December 4, 2023

Hardcore Game Fishing

Game Fishing News

The Rise of the Multi-Boat Program

Bad Company's pacific fleet on the water.

Bad Company’s pacific fleet with its mothership.

By Dave Ferrell

Ever since the first purpose-built fishing boats hit the water, the men who piloted them stretched the limits of their vessels and their crews in search of bigger and more abundant catches. From commercial cod fishermen that branched out from Europe to the shores of the New World in search of cod to the intrepid whalers out of New England who sailed around the world to harvest oceanic goliaths for their valuable oil. Traveling long distances on the sea for months or years at a time has always been an expensive and risky business. Those facts haven’t changed to this day; the boats capable of sustaining crews and safely navigating great distances come with a large price tag.

The Age of Zane Grey

One of the first traveling fishermen, Zane Grey, spent a considerable part of his fortune putting together the first mothership and multiple game boat operations when he bought a 190-foot sailing boat in 1924 and stacked two fishing skiffs on deck. Grey eventually took the Fisherman from California to Cabo San Lucas and on to the South Pacific, documenting his adventures and tribulations in a series of fishing books like “Tales of Fishing Virgin Seas,” “Tales of Swordfish and Tuna” and “Tales of the Angler’s El Dorado: New Zealand.”

Zane Grey was among the first to explore distant fishing locations using multiple boats and a mothership. His mothership was appropriately named the Fisherman. (Photo: Ed Pritchard, Antique Fishing Reels)

Fast forward to the end of WWII, when a vast supply of military surplus gas engines, hulls and returning servicemen looking for employment, facilitated a boom in sportfishing charter boats up and down the East Coast. Over the next several decades, the boats got bigger and faster, and advancements in navigation systems, like LORAN-A, LORAN-C and eventually GPS, made traveling great distances much easier. Soon, intrepid charter operators and private vessels began testing the limits of these new innovations and started branching out through the Bahamas and the Caribbean, discovering true fishing hot spots like Islas Mujeres, Mexico, St. Thomas, USVI, and even Venezuela. The late 70s through the mid-90s marked a glorious time in the world of big-game fishing, with great crews and operations getting to explore and fish virtually untouched big-game fisheries before anyone else got there.

The Mothership Through the Years

The 80s and 90s also marked the time when several big-time mothership operations worked both the Atlantic and Pacific. Jerry and Deborah Dunaway’s Madam and Hooker, captained by the legendary Skip Smith, made the most waves, with its extremely talented crew and long string of world records. Jim Edmistons’ El Zorro mothership, with Capt. Billy Borer, fished throughout the Caribbean and North Atlantic while Jim Jenks explored the Pacific on his aptly named Ocean Pacific. Jean Paul Richard’s French Look brought a new level of opulence to the party, chasing big blue marlin in a style and comfort not usually found on fishing boats at that time. The Chouest family from Louisiana also fished throughout the Caribbean on their C-Condo mothership, eventually towing one of their American Custom Yachts across the Atlantic from Brazil to fish its way up the West Coast of Africa.

Modernizing the Mothership

None of these programs are still in operation today, which is a testament to both the dedication and funding involved when taking a multi-boat operation around the globe. In spite of this, the wanderlust inherent in fishermen hasn’t ebbed in the slightest, and the glamorous mothership operations were made almost obsolete by the ever-improving advancements in boat building methods and materials. Stronger, lighter and bigger, and with more fuel capacity, sportfish boats over 60 feet essentially became their own mothership.

One other thing that may have put a nail in the coffin of a lot of potential mothership operations was the development of better, cheaper and more reliable ways to ship a game boat to fishing hot spots around the world. Putting your game boat on a ship saves wear and tear on both the vessel and the crew and allows you to take a smaller, more efficient boat to your favorite fishing hole if you so desire.

Still, the idea of fishing on your own boat in multiple oceans still has a certain appeal, and to those with some very specific goals, having two or more vessels spread out among your favorite spots becomes more of a necessity than just a whim. Here then are three ambitious owners who’ve found that running two or more game boats in different locales is the best way to achieve the fishing goals that they’ve set for their programs.

Just Diving In

After spending the summer fishing then season in St.Thomas, USVI, Paul Beaullieu knew, at the ripe old age of 20, that he was going to be a fisherman. Born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, Beaullieu also spent a lot of time on the coast, around Cypremort Point, which is about 120 miles from the Texas border. “I was raised as a fisherman my whole life and just kept going further and further. The next thing you know; wherever the marlin are, that’s where you want to be.”

Beaullieu bought his first sportfish boat, a 1985 60-foot Hatteras named the Nomad, in 2010. After fishing for a couple of years, Beaullieu found himself in need of a new captain—right about the time Capt. Randy Baker was looking for a new gig. Beaullieu hired Baker in 2012 and they’ve been together ever since.

Beaullieu and Baker

“We fished the Bahamas, Isla Mujeres and the Dominican Republic on the Nomad and ended up in Costa Rica. The fishing was so good down there that we just stayed.” That is an understatement. During one memorable trip, Baker and Beaullieu strung together one of the finest six-days of marlin fishing ever recorded after finding a floating log covered in bait. “On the first day we were 18 for 27 with a grand slam. We lost the log overnight and didn’t find it again until 9 a.m. On that second day we went 20 for 26; then 23-30 on the third. We ended up with 79 blues, three stripes and three sails, and never got close to a FAD. I think we drifted over 100 miles with that log. We didn’t lose it again after that first morning!”

After getting into that kind of fishing, Beaullieu and Baker were looking for an upgrade for their the boat. The 63-foot F&S Sea Angel was up for sale in Los Sueños but it wasn’t quite the right time for Beaullieu. “When we started looking at the boat, I was aggravated … I didn’t even want to look at it, because I knew it wasn’t the right time for me. Randy was very excited about the boat and was checking everything out. Eventually, the Angel family moved the boat back to Florida, and I ended up buying it there. The boat had had a recent refit already a few years earlier so we took her from Florida to the Dominican Republic. The boat is now at A&J Boatworks in Stuart getting some stabilizers and a new Omni sonar. We renamed the boat Dacia, which is Latin for nomad.” She will return to Quepos in September just in time for the season there.

A Mothership Plus One

So now, with an almost newly upgraded boat in place for fishing in Costa Rica, the subject of getting another boat for Cape Verde popped up. “Randy knows what I want to do … we are the same wavelength. We only want to catch marlin. Don’t get me wrong; if we have a stripey and blue, we really want to catch that sail. You know how that goes … a sailfish can get real important, real quick. But I’d heard all the stories about Cape Verde even before I met Randy, it’s a legendary place.”

Beaullieu adds that the idea for the second boat “kind of came up when we started looking at G&S’. I always thought that Randy and G&S go hand-in-hand [Baker worked at the G&S boatyard in Freeport coming up]. We charted a G&S in the Dominican Republic, and I fished on another G&S with him as well. So when Ronnie Fields called Randy about the 43 G&S going on sale in Cape Verde this past winter that had been completely redone, we knew we were going to have to pull the trigger. We bought the boat sight unseen. And it is like a new boat; completely redone with new engines and everything.”

The 63-foot F&S Dacia will be based in the Pacific.

Captain of Two Boats

Now a two-boat owner, Beaullieu plans on splitting his time chasing marlin in Quepos on the 63 F&S Dacia and in Cape Verde on his new 43 foot G&S with the same name. “I definitely plan to spend the whole season in Cape Verde … the rest of the time will be in Costa Rica,” he says. “The Cape Verde season ends after July 4, but we may go back a bit after that. Last year they caught some big fish in July and August. This year I’m going over to Cape Verde in early April and will be fishing about half the season. Next year I hope to fish the entire sea son in Cape Verde. When I got over there to see the boat that I’d bought, I couldn’t believe all that development. I was expecting it to be a rock. But the place was unbelievable with a really great vibe. There’s a good group of guys fishing there as well. I’ve never felt so warm and welcome.”

From Costa Rica to Panama

The two boats allow Beaullieu to just ship his crews back and forth instead of an entire boat. “My plan is to have my primary residence in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica,” Beaullieu says. “You don’t have to go looking for the fish if you live and fish there every day. I’m trying to get a large piece of land with several different houses so we can all stay on the same property. This will be our primary base. We will fish Quepos south to Panama and all the way up to Cabo and Magdelena Bay. I’ll probably fish the Bisbee’s Black and Blue. I plan on fishing the World Cup this year in Cape Verde as well. I love fishing.”

The Bad Company Damon 175 (sister ship pictured) will be completed in early 2022 and provide support for the Pacific fleet.

Quest for Giants

Anthony Hsieh [pronounced SHAY] began his fishing career working on California sport boats and making $15 a day. “I cut my teeth and honed my skills working 16- to 18-hour days on those overnight boats. I bought my first boat when I was 19, a 17-foot Montauk Whaler,” says Hsieh. “We’d fish for anything from calico bass to bonito, yellowtail or barracuda. I’ve always been pretty adventurous and I’d even take that 17-footer out to San Clemente Island, which is about 70 miles out!” Since there wasn’t any place else to go, Hsieh began exploring the 1,000 mile long Baja Peninsula while trailering his boat. “This was in the early 80s before GPS, the Internet or any information. I started out driving about 400 miles south to the Bay of LA, then going a little bit further to Loretto, and a bit further each trip. I know the Baja like the back of my hand, having made the trip over 25 times.”

He made it all the way down to Cabo San Lucas in 1987, and once there the billfish bug took a bite. “Since then I gave up golf, dirt bike riding and waterskiing; I gave up everything to chase those darn things with the nose,” he says. “I discovered fairly early on that you have to be adventurous and go where the fish are. Boats have propellers and they are made to move. My fishing program extended from California to Cabo and we fished a lot out of Mag Bay, but the season is pretty short for the really good stuff. I also started to realize that I enjoyed bigger fish fishing, and so we started going down to Panama in the early 90s.”

Other Projects

While doing all this traveling, Hsieh also managed to build several successful lending institutions, and through either sales or startups, put together an enormously lucrative career. His latest venture, LoanDepot is one of the largest, non-bank lending institutions in the United States. This allowed Hsieh to purchase several more boats, and all came to be named after his first 17-footer, Bad Company.

The 150’ Bad Company will support the Atlantic fishing campaign hitting all the top spots, including Madeira and the Azores.

Eventually, due to security issues down in Panama, Hsieh decided to concentrate his fishing efforts in the U.S. and put a boat in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. “I’ve had a total [of] four boats in Kona over the years, and my last was Rybovich hull #94, a 45-footer. So at this time, we had a boat in Southern California, a boat in Kona, and a boat in Mexico that moved back and forth between Cabo and Panama. I was fishing three distinct regions in the 90s.”

After losing his best friend and his father within 60 days of each other in 2019, Hsieh decided it was time to start traveling and put some serious effort into his big fish aspirations. “I decided I was going to go to New Zealand and fish for swordfish and giant yellowtail in March. I sent the 144-footer and the 60 to New Zealand in November 2019 for an arrival in December. The boys got down there and had everything in position and ready to go. A week before my departure date, COVID hit.” Hsieh didn’t see his boats again for another year, finally getting them back to the States last summer.

Hsieh and His Mothership Today

Even after all the COVID lockdowns and restrictions, Hsieh decided to draft up another plan and go even bigger. “What I have today is a total of 10 boats with three support vessels: the 144-footer, the 150 that carries a 33-foot L&H and a Damen 175 being built right now. The 175 is arguably the best support vessel for fishing that has ever been built. It will carry a 32-Blackfin [Hsieh’s first diesel boat currently under refit] and 43-foot Release. It will also have a temperature-controlled helicopter hanger for a Bell 505 helicopter and 46,000 gallons of fuel,” Hsieh says. “Both the 150 and 175 cruise at 15 knots, both have a 5,000 nm mile range at 12 knots. I’ll have two fast support vessels swimming in the Atlantic and Pacific. We are literally 90 days [Interviewed in mid-March, 2022] from getting underway with a private program that is going to be incredibly hard to duplicate.”

Future Plans

The Bad Company team has set an ambitious fishing schedule for their Atlantic grander hunt this year. “Our starting point will be in Madeira, possibly Cape Verde in May depending on when the 150 is ready to go. Will be in Madeira in July, or the Azores, depending on the fishing. Definitely going to be in the Azores in September through early October. By that time, the 150 will start heading south to prepare for the South Atlantic leg. We will fish the West Coast of Africa Brazil and Ascension Island. While the 150 is motoring south with L&H, I’ll fly to Australia to fish on the reef during October and November on the 60-foot Viking.”

Once the crews take a December break, the boats are ready to hit the South Atlantic in January. “The 150 will be in the South Atlantic, and with the 15-knot speed, I can be anywhere from Brazil to the West Coast of Africa in a week. We can do 300 nm a day easily, and when I get where I want to just plop that 33 L&H and I’m fishing.”

Hsieh says the 150 will move back north with the fish the following spring and meet back up with the 57 Spencer that was left in Madeira. “The 175 will go straight to the Pacific when it’s done in the spring,” Hsieh says. “We plan on getting a solid 80 days a year chasing grander blues for the next three years … 250 solid days on the water to get a couple of grander blues. Every single day, we are going to have the best odds on planet earth to see a big fish.”

Putting your game boat on a ship is a reliable option for operating multiple boats in different geographies. (Photo/DYT Yacht Transport)

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