ILWACO - Performing an important job in an ever-important local industry, the deck hands of the charter boat fleet of Ilwaco have to work hard to keep their customers happy. But if done well, the pay-off is a nice chunk of change for what are usually underage kids looking for summer work.
Dan Beierly, about to enter his senior year at Ilwaco High School, is in his first season as a deck hand. His friend Geoff Hylton, who graduated this year, had been a deckhand for the Nauti-lady, a charter boat captained by Dan Schenk. Working as a "carnie" down at the amusement rides in Long Beach, Beierly liked the kind of tip money he saw Hylton making and decided to give deck-handing a try this summer. After a brief stint with another captain, Beierly talked to Schenk about a job, and was quickly turned onto one on his brother Pat Schenk's boat, Ankeny Street, where he now works with Pat's son, Justice.
"After a couple weeks I realized this is a great job," he said after finishing his work last Saturday. "The more fish you bring in the boat the better your tips are. We look forward to happy customers, and a lot of them."
Arriving pre-dawn - most days around 5 a.m. - Beierly is busy fetching quarts of coffee for the boat's passengers, baiting leaders for the fishing poles and generally helping to get the boat ready to ship out. Upon its return to port, Beierly is busy helping the passengers unload and begins cleaning the vessel for the next day's charter. "I'd have to say there's a lot of chores that go with this job," he said.
But when they are on the water, that's when the job gets fun.
With lines in the water, Beierly is busy baiting up more hooks so they are never without. He also helps land the fish.
"I'd say in about 10 minutes to a half hour we start hitting fish. That's when the chaos, the hectic part of the job sets in," Beierly said, pointing out a torn knee on his pants where he fell during a rush earlier in the day. He said that properly marking everyone's fish is also pretty important. "If you mess up your numbering your customers get pretty upset about that. (If they don't know which is their's) They go 'that's mine' and they always go for the bigger fish."
Beierly said if he plays his cards right while fishing, he can easily walk away with $100 in tips each day - one day he made nearly $250 in tips. This plus his base wage equals a nice score for what is usually around a six hour work day.
Dan Schenk, whose two oldest sons work as deckhands for him, said the job is an important one.
"We've always had either local high school kids or our own kids. It's a big committment - seven days a week all summer long - and most kids don't want to give that up," he said. "They make or break your trip, that's for sure. If you don't have a good deckhand your customer base goes down. You could be the best fisherman in the world, but if you don't have a good deckhand, it's not going to fly."