Charters for Charity
Fishing guides help worthy causes by donating trips for fundraising.
By David Sikes
Nearly a half-dozen fishing guides at the Conn Brown Harbor boat ramp in Aransas Pass waited in their skiffs at dawn for charter clients.
This was the money season for them. And it’s common for summer guides to book a string of 15 or more consecutive charter days in the glaring heat. It gets worse in August and September, when they beg for a breeze and a break. To maintain good clients and nurture new ones, taking a day off is not an option. On this day, the guides wore smiles and the monogrammed shirts of their trade, designating them as captains sanctioned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Their bait wells were full. Fishing rods stood straight in their holders, each one prepared with proper tackle for the day. The boat decks were clean and clutter-free, awaiting the blood and grime they hoped would paint them with success.
But among these professionals, one stood out. Passers-by could not tell the difference at a glance. Even if they knew what to look for, they couldn’t have seen it. The difference was that Justin Machost would not be paid for his services at the end of this day. And he knew this going in. But this didn’t mean the anglers he welcomed onto his boat were freeloaders. On the contrary. Brothers Jim and John Steen had put up cash in advance for their day on the water.
It shouldn’t be that puzzling, considering how common this scenario is in the Coastal Bend and throughout Texas. Capt. Machost, like so many of his colleagues, donates his time, tackle, boat, fuel and expertise to a charity.
Robby Byers, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association—Texas, says guided trips donated by individual professionals or lodges make up between one-third and one-half of the auction adventures offered at the state’s 56 chapter fundraiser banquets. These donations produce about a quarter of the revenue generated at these annual events.
“These trips are extremely important to the success of our chapter fundraising,” Byers says. “And most of the time the high bidder pays close to or more than the retail value of these trips.”
According to Mark Lyons, longtime Ingleside fishing guide and past president and current board member of the Coastal Bend Guides Association, most fishing and hunting guides donate several trips each year to conservation organizations, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Communities in Schools, the Coastal Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited and a host of other worthy causes.
People who bid on these trips range from experienced anglers to novices who just want to try something different, Lyons says.
Mike and Anne Benning of Corpus Christi said they never would have indulged themselves by hiring a guide without the charity element. But the purchase seemed less extravagant when the opportunity arose during a charity banquet honoring local volunteers.
“The trip exceeded our expectations,” Mike Benning says. “We had a great trip, and I’d do it again for a good cause.”
Lyons says many of the guides choose a charity for personal reasons. He knows that several guides who donate to Corpus Christi’s Driscoll Children’s Hospital have had cancer touch their family in some way. The Coastal Bend Guides Association has a long history with the hospital through its Chemo Kids fishing event, which offers young patients a free fishing day on the bay.
Donations to big conservation organizations such as the Coastal Conservation Association provide guides an opportunity to have their name associated with a popular cause while at the same time contributing to the fisheries that provide them their livelihood.
“It helps us both in more ways than one,” Lyons says. “For me, it’s a good feeling either way.”
The Coastal Bend has between 400 and 500 full- and part-time professional fishing guides.
Membership in the Coastal Bend Guides Association fluctuates between 80 and 100 or more. Lyons says most of the guides in the association and many nonmembers donate between two and six trips annually.
He suggested that at least half of the guides practice this regularly. If 225 guides each donated four trips a year, then they would have raised nearly a half-million dollars for worthy causes, based on the average charter rate of $450 for bay trips. It would be difficult to figure the actual dollar amount that reaches these recipient organizations because the auction price is sometimes higher or lower than the value of the trip. But still, Byers says, this is a considerable charitable contribution from a professional group that makes a living off a public resource and is not ordinarily associated with altruism.
The Steen brothers had posted the high bid for a guided fishing trip during the annual KEDT public television fundraising auction in Corpus Christi. And this was their day. No one could tell that the fish they caught were charity fish.