out of South Padre Island. Thanks to my relationship with the captain of a particular boat, I was able to arrange an excellent rate for the group.
We met as a group a couple of times, and I explained to the members about all the ins and outs, including the need to be generous with our gratuities, because that was how the deckhands made money.
The day of the charter arrived, and everyone had a great time and caught a lot of nice fish. As the boat headed back to port, the deckhands started passing the tip jar around the group. When it got to me, there was about 30 dollars in the jar. Over and over, the members of the group said, almost verbatim, “We paid to be on the charter. They can get it out of that.”
Fortunately, I had brought enough money to make up the slack and make the jar look decent (I had to bum enough from my friend to get a #1 at Whataburger—no cheese), but I never did that sort of favor ever again.
The sense of entitlement displayed by the group is not typical of the vast majority of sportsmen who hire guides or reserve stays at lodges, but there are enough of them to be worth mention.
In spite of the array of difficulties and issues that outfitters and guides have to work through, I have yet to meet a single one who regrets their choice of vocation. All of them truly love their life style and the opportunity to share it with their clients.
Taken in a cost-benefit analysis, they gain much more from their projects than they lose. They meet a lot—A LOT-of unique and good people. They share the excitement and beauty of their outdoor world with these people, and help create memories that last lifetimes.
Sally Black said it’s a great tradeoff. I believe her.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]