There’s no doubt about it. Being a charter boat captain in Montauk, New York – dubbed the fishing capital of the Northeast, if not the world – is a competitive sport.
Not only do you go head to head with Mother Nature in hopes of bringing home an exciting catch, but you also compete with fellow captains for clients.
Years ago, all the “charter boats in Montauk were right here,” said Rick Etzel, nodding to a line of charter boats that includes his 43-foot Torres sport fisher, the Breakaway.
“Now, not only are there more boats, but they are all over the (Montauk) Harbor.”
Captains are also challenged by the reality of running a business that includes the hard costs of fuel, dock fees, maintenance and repairs and a boat.
“I learned early on from the old timers how to keep expenses down,” Etzel said. “Use the tide. Start up, work your way down. Watch your cruising speed. Do the work yourself. You aren’t just the captain. You’re a carpenter and electrician, a painter when you need to be, and an engineer.”
Despite the challenges many captains complain of, Etzel survives and day in and day out heads out on the water to face off with one of his greatest loves - “the thrill of the hunt.”
Etzel, a respected U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain in the recreational Montauk fishing community, is also the president of the Montauk Boatmen, Inc. where he works to help enhance the quality of the fisheries not just in Montauk, but also the entire state of New York.
He’s respected as a fisherman and for his history and love of his fishing community.
As a kid, Etzel called himself a “summer resident” of Montauk. His grandfather purchased a home at “The End” in 1945 where “I spent every summer.”
After graduating high school in another area of Long Island, Etzel moved to Montauk and worked in the fishing industry.
At 22, Etzel bought his first boat.
“Was going to fix it up and sell it. Before I knew it, I was married with children and running a charter boat business.”
Today, Etzel logs between 200 and 250 charter fishing trips each year. Half day trips run about $650, with full day trips ranging from $1050 to $1400, depending on how far off shore the fishing goes.
To make up income during slow periods, Etzel does a little commercial fishing with his rod and reel and sells his catch to wholesale fish dealers.
Somewhere in the mix, Etzel also does his volunteer work with Montauk Boatmen, Inc. The importance of getting involved in the legislative side of commercial and recreational fishing can’t be understated, Etzel said.
Like most fishing towns throughout the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s region, fishing in Montauk has an incredible economic multiplier effect.
“I take 1,500 people out on my boat each year. They stay in hotels. They eat in restaurants. They buy a t-shirt. That puts a lot of people to work. That makes fishing mean a lot more than catching fish.”