Each summer in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Capt. Skip Feller watches as adults and children see the ocean for the first time, drop lines into the deep sea and near-shore waters, feel rolling waves and reel in salt-water fish.
“We take everything for granted working here, living here, growing up here. But these waters, they are a special place.”
Feller, who hails from of a well-known Virginia fishing family, is a third generation charter boat captain. Among other accomplishments, he set the 2008 world record for yellow edge grouper and in 1992 was named Charter Boat Captain of the Year. Today, he manages the fleet of head boats and captains that run out of Virginia Beach’s Rudee Inlet.
Feller earned his U.S. Coast Guard’s 100-ton captain’s license when he was 19.
“I never really pictured myself doing anything other than this. When I was in high school, I worked on charter boats. In the 90s, I branched out and bought a charter boat and ran out of Pirate’s Cove (in North Carolina). Came back in 95 to work with my father.”
Feller’s father “was one of the first people to have a boat in Rudee Inlet (Virginia Beach) back in the 70s. He bought the head boat in 1976…and basically started adding to the fleet.”
He sold the business in 2006. Today, Feller manages the legacy his father built – a legacy fleet of three fishing boats, like the 90-foot Rudee Angler licensed for 140 people, and three cruise boats, like the Rudee Flipper, used for dolphin and whale watching trips.
By the numbers, cruising the waters off the coast of Virginia is the most popular excursion Feller manages. Each summer, on the Rudee Rocket speedboat alone, Feller and his captains takes out more than 20,000 guests.
But fishing is no small business. Each year, Feller averages about 10,000 people on charter fishing trips that range from 16-hour day trips to 36-hour overnight adventures.
“The sea bass is a huge part of our fishery here. The fall, spring, winter - that’s what people come here to catch. September and October are our busy fishing months.”
While Feller prides the fleet on keeping up with the latest technologies on all the boats, especially the fish finding gear, the most important piece of equipment, by far, are the captains, Feller said.
“You have to have good people working for you who also take it very seriously,” Feller said. “It’s not just a job. You have to really live it so you can produce week in and week out.”
The fishing community may seem really large, but when it comes to word of mouth marketing, it’s actually quite small.
“If you have one bad trip, it’s amazing how fast the word gets out. These people, who are out for our 16-hour offshore trips, are paying $200 a person. That’s serious money.”
Unlike the guests he takes out fishing, Feller doesn’t always remember the fish he’s caught. Over the years, there’s easily been thousands. What he never forgets are the moments he stumbles upon a previously undiscovered sea wreck, marking a brand new fishing spot.
“With GPS being so precise these days, word gets out quickly on good fishing spots. So when you find a new spot, where nobody has fished, you remember those days…that feeling of finding that spot.”
Like his father, Feller has already passed on the family tradition of loving and working with people on the water. Wes Feller, Skip’s son, marks the fourth generation of Feller captains that’s runs charters out of Rudee Inlet.
“When he is in the wheel house, you could mistake him for an old salt with his talent on the water.”