Facebook group raffles charter fishing trips; money goes directly to captains hurt by coronavirus
In mid-March, when the COVID-19 outbreak began to work its way into every corner of the American economy, Cody Holcomb knew one business sector was going to suffer badly — the offshore charter boat business.
Since he was 17, the Vero Beach resident has worked as a mate or captain on charter boats and private boats. He knows very well how fickle the business is. A stiff wind blowing from the east can wipe out a day's pay. A hurricane in the Caribbean can kill a month's worth of wages, if not more.
But the true death knell for some fishing charter businesses is a failing economy. Paying a charter boat captain $1,000 to $1,200 a day for a fishing charter requires disposable income.
Unlike other impacts, no one knows how long this impact will last.
Holcomb, along with help from his wife, Brooke, founded a Facebook group called Save the Charter Boats in early April. The page raises funds for charter boat captains and their families by awarding a charter fishing trip from a random drawing.
How does it work?
"My wife suggested we do it like a football pool," Holcomb explained. "So we sell 75 chances for $25 each. One person will win the random drawing and receive a fishing trip on the charter boat."
For a fraction of how much it usually costs, an angler can enjoy a thrilling trip to catch and release sailfish or catch and keep grouper, snapper, kingfish, wahoo or mahi mahi.
The anglers who buy the chances do so by sending the money through PayPal, Venmo or Zelle directly into each captain's account, Holcomb said. That way there is no suspicion or handling of funds.
Holcomb called Capt. Patrick Price of Jensen Beach, owner of DayMaker charters out of Sailfish Marina in Stuart, to be his guinea pig, so to speak. After promoting the program for two days, the chances sold out in 28 minutes. Bryan Graham of Palm City won the trip, which will be arranged at a future date between Graham and Price.
The event raised $1,875 for Price's family. United Yacht Sales' Christopher Cooke of Stuart donated an additional $1,000 as a sponsor. Holcomb said many other sponsors have joined the program, with many donating $100 for each charter boat business chosen.
"It certainly helped," Price said. "I think it's a really great thing he created. One of the best parts is someone gets to fish for $25."
Price said he was paid that day. He estimates his business lost $40,000 the past six weeks. Even though fishing is one activity that was not prohibited by Gov. Ron DeSantis or Treasure Coast counties, many anglers cancelled fishing trips due to the COVID-19 impacts they suffered. Price is also concerned about his future business.
"Normally by now, I'm 80% booked for June and July coming up," Price said. "I've only got five trips booked right now."
If there is an active hurricane season this fall, or rough weather this fall and winter, as it was last year, his business will suffer even more.
After the success of the first drawing, the Holcombs did it again. April 22, one lucky angler won a trip to fish with Slob City charters out of Riviera Beach with Port St. Lucie Capt. Carl Torreson.
Monday, on the Save the Charter Boats Facebook page, Holcomb will announce which Miami-Dade County charter boat business will be selected for the next drawing. The sale of the chances will open at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The drawing will take place live on Facebook at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Holcomb said he solicits applications from captains and lists detailed instructions on the Facebook page of what is required. He has a thorough vetting process to verify the charter business is completely legitimate before selecting it as a potential beneficiary.
Holcomb plans to do one for a Monroe County charter boat captain next week. He has no plans for when the charity effort will end.
The Holcomb family has been blessed by the giving spirit. Brooke started up a Thanksgiving meal charity a few years ago. That grew into a Christmas tree donation program. Last fall, Cody spearheaded the Abaco Relief Alliance, kicking it off a full day before the deadly winds of Hurricane Dorian reached the outer islands of the Bahamas.
"I created the Facebook group for Abaco Relief Alliance and received a call from Dominick Lacombe, who also gave the page its first like," Holcomb said. "The first thing he said was, 'Whatever it is going on inside your head, I'm in.' '"
Lacombe donated the use of his buildings and property at American Custom Yachts in Stuart to receive supplies for the island nation. Holcomb organized the logistics for more than 6 months to deploy needed supplies directly to the northern islands that were hit hardest and avoid letting materials fall into corrupt hands.
The Holcombs recently decided to combine some of these charity efforts into a broader 501(c)3 nonprofit called Coastal Hope.
The mission statement reads in part: "We bring coastal families relief, assistance and hope during their times of need."
Connecting anglers with charter boat captains in their time of need is just one way of accomplishing that goal.
Ed Killer is TCPalm's outdoors writer. Become a valued customer by subscribing to TCPalm. To interact with Ed, friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Facebook group raffles charter fishing trips; money goes directly to captains hurt by coronavirus