Google+

A Fish Story

Apr
05
2013

Agency, Outdoor Recreation

A Fish Story

Jon Lundeen, Writer/Producer

Here at Swanson Russell, we talk a lot about Real Connection™—the bond we forge between brands and their customers through an in-depth knowledge of both. But where does that understanding of our audience come from? Sometimes, we know our audience because we are our audience. Other times, we’re simply keen observers of it.

I’m no fisherman. But I’ve told my share of fish stories the past 2+ years as the lead writer on Humminbird, a company that makes high-end sonar technology. A native Midwesterner, I grew up around walleye, crappie and bass anglers. I know my audience because I went to school with him. I’m neighbors with him. I’ve spent Saturdays out on the water with him.

The insights I’ve gleaned from these first-hand conversations and experiences inform my copywriting and its ability to connect with the desired audience.

But the saltwater angler is a different animal, not found in these parts. With Humminbird placing more emphasis on this key audience, I needed to see what made him tick.

I had that opportunity this November during a photo shoot off the coast of Florida.

Day One

Boat

I’m on a jet bound for the West Palm Beach Airport, along with Greg Bousquet, senior art director; Jeff Kolodzinski, brand manager at Humminbird; Greg Silker, photographer; and Josh Silker, Greg’s assistant and son.

The view from the sky transforms as we move east across the Florida peninsula. Wild, untamed wetlands give way to sprawling suburbia—tiny neighborhoods kept dry by a maze of canals and ponds. Suddenly, the residential scene becomes a bustling coastal cityscape. There must not be room on the runway, because we fly clean past the shoreline and over the great Atlantic Ocean. It’s a fitting sight—this stoic expanse of blue will be home for the next three days.

….

It’s a short drive from our hotel to our boat captain and main photo talent, Seth Funt. We share our credentials with the security guard at the entrance of Seth’s gated community and after a few moments of scrutiny, are free to find the address. We park and round the corner of the house by foot to find Seth and the rest of the crew out back in the boat. 

Handshakes, introductions and a few barbs are exchanged. Dusk already taking hold, we shove off in search of food, scoping out the rows of multi-million-dollar houses along the way. We eventually find ourselves planted on a picnic table behind a local rum bar. Drinks and appetizers arrive, followed by entrées, all with a decidedly seafood theme.

Tomorrow is Election Day and a smattering of politics infiltrates our dinner conversation. But we mostly joke, tell stories and give each other hell, occasionally finding time to lay out tomorrow’s agenda. The lead instigator is Sam Heaton, captain of our second boat and the original Most Interesting Man in the World. He starts calling me “Copy”—a nickname that will stick for the rest of the trip.

On full stomachs, we make our way back across the dark water to Seth’s back patio, where we hand out Humminbird-branded visors and shirts to tomorrow’s photo talent. Then we call it a night.

I know I’m here to observe, help where I can and mostly stay out of the way. But I still turn in hoping I’ll get a chance to reel in a fish by the end of our three-day shoot. We’ll see about that.

Day Two

Capt. Seth is an interesting cat.

Seth

A real estate lawyer, he looks and talks like one of the blue collar types you’d see on Deadliest Catch—at least while he’s on the water. Red Bull in hand and “Hells Bells” ringing through his sound system, Seth leads us through the inlet, out to sea and into the light of dawn.

There are a half-dozen of us on Seth’s 34-foot Venture. The run is smooth. The vessel makes quick work of the waves and I can’t help but feel a rush of adrenaline.

The day’s forecast calls for mild temperatures and calm seas—conditions that Seth says will seldom inspire more than a few bites. 

But you never know.

Seth slows down. Shifting his gaze back and forth from the water to the red and orange of the sonar graph on his fishfinder, he positions his boat, then orders his first mate to drop our sea anchor. He barks out more commands and we comply. “Grab some bait.” “Get a knife.” “Drop that line.”

We’re introduced to a unique brand of angling practiced in the Palm Beach area and hardly anywhere else: kite fishing. The concept is simple; the execution not so much.

Kite 1

Seth drops a modified electronic reel into the rod holder, ties a red kite to the line and releases the kite out into the wind.

He snatches a line from a nearby pole, baits it and wraps it through a small, bearing-driven mechanism on his kite line. He releases more line and watches the kite climb higher. He repeats the pattern twice more. In all, there are three poles and baited lines attached to a single kite line at varying intervals.

Kite 2

Using the reels, a mate drops each baitfish just below the water’s surface for a true-to-nature lure presentation—then stands watch, raising and lowering each line as the water level rises and falls. There are two of these kite stations—one at the bow and one near the aft—on the boat’s starboard side.

There’s still one more step. Called “live-chumming,” it aims to send the sailfish into frenzy. Seth picks up a child’s whiffle ball bat that’s been cut open to form a scoop. He stuffs the bat in the livewell and dredges up a few dozen mullet, then swings hard at an imaginary pitch—tossing the fish in the direction of the kite bait.

It’s an odd routine but an effective one. A sailfish grabs hold of one of the lines on the aft kite station. The angler immediately yells to his counterpart on the bow, “middle!” The other angler hurriedly raises the bait on the center pole line to prevent a tangle as the sailfish tries to race out of captivity. The fish puts up a good long fight, but the angler brings him in close enough for our photographer, Greg Silker, to snap off low-angle pictures from a kayak.

Sailfish

Despite undesirable conditions, we snag two sailfish, one kingfish and several bonitas by the end of the day—thanks in large part to the acumen of our captain.

Silker also lands several hundred shots to document the experience, capturing the energy of the chase and triumph of the catch.

We re-enter the inlet and cull its tranquil waters for baitfish to replenish the livewell. It’s a stark contrast to our time on the high seas. Compared to sailfish, mullet are remarkably easy to come by—we toss a net seemingly anywhere in the inlet and we catch at least a few dozen small ones. We get our fill and journey back to Seth’s place to tie up.

All in all, it was a good day. But with the weather predicted to turn in our favor, we part ways with much higher hopes for tomorrow.

Day Three

We need new bait. Though we’re fully stocked with mullet, the larger ones—many caught 48 hours ago—aren’t looking so good. The stakes are too high today to go home empty-handed.

Goggle-eye

Around here, goggle-eye are the baitfish du jour. Their wild eyes, mercurial temperament and silvery color make them a prime target for sailfish. But they’re much tougher to find than mullet—and time is at a premium.

Before heading out to sea, we stop by the marina to meet up with a salty, stubbly, gray-haired fisherman wearing a faded University of Miami sweatshirt. He sells us several dozen goggle-eyes and tells us where the fish will be biting today.

With the arrival of a new front, we’ll see a drop in temperature, high winds and tall waves that are all hallmarks of a big fishing day. Things are looking up; Seth and his first mate—his brother, Jordan—are amped.

But the sailfish must wait. We need to set up for a staged fishing shot while the morning light is still in play. I’m on our second boat, a 32-foot Contender, with the camera crew. The plan is to photograph the fishing crew boat-to-boat.

Boat to boat

We chase the Venture out a couple miles offshore to an area of calm, blue water. The Silkers pull out their cameras and begin to shoot—with Bousquet radioing over instructions to our five subjects. “Get your poles out and in the water.” “Be active.” “Don’t look at the camera!” “You’re bunching up—separate.”

Fisherman

Silker gets a series of near and far-off shots lit by the orange-yellow hues of the sunrise and framed by the undulations of the ocean—in other words, prime catalog cover material. But the sun drifts higher, robbing Silker of his color palette.

“All right, let’s go get some fish.”

….

Fishing is a lot like the ad business: forecasts are far from certainties. The weather doesn’t deliver as promised. Most of our day is spent watching the kites bob and weave through the wind to no avail.

ManThe verbal sparring of the Brothers Funt is our primary entertainment. They agree on very little, including our music. Seth prefers Motown. Jordan’s an 80s rap guy.

Jordan’s also a stocks and bonds man, who anticipated the market’s post-election volatility that day—and hedged his bets accordingly. So at least one thing’s going according to plan. He tells me about some of his other hobbies, most involve some form of prey—including a new interest in boar hunting.

The day isn’t a complete waste. We catch and release two more sailfish, plus a pair of bonitas. Based on what we hear over the radio and back at the dock, that was more than many of our peers caught.

At this point, our photo library is strong on energy but light on diversity. We need some shots of dolphinfish to add variety and round out the color spectrum.

We decide to change up our routine and spend the next day trolling. With a lighter crew scheduled, tomorrow also might be my shot to grab a pole and reel in one of my own.

Day Four

We get to the dock with intentions of running north about 25 miles, then trolling back for dolphinfish—as discussed the evening before. But Seth flips the script on us. He’s been thinking, and yesterday was an anomaly. Experience has taught him to be patient, stick with what works, even if it’s not working at the moment. Switch tactics too soon and you’re likely to miss an opportunity.

He suggests we find a spot to anchor on and kite fish yet again. Where there are sailfish, there are also dolphinfish. They’ve just been avoiding us so far.

Kite 3

I sense some reluctance among the rest of the group—or maybe it’s just me. But Seth’s the captain, we acquiesce.

We’re a light crew. Other commitments have winnowed us down to a single boat and just five men: Seth, Greg Bousquet, the Silkers and me. It’s not ideal. I don’t pretend to be an angler. But I’ll gladly grab a pole when the time comes. This is the opportunity I’ve been secretly waiting for.

I watch over Seth’s shoulder as he navigates. He searches for a familiar drop-off on his chartplotter and, pointing to a line on the topo map, tells me, “Right here.” He switches over to his fishfinder and rests his index finger on a few arches on the sonar read-out. “There—dolphin.”

Dolphin fish

We cut the engines and toss the sea anchor overboard. We set up kite fish stations on the starboard side. On the port side, we drop deeper bait in hope of attracting that elusive dolphinfish. I’ve watched our photo talent prepare the lines the last two days—now it’s my turn. I call over to Seth a couple times to make sure I’m doing it right—to mixed reviews. I’m at the starboard bow; Bousquet is at the starboard quarter. We’re to yell if we see anything strange.

We wait. One of Bousquet’s lines seems to get a tug. It’s nothing. I think I see something dart toward my goggle-eye. Just sunlight glinting off a wave—still no dice. It’s shaping up to be another slow day.

Then, Bousquet gets one. Seth yells at me to pull the adjacent bait out of the water to avoid a collision as Bousquet’s fish rushes toward it. I lift it above the water in the nick of time. Bousquet walks his fish around the boat and clear of our kite lines. I let my line slink back down into position—because when there’s one sailfish bite, there’s likely more waiting.

Dolphin fish 2

Except it’s not a sailfish that bites next. “Dolphin—need an angler!” I’m on it. Seth shows me how to pump and wind, bringing the rod tip upward, then taking up line as I move the tip back down, tiring out the fish and coaxing him toward the boat.

But there’s not much time for instruction, because we get another bite. And another.

Everyone’s on a pole, except for Silker, treading water in his wetsuit and capturing the action from below. We fight, yell, keep a tight line and fight some more, doing whatever it takes to prevent a lost fish and bruised ego.

We mostly vie against an invisible force. But every now and then—the moment every angler lives for—that fish jumps above the surface to reveal itself.

It’s an intense 30 minutes. Teamwork, focus, a classic duel of man vs. nature: it becomes crystal clear to me what draws someone to this way of life. Those fish are hooked and so am I.

Jump

In all, we catch three sailfish and five dolphinfish—not bad for a few novices. A taskmaster in the heat of the moment, Seth generously doles out praise in the aftermath.

As we enter the no-wake zone, Seth pulls out three white flags emblazoned with the blue silhouettes of sailfish and proudly sends them up the outrigger. Since sailfish are catch and release, this is how we crow about our deed.

In talking with some other anglers back at the marina, we’ve once again defied the odds, bringing in a good catch when others have struggled. Silker has landed some amazing shots to match.

….

I left Palm Beach with something less tangible than a photograph or a trophy fish, but just as real. At the end of those lines were the slice-of-life insights, experiences and observations that will spark creativity. Not creativity for its own sake, but the kind that comes pre-focus-group tested and guaranteed to resonate with its intended audience.

That’s what Real Connection™ is all about.