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LAST-MINUTE CANYON CREWS



Backman Leadin

    This summer it seemed that every perfect weather window for a canyon trip fell midweek. I found as the season wore on my regular crew slowly wore out their vacation days and were unable to join me. I found myself challenged week after week to put together an effective four- or five-man canyon crew.
    Each trip seemed to be a last-minute diving save, trying to find that important third, fourth and even fifth crew member so we could both fish well as well as have a safe trip. This ongoing challenge brought me to write this article.
    The recreational canyon fisherman who owns a boat knows this lament well: “I can’t find crew to make the trip!” In talking with many of my fishing friends, they consider the hunt for capable canyon crew one of the largest problems they face every summer.

    GREAT CREWS, GREAT TRIPS
    I have well over 150 recreational canyon trips under my belt as boat owner and captain. Over 20 years, I have learned how important a compatible and balanced crew is. People have to be able to both coexist and collaborate in tight quarters for 36 to 48 hours and be able to work together quickly and effectively in fast-paced situations as well as share rest during down time. They also have to be able to divide and share the workload of a canyon trip, piloting the boat, running the cockpit, angling, cleaning the catch, keeping the boat clean and organized and so on. Good crew helps in trip preparation as well as cleanup and repair after a trip is done. A team that works together makes a trip both successful and enjoyable. A group of individuals where everyone is a boss and no one a worker is a recipe for disaster over a 36-hour period.

    MULTIPLE ROLES NEEDED
    One of the realizations I have come to over the years of making canyon runs is that there are multiple roles needed for a successful recreational canyon trip. The least important role is the angler! Anyone can reel in a fish. Having multiple people in a crew who can rig baits, position and watch a spread is far more important. A good crew knows to clear the cockpit before jumping on a rod. A good crew knows to rotate the angling, leadering and gaffing duties so everyone has a turn. A good crew knows to bleed, process and ice fish without being told what to do.
    Having multiple people who can run a boat safely and efficiently is critical both on the long steams to and from the grounds as well as when trolling. Watch-standing at night is another key responsibility that can’t be overlooked. The captain has to sleep at least part of the night and needs to be able to count on one or more crew members to watch the boat, the radar, the conditions and be prepared to make safety decisions as well as know when to wake the captain.

    BRAINS AS WELL AS BRAWN
    When I first started fishing offshore, I believed that to be successful I had to work harder than everyone else on the boat and stay up longer. I also had the mistaken belief that physical strength mattered. Now I understand the best crew members are the ones who are mentally and physically in tune with the environment, the sea and weather conditions, the fishing conditions and plan, and are ones who can help in both planning a trip and adapting it to the real-life conditions you find 100 miles offshore.
    When you steam to a break that isn’t there, or find yourself trolling a dead and lifeless ocean, it helps to have a crew that can look at the conditions and situation and help adapt the trip to dredge at least a few fish out of nothing.
    Good crew members know their limits and won’t overextend themselves and lose fish. I can count dozens of lost fish over 20 years where a strong and powerful crew member decided to go solo on gaffing or controlling a fish boat side, trying to muscle it over the side, only to see it break free and swim away bleeding and half-dead. I have video from this summer of two different endgame instances. The first was a perfect one-two of gaff shots to a 200-pound bigeye, followed by a coordinated one-two-three to lift it over the side. The second instance is of a heroic one-man gaff and lift of a very nice swordfish halfway over the side. The video then shows the swordfish ripping free of the gaff, beating up the boat and threatening crew with its thrashing bill. I like smart crew more than strong crew!

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