Something to Chew On

TJ Cheek General, Uncategorized 7 Comments

I apologize for not putting out any new content for a while. I think it’s safe to say that this year is off to a bit of a rocky start. Between a capsized ship sitting in our sound that is about to get cut into pieces and hauled away, and this virus that you might have heard of… business is down a bit!

I’d like to paint a picture for you that is hopeful and optimistic, and that is what I will try to do, but the truth is that right now it’s ugly for the fishing community. We have had to cancel every single charter we had on the books through Memorial Day. People are just canceling their plans due to travel restrictions or because they don’t anticipate having the budget anymore.

The scariest part of all is that the phone isn’t ringing with clients that are expecting to come down in June or July. If we were filling the books as usual right now it would sure put our minds at ease. Many people have expressed their intent to book trips when the economy opens back up, but it doesn’t seem that anyone has the confidence to do that just yet.

I have to tell you that I’m worried that this could be the end of our business. It’s taken care of our family for 10 years now and I’m thankful for that. But we can’t carry the costs of this business with zero revenue to help it along.

We really need to start booking trips for June and July. If we can’t pack our two best months of the year, it might just be curtains. At least for now. I really had to pause just now as I’m typing this and think about what I just said. Putting that out there makes it real. This business has been like a child to me. I poured my heart and soul into it and really took it for granted way too often.

The things this business has given me are too numerous to count.
-a roof over my family’s head.
-the chance to share a skill and an art with people.
-so many days of sharing life with my clients out on the water.
-a purpose when I didn’t know who I was.
-more friends than I can count.
-memories of the marvels of nature that many people will never witness.
-being able to be around all of the coolest fishing toys!

And now, it’s 2 am and I can’t sleep. I don’t know what’s going to happen to it all. So many things have changed over the years that make this business harder and harder to be in.

When I started, I figured out how to do what no one else was doing- content marketing. I commenced a “shock and awe” campaign and hit the internet with a volume of content that no one could keep up with. I also hit the radio, magazines, podcasts, and any form of media that I could get my name on.

I grew exponentially and quickly was head and shoulders past anyone else. I could book 10 times the trips that I could run in a given year. It allowed me to be more selective in the clients that I would take on as well raise my prices. This was good, but I fell into the trap that many young people do when they find rapid early success- I assumed I had made it.

This led to me underestimating the biggest disruptor that this business had seen since the introduction of the internet- Trip Advisor. Man… I can’t overstate how much I hate Trip Advisor. Not just Trip Advisor but any site that follows that model. Let me explain.

I’ve always compared the business to a pie. We all try to get a piece of the pie that’s big enough to satisfy us. It’s never been divided equally though. The older guys’ piece is made of more repeat business and word of mouth referrals while the newer guys get theirs through advertising. It’s never been equal and everyone had to find their own way. The serving sizes changed frequently according to what was hot at the time.

So how could you get more business without slaughtering each other? It’s simple. You have to grow the pie. A bigger pie is good for everyone. But how do you grow the pie? You get people to visit the area that would have otherwise gone somewhere else or gone nowhere at all. How do you do that? Content. Value. Spreading the good word.

So that’s what most guides did. Some did TV shows, others magazine articles. Some did YouTube or blogging or radio or seminars. I did everything I could get my hands on. It made the pie bigger for everyone and a lot of the other guys made the pie bigger for me. There were always the vultures that didn’t help grow the pie, but they were never of concern because they could only eat what fell off the table.

Now enter Trip Advisor. Now a smart vulture can get some reviews and suddenly become the number 1 attraction while no one else was looking. They can turn those scraps into business. But this is a self serving business based solely on asking people to leave kind words on a website. It’s not teaching people how to fish. It’s not providing value to anyone.

If a kid is trying to find someone to teach him how to spool a reel or what he should buy for his tackle box with his precious savings, he doesn’t go to Trip Advisor or Fishing Booker. That dude is going to find a real fishing guide that can lay down the knowledge.

If you’re at work and you’re trying to escape during your 15 minute break, you don’t pull up Trip Advisor and read a bunch of reviews. You go find yourself a video, or an article, or a podcast with some REAL FISHING GUIDES that know their stuff and you consume their content. And when I say “consume their content” I should really say “consume their life”. Because they have spent their lives out there figuring this stuff out and they share it with you freely in hopes that one day there will be an exchange of value.

Maybe you never fish with that guy, but you’ve consumed everything of value that he or she has ever produced. So instead every time a friend mentions a charter you tell him about “your guy”. You’ve never paid him a dime but he’s been there with you on every trip, guiding you, for free. The knots you tie, the baits you use, the thought processes that go into every spot you pick. There is a piece of that fishing guide’s life work there. So you’re excited to tell your friend about him and now your friend books a trip.

Man what a beautiful and symbiotic relationship. You need the knowledge, we provide it for free, and in exchange good things come our way.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered texts and emails and phone calls from people that just needed to know a few little things so they could be successful on the water. And I’m happy to do that. I’m not going to give you the “well that’s a good question and the answer is going to cost you $500!” spill that some of these dudes dish out. I’m going to tell you everything I can to help you.

And in return, you send a little business my way when you can. And for that I’m grateful.

This post is a mess. It’s sloppily written and there isn’t much structure. But this is what happens when I write straight from my guts in the middle of the night because I’ve been wanting to say something.

And I guess what I want to say is that if we make it through this and you are able to book a fishing guide this year, make sure it’s a real one. Do your homework and see what they’ve given to the community. See if their passion for the sport is palpable. These are the guys that know how to get you through a rough day. These are the guys that taught the vultures how to fish. These are the guys that will still be around when the fad has passed.

I’m not saying that if someone is on a review site or a pay to play service that they’re a bad fishing guide. I’m saying that if that is their entire body of work, then what you’re looking at is a vulture and you should find yourself a REAL FISHING GUIDE.

Man I sure do love all of you that have been there for us over the years even when we didn’t deserve it. Y’all stay safe out there.

Tight lines,


Comments 7

  1. Capt, my experience with your service a couple years ago was not a good one. I think it was more about the young guide who was assigned to me. However, your comments here are gut-wrenching and I want you to know that you and your company will be in my thoughts and prayers. As a small business you should be eligible for the benefits under the recent CARE Act. Stay strong TJ.

  2. Well said! You can’t beat experience and “word of mouth” of people who have experienced a fishing trip with you! May the comments fill the page.

  3. TJ,
    My family and I have enjoyed fishing with you and your dad on a number of trips. We made lifetime memories.
    I’m praying about this virus and how is has not only sickened and killed so many but has also hurt so many people economically.
    I will pray that your business survives and that you can continue to provide for your family by doing what you love.

  4. TJ,
    Thank you for the post. It is obvious that you are sharing from the heart and I applaud you for taking the time.
    It was obvious to me when I fished with you that you were dedicated and sincere in your desire to make my experience a positive one. It was!
    My family and I were dismayed to have to delay our trip, and I mean delay, because as soon as this is over we’ll be there and hope that you are ready and busy!
    God bless and stay safe and we hope you are available on the other side!

  5. My husband loves to fish for tarpon. Can you tell me the best time of the year? Also what fish do you catch Jan—March? We would love to look forward to coming to Saint Simon Island.

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