When David was doing the article about Ron Presley's new book, Secrets from Florida's Master Anglers, I got an opportunity to talk to Ron on the phone. I've known of Ron for a long time, especially since we've started this magazine and made a list of people we wished we could talk to about their impact on our sport. Ron was high on that list. And like a lot of the names, this interview gave us the chance to put one of our sport's most knowledgable and helpful people into the reach of our readers. Because like Greg Polands, the Jose Wejebe's, the Scott Moores and the Travis' of the world he's just another professional. Underneath that professional is a fisher just like all of us. One that loves to teach.
Presley's held many-a-fish in dampened hands before putting them back into their watery homes. Before becoming a professional Charter Captain, Presley spent his career as an educator. The two skill-sets mix well, producing the best of all guides -- the Teacher Guides (as we're starting to call them). The best of the best are all in that category. Learning is a factor in a client's experience that you -- as a professional guide -- should never ignore. It's what brings them back again-and-again, and inspires them to tell others of their fishing & learning experiences on your boat(s).
Captain Ron's a professional charter captain, and has been providing reports to internet sites as long as there've been internet sites. He started out as a college professor, and the educational space is where he spent most of his adult life. Beyond TheOnlineFisherman, my 'real job' is as co-owner of a publishing company that provides books to colleges and universities around the country, so Ron and I already had something in common besides a love for hard-pulling fish.
If you think about it for a minute, who to better become a professional charter captain and author of fishing books than a man who's spent his life teaching people in professional education environments? Talk about a natural combination? It's like a geek author that loves to fish and runs a web site. But I ain't no Ron Presley. As one of the executive team at the Florida Guide's Association, he's high on the list of people who's primary concern is protecting our professional charter captains. It's something we should all worry about -- as the Gag grouper ban starting in January in Federal Gulf Waters shows what we can expect as the future unfolds. As time goes by, we'll be talking a lot to Ron about fishing rights. For now, we wanted to let you know a little more about the guy behind the title(s).
Needless to say, Captain Presley's like any person who wears eighteen hats -- some at the same time. He's busy. Rather than talk to me on the phone (I'm long winded; a major character flaw that's cool if you're talking only to a keyboard), Ron asked me to write down a few questions, and he would answer them. The end result was what I feel was the best interview I've done.
TOF: What's the first thing you wrote, Ron? Not the first thing you got paid for. That's important, but not as important as the first ink you put on paper (this is going to quickly become an out-of-date question, as kids start using pixels-only, and stop using pens and pencils. The thought is a little scary to us).
Captain Presley: The first thing I remember writing and keeping for a while was a poem in grade school. I guess it was some kind of an assignment. For what reason I don’t know, but I remember it today and may have it somewhere but I am not sure where.
Wood pecker pecking on the school house door
Pecked and pecked until his bill got sore
Wood pecker pecking on the school house yard
Pecked and pecked until his bill got hard
I guess it was outdoorsy in a way.
The interview went on. This is fairly verbatim from written question to Ron's answers. It's very easy asking professional authors questions :) They write well, and you don't need to do much in the way of editing to get wonderful results -- The Publisher
Ron: The first thing I got paid for in outdoor writing was an article in South Florida Sports Fishing Magazine (Now Florida Sportfishing Magazine). It was titled "Meat and Potatoes," May/June 2005. The article outlined cut bait fishing for redfish.
With a previous career in college teaching and administration my previous writing was in academic journals. Those articles did not pay directly but were necessary for tenure and advancement. A few years ago I started writing 5 articles a month for an academic publisher. This was the first writing that I actually got paid dollars for. These articles review current economic issues from the newspaper and are reprinted on the company’s website for use with textbooks in college classes. I continue to write 5 articles per month. They mount up over time; my next one will be #473. I have been doing this since 2005.
TOF: (This is one of our favorite questions because whenever we ask it of a contributor, we answer it ourselves. The memories of early fishing are, it seems, inbred into all of us to a person). When did you start fishing, Captain? With who and for what? Tell us a little about the role of the sport in your life.
Presley: I started fishing early in life with my dad who was an avid outdoors person. He liked hunting and fishing. I hunted and fished most of my life until about 1990 when I suffered detached retinas in both eyes. The doc said it could be caused from shooting and I quit hunting altogether. Since then my outdoor activities have concentrated on fishing. I did not move to Florida until 1998 so saltwater fishing was new to me. I guess you could say I started my fishing endeavors all over again. The real change came while visiting Florida. My daughter had married and moved to Florida in 1997 and I came to visit several times. On one trip I ran my finger down the Yellow Pages and came across Addictive Fishing Charters. I called Capt. Blair Wiggins and arranged a trip for my son-in-law and me to go fishing with Blair. Today I tell him this was before he was famous - just another guide on Florida’s East Coast.
I have told the story many times of that trip which really hooked me on redfish. We fished the Banana River between HWY 528 and Pineda Causeway. It did not take long to hook-up. Once we found a school of reds a well placed finger mullet did the trick. Anyone familiar with the Banana River would know it is a wide span of water with few structures to worry about. Once you have a fish on it is just a matter of wrestling it to the boat. When that first red was hooked up Capt. Blair calmly set down on the poling platform and said, “I think I’ll eat my lunch.” He did and I fought the big redfish for about 30 minutes before bringing it boat side for a photo. That was it. I was hooked on saltwater fishing for good. I consider myself a relative newcomer to saltwater fishing but it has definitely become a passion.
A couple visits to Florida caused my wife and me to fall in love with the area. My wife and I made the decision to move to the Merritt Island/Cocoa Beach area. I quit a perfectly good college job in Abilene, Texas and moved to Florida. I started teaching at Rolling College in Brevard County. I began learning about fishing the salt and started thinking about the prospects of guiding. When Rollins College closed it doors in Brevard County that was the push I needed to pursue my guiding aspirations.
I went to Sea School to obtain my Captain’s License before the college actually closed its doors so I would be ready when the time came. I looked around for a professional organization to join and found the Florida Guides Association. I joined and later begin to volunteer to work some fishing shows. As I got to know more folks in the organization I got more involved. Today I serve FGA in the capacity of Sec./Tres. FGA gave me the opportunity to meet guides all over the state that later became a great resource for my first book.
As I have grown older fishing and fishing related writing have become a very important part of my life. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t fish or write about fishing. I don’t consider it work, just something I get up in the morning thinking about. I love both the actual fishing and writing equally well.
TOF: Tell us a little about your life outside the deck of a sport fishing boat, Captain.
Captain Presley: My life before guiding and writing was in college teaching and administration. I earned a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University in economics. I taught at three different schools in Texas and became dean of the business school at two of those universities. I never left fishing completely, but raising a family and earning a living did not leave a lot time for the outdoors. I still managed to hunt (in the early days before eye surgery) and fish at every opportunity. I think it was just in by blood.
The part of my life I enjoy most currently is writing and I spend time everyday doing it. I guess it is a throwback to my teaching days. Actually both the guiding and the writing is just another outlet for teaching, but you can reach more people through writing. My current book is very instructional, with fishing information from a variety of great fishing guides. The writing is enjoyable because it is a challenge to put something down on paper that other interested anglers can read, understand and learn from.
TOF: What made you want to be a charter guide?
Presley: Some of my reasoning for becoming a guide, as I suspect it is for most, would be the opportunity to fish on a regular basis. A secondary objective, because the college where I was teaching was closing, was to earn some money. The future loss of that job was the motivation I needed to go ahead and secure the Captain’s License and fulfill my dream of guiding. As a side note I would have to say the psychic income derived from guiding has been much greater than I first expected. Just yesterday I took a man and his son fishing and the son caught a huge redfish. The excitement he showed while landing the fish and the smile on his face in the photo hold a reward greater than the money earned from the trip. Expand events like that to all the anglers that guides have the opportunity to show how to tie a knot or cast a plug and it mounts up to a huge reward.
TOF: Name three attributes that separate an OK guide from what you would consider a great guide?
Ron: I think the three most important attributes a wanna-be-guide should have include a passion for seeing other people catch fish, an ability to teach what you know to other anglers and the ability to make each trip belong to the client, not the guide. All of these things kind of run together but as a whole they describe a person that has the potential of being a good guide.
If someone becomes a guide so they can get other people to pay them so they can go fishing, I think they have it backwards. If you are the type of guide that enjoys seeing your clients catch fish you will do all you can to ensure it. It is tempting sometimes to grab the pole and catch one for them, but I don’t think that is what they are paying you to do. Let them catch the fish and in the process you will develop a clientele that will come back and fish with you again.
Good guides need to have the skills and knowledge in the first place, but they also have to have the ability and willingness to teach what they know to others. Be patient with novice anglers, lord knows we get a bunch of them, and teach them the basics. Have a goal of showing them how they can go do it on their own.
Allowing the trip to belong to the client may be the hardest of all. Good guides have a temperament that allows them to make suggestions without seeming like a dictator. Think about making gentle suggestions that gets the angler to do what you want while fulfilling the needs of the clients to do what they want. Let them fly fish for a while if they want, even though they can’t cast the needed distance. After a while ask them if they would like to try a spinning rig. Let them use their favorite lure for a while before asking if they would like to use one that you have had success with. Asking them what they expect for the day and do your best to provide it to them. Their expectations may be different than yours.
(See Dream Job, Florida Sportfishing Magazine, November/December, 2008)
TOF: What's the biggest challenge facing guides coming to the market in 2010?
Captain Presley: I think the poor economy is without doubt the biggest challenge facing new guides in the current market. There is not as much discretionary spending in the economy today and some of the first expenditures that folks will give up are those dollars that may have previously been used for services like charter fishing. I would advise new entrants into the business to not buy a new boat or a new pickup and expect to get rich taking people fishing. New guides need to build their repeat business first before spending yet to be earned dollars on fancy equipment.
TOF: How do you see the web affecting fishing? What makes a good fishing site? Do you use sites as a fisherman (besides doing research for books and other internet-related job-related stuff; do you get your tide reports online, for example?) In case you don't notice, we have an agenda behind asking Ron these questions.
Presley: The web is a huge source of information for fishing related activities. I think it is the first place most anglers go to find fishing information. I think its affect on the fishing industry is mostly positive because of the good information it does provide, but I would warn users to check and double check what they find. With no real oversight anglers should search out websites they trust before relying on the information they find.
I guess my idea of a good website would be one that provides honest information in an easy to navigate format. I hate the sight that set me up with a headline and then make me click 5 times to get there. Personally I am normally searching for specific information without a lot of frills. Photos and videos are interesting, but time consuming. I will share a quote from the book I am currently working on related to this subject. Capt. Bouncer Smith made this comment. “A good guide will reduce the time it takes to understand the local fishing by years. A good web site designer is not always a good fisherman, so check around for good references.”
I don’t use websites often as a fisherman. I do occasionally look up a regulation or maybe search for lodging when visiting another area to fish.
TOF: Talk about your Grandchild. You mentioned his as your favorite fishing buddy. All of our lives are affected in one way or another by children. Talk to us about the ones in your life.
Ron: I have one grandchild that I have been taking fishing for many years. It is almost like having a driving force inside me that wants him to have the great memories of fishing that I had growing up. I love fishing and I want him to love it too. It is kind of like the story I related above about the boy catching the big redfish yesterday. I have about as much pride in my grandson catching a big fish as he does. It is very rewarding. It is the teaching thing again too. With kids they don’t have any bad habits yet, so when you teach them to fish you start with a blank slate and work up from there. In many ways it is easier than teaching adults.
You also learn from the kids. I think I have learned, or maybe was just reminded that fishing does not have to be an intense activity. Many anglers get up and start fishing at 4:00 am and fish until nightfall at torrent pace. With kids you can’t do that. You have to be slow and deliberate and make the time you have count. A catfish bends the rod just like a redfish to kids and it doesn’t really matter that much what species it is. What is important to kids is catching fish, large or small; catching fish desired like a redfish or frowned on like a catfish. I think fishing with kids brings out the simplicity of our sport and how easy it should be to enjoy it.
Doing this interview with Presley was a real joy. Ron's having a PhD in writing doesn't hurt; the interview wrote itself and was written by a guy every-bit as much a high-level professonal writer as he is a high-level professional charter captain. I asked Ron if we could count on an article from his wonderful work once in a while, and if I did an OK job writing this interview with the Captain, we can hope to see more of his wordsmithing and fishing reporting as time goes on. It's an honor to have the level of people around our community as we enjoy; being able to talk to them is something me and my partner never really dreamt of till we started sending emails and making phone calls.
The kind of guy Ron Presley is shows us -- one more time -- the quality of our local community. The State of Florida -- holding as it does places like Boca Grande and Islamorada, where we hear from people like Scott Moore or our new friend Greg Poland -- boasts its waters as the fishing capital of the world for good reason.
Ron's one guy. One seriously cool and resourceful and helpful guy like a thousand others. But different too. Our cool guy. Florida's cool guy. The fishery here isn't comprised of FishySpots, Tide Charts, or Solunar tables. The fishery here is comprised of the guides, professionals, serious amateurs, and newbies seeking their first snook. And that's just fine with us.
Ron's new book, Secret's From Florida's Master Anglers, was awarded First Place at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association's Excellence in Crafts Award for the Outdoor Book Division in 2010. If you click this link and buy it from that site, you get membership in the Snook Foundation -- a wonderful group protecting our rights and our snook from overfishing, overregulation, and over-anything. Join today :)