Want A Customer For Life? Take ‘em Fishing!

Redfish can put up quite a battle!

It may shatter a stereotype, but I’m in sales and I don’t play golf. However, since it is no mystery that getting people out of their business surroundings can give you a very important glance at another side of their personality, I still want to entertain my customers. Removing someone from such distractions as ringing phones, impossible deadlines and the day-in, day-out stress of today’s business environment can give a salesperson the opportunity to know a customer better, quicker. In addition, if you are the one responsible for showing a client a good time, they could, quite possibly, always associate you with the sense of relaxation that you provided for them.

For many years, companies vying for increased business opportunities have recognized golfing trips as a way to get closer to their customers, and simply playing at a course in your own town is not enough. Any good salesperson understands the benefit of a captive audience. The trick is finding some place far enough away but still convenient, and not so expensive as to be cost prohibitive. Entire industries have sprung up around the idea of a “golf trip.” Packages have been designed which include transportation, lodging, meals, as well as golf-associated fees.

Another Option

There are few alternatives which are as far along as the golf industry for making it easy to entertain your customers. But if you live in Mississippi, there is one –– saltwater fishing! While I must be careful to not take away from this wonderful state’s golfing industry, I must ask the question, “On how many golfing trips were you supplied with a bonafied professional to ride in the cart with you?” Not only is wetting a hook much easier than punching a ball to within inches of the hole, but you have a local expert to point out where the fish are biting!

In the past ten years, the marsh fishing industry along Mississippi’s coast has become sophisticated enough to rival the age old “golf trip.” Gone are the days that fishing down south was characterized by a night in a broken down trailer in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat but sardines and crackers. Today, many guide services have recognized the viability of marketing their wonderful resources to the business class. The discriminating fisherman now has many options and packages from which to choose.

Most areas of the Magnolia State are only a two to four-hour drive from the coast, but that’s far enough to require an overnight trip. Many coastal towns boast full working lodges with excellent accommodations. In most of the communities I visited this summer, Guide Fishing is a major industry that brings much-wanted (and needed) capital to communities which are trying to pull themselves back together in the wake of the 2005 hurricane season.

While current inland conditions can be somewhat eye-opening, Mother Nature is self-healing, and to the visitor, the marshes and surf areas look much like they always have… absolutely beautiful. Guides will be happy to show you where there favorite fishing hole “used” to be pre-Katrina or pre-Rita, but to those of us who don’t see it everyday, the ecosystem is, seemingly, unspoiled.

Comfortable Outing

When you suggest saltwater fishing to a client, it may conjure images of long, hot, swaying boat rides that can produce a reaction that is far from relaxing. I have certainly had some deep sea fishing excursions that I would categorize as agonizing. Besides the boat ride, I personally do not get much satisfaction from having a deck hand bait my hook, drop the bait to the bottom of the ocean, reel it up five turns and then hand over the rod. For me, simply waiting for a strong tug and then hauling in a fish from the depths does not present the challenge that fishing for speckled trout in the surf or prowling the marshes for a bull redfish does.

If site-seeing is your thing, or if you simply prefer to look up from the water and see something other than more water, then there is plenty for the eye in these marshes. The chest-high green grass contrasted against blue water and the white surf makes for a comforting scene, as compared to the sometimes panic-inducing feeling of being miles offshore with no land in sight. Tropical flowers being cruised by land-dwelling insects, an occasional alligator and even a coyote spotted here or there continually remind this fisherman that, if he happened to fall out of the boat, he just might be able to swim to shore.

Marsh fishing has several advantages for the weekend warrior who didn’t learn how to hoist a sail growing up. If, for any reason, you need to get back to land, you can do so with a 20 minute boat ride versus a four hour journey. For those entertaining customers, that is close enough to be able to get out of an uncomfortable situation but far enough to keep a conversation going with someone who can’t drive off in their golf cart!

Don’t own your own fishing gear? Not to worry. Most guide services are all-inclusive, providing fishing equipment, bait, a sandwich or two, as well as something to quench your thirst. Although that does not usually include adult beverages, most guides are flexible and, with the proper incentive, can be coaxed into supplying nearly anything for the customer who just wants to drive up and step onto the boat.

The typical boat is a 20-foot skiff with enough motor to get you where you need to go. While I have fished with more, three anglers plus a guide makes for a comfortable trip –– and less unwanted ear piercings from wildly flying hooks!

Quite a Treat

While angling for redfish, it is not uncommon to meander in and out of the Mississippi River or any of its freshwater estuaries, depending on the tide. The mix of briney and fresh waters makes for interesting habitat and is often used as an ambush spot for big bull reds. Casting around points of land that jut out into the water while the tide is coming in or out will position your bait with food being washed past the big guy as he waits and lets the food come to him.

Once you have a bull red hooked, there is no mistaking the reckless abandonment with which he thrashes. Just as you get him close enough to the boat to make eye contact, he is off again on another run until you wear him out past the point of fighting. Earlier this summer, my ten-year-old son wrestled with a 37-inch bull for about twenty minutes before safely boating the fish. Whether it is your child or your customer, such a ride is one they will not soon forget –– and unlike golf, you stand a chance of scoring well your first time out!

Marsh fishing can be a double treat because, where there are redfish, there are typically speckled trout nearby. Most of the trout I have caught have been a few minutes away the marshes in the surf surrounding small inland islands or around structures like old fishing piers. What they lack in fight, specks make up in numbers. Trout mature much quicker than reds and are ready to spawn at a much earlier age. For that reason, trout limits are higher. In Louisiana, the limit on specks is 25 per fisherman. Three fishermen and a guide can easily pull in 100 fish in a matter of hours. When the trout action is hot, you can hear just as many whoops and hollers as when a member of your golf foursome scores an eagle on a hole!

If competition is your thing, then you can very easily turn an outing into a mini-tournament. I’ve been on one trip where there were three boats and the competition was fierce. The day ended with a semi-formal awards ceremony at the lodge, where prizes were handed out for first fish, biggest fish, smallest fish, most fish, most unusual fish, etc. A lot of good-natured ribbing followed, as well as promises on how the next day’s results would be different.

Flavor of the South

Probably the most rewarding thing about a saltwater fishing trip is the people you meet. Many guides are very colorful individuals –– full of fun and indispensable knowledge. I have also found that the support staff that mans the lodges are typically true examples of Southern hospitality. The dialect of the locals, the scent of salt air, the variety of plant life, and the aroma of well-prepared seafood can give you the impression that you’re in a tropical country… and it’s all just a short distance away!

If you have a customer that (heaven forbid) is not from these parts, then inviting them on a marsh fishing trip may expose to them a perspective on life that they will not find anywhere else. I have found that, once they are back in their car or on a plane, they leave our part of the country with a newfound respect for our region and its people, and with memories of fun and laughter.

Not to upset the golfing crowd (after all, golf is enjoyed outdoors, and if it’s outdoors, it can’t be that bad!), I do want to point out that, while I have never broken 100 on the golf course, there have been many days that the boat I was in caught 100 or more fish. And, no matter how I have tried to prepare them, there is just no recipe for golf ball that can stand up to my pecan-crusted pan-fried trout!

So, if you are looking for an adventure that you and your customers will never forget, consider a marsh fishing trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. If you need a third for the boat, I can usually be ready to go in a couple of minutes! MWW

About the Author – David Adams of Jackson is a salesman who is passionate about his hobby and second career –– photography.

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