Fishing is an alternative recreational activity that adds fun and excitement to corporate outings. It can be incorporated into meetings as an optional activity between meetings or as an intense hands-on experience. Meeting planners should consider group size and attendees’ interests to determine the location that would offer the best fishing program for both experienced anglers and non-skilled participants. A list of some professional guides and fishing lodges are presented.
Whether they’re idly angling in a crystal clear stream or going after big prey beneath the waves, a group can get hooked on fishing
At the height of their empire, wealthy Romans made fishing fashionable by building private ponds in which to angle away the days. Like the Romans, the trendiness of sport fishing didn’t last. More recently, fishing was seen as the sole domain of crusty old men who liked to pin funny things to their hats. Then came Brad Pitt, who waded thigh-high through the bucolic waterways of Montana in A River Runs Through It and gave fly fishing some long-missing sex appeal.
Suddenly, it seems, everybody wants to go fish. All the credit shouldn’t go to River director Robert Redford. A more likely explanation is the nostalgic appeal of a sport that asks little from the modern world – no electronic equipment, no great skill, not even a dress code. And its rewards are many: scenic beauty, a sense of camaraderie and – if you’re lucky – a fresh and tasty dinner.
Naturally, meeting planners are picking up on the trend and discovering that fishing is an ideal, non-competitive group activity. One big reason: This is everyman’s sport. “There’s really nothing to it,” says Louisiana Bayou fisherman Terry Shaughnessy, who owns and operates the Hackberry Rod and Gun Club in Hackberry, La. “If your line stops moving sometime in between when you throw it out and bring it back, you’ve got a fish.”
Shaughnessy, who also hosts a weekly radio program, has seen his corporate business skyrocket. Part of the appeal, he believes, is a sense of team spirit that not even the best motivational speaker is likely to evoke. “There’s no I about fishing,” says Shaughnessy. “Everything is we. It’s we really got some fish today or we got a big one,” he says. “And when the boat comes ashore at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if one man caught 40 and the other 10. They’re all proud and excited.”
That’s just how it worked for a five-day sales meeting in Monterey, Calif., for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Signetics. As an optional activity, fishing was a hit, says Kathy Kiewit, CMP, who planned the semiconductor manufacturer’s event. “I’m not sure how many actually wanted to get a fish or just be out on the water, but they laughed a lot and had a wonderful time together. It was a good team-building effort. And it was a really big deal for them when the hotel arranged to have their catch cleaned and frozen to take home.”
Group outings can be a relaxed mix of first-timers and veterans, says Bill Flores, account manager for ACDelco, a battery manufacturer in Flint, Mich. You can’t say the same for golf. Take non-golfers to a golf resort and “they’ll be miserable,” says Flores, who for the past five years has organized a salmon fishing trip to Ketchikan, Alaska, for client Sears Roebuck & Company’s automotive managers.
For those who can stand a little competitive fire, tournaments are an ideal way to liven up the fishing experience. Arrange to give out trophies: the most fish caught, most released, biggest catch, smallest catch. Consider hiring a photographer to accompany the group or stand dockside at tournament’s end and immortalize the winners.
A fishing outing can be as simple as standing on a dock with a spin rod and bait or as dramatic as a helicopter ride to the perfect fishing haven. Location will determine your choices – or your preference may dictate location. The many options include heli-fishing in Canada’s high mountain lakes, hooking giant halibut and coho salmon in Alaska’s Inside Passage, fly fishing for trout and bass in the rivers and streams of the Midwest, angling for redfish in the backwoods of Louisiana or plying the warm waters of Florida for bonefish, marlin and sailfish.
Fishing can be incorporated into meetings in a number of ways. It can be a low key, optional half-day activity; an intense hands-on experience where reeling, casting and baiting skills are taught; or part of a pampered incentive visit to a luxurious retreat where guests do little else but hold the line and wait for the fish to bite.
In the early planning stages, consider group size and attendees’ interest in the sport. Heli-fishing, for instance, where helicopters fly participants to a lake site, could be expensive and chaotic for a larger crowd. Or, if you think your group’s sea legs might be a bit unsteady, think twice before venturing into the deep sea, cautions Gary Ellis, owner of Redbone Charters in Islamorada, Fla. “It can be quite rough. If I have a group of avid anglers, I might take them fly fishing for tarpon,” he says. “With a non-skilled group, I would offer bait fishing for bonefish.”
“I offer different types of fishing as recreational options,” says Philadelphia-based independent planner Chris Pentz, CMP. “People who are queasy about deep-sea fishing like back-country fishing because they feel comfortable keeping the shoreline in sight.”
If you are going deep-sea fishing, bring along the Dramamine. Kiewit stocked up on 5,000 of the motion sickness pills before heading out to her sales meeting. “As they boarded the boats, there I was passing out box lunches, cups of water and Dramamine,” she says.
While fishing doesn’t demand much skill, don’t go it alone – an experienced guide is essential for any outing. Most resorts and fishing lodges that offer fishing programs will pair your group with a guide. If you decide to contract with an independent guiding outfit, choose wisely. If possible, meet with the guide in advance to check credentials and examine boats and equipment. Deep-sea captains should have their vessels licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard; all other fishing craft should be state licensed. Fly fishing guides should be certified by the Federation of Fly Fishermen. And all fishing operations should carry adequate insurance.
Other factors in selection are more subjective. Gary Ellis, a 30-year veteran guide, says “Seniority makes for a good guide and so does personality. You want to enjoy being with the guy, since you’re going to be together for up to eight hours. And, he should be a good teacher and tolerant of novice anglers.”
Planning to follow the outing with a fish cookout? Be sure to check whether your group can keep their catches. Many fishing operations practice catch and release; the number of fish you’ll be able to keep will depend on the limit allowed under state law. And, have a back-up meal planned in the event of an unlucky day.
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Fishing lodges dot the contiguous U.S., Alaska and Canada. The following properties all have organized group fishing programs, as well as meeting facilities. Rates are per person and include meals, except where noted.
Waterfall Resort Alaska P.O. Box 6440 Ketchikan, Alaska 99901 (907) 225-9461; (800) 350-FISH Fax: (907) 225-8530 Rooms: 42 Rates: $2,385-$3,745, 3-5 night packages
Housed in a historic 1911 salmon cannery on Prince of Wales Island, Waterfall Resort is the ultimate in wilderness luxury. The resort is a short float plane ride from Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska, an area known for its abundance of salmon and halibut. Two fully-equipped meeting rooms accommodate 68. Catches can be cleaned and packaged for the journey home or sent out to be canned, smoked or mounted for display.
Yes Bay Lodge P.O. Box 6440 Ketchikan, Alaska 99901 (907) 225-7906; (800) 999-0784 Fax: (907) 225-8530 Rooms: 15 Rates: $2,125-$3,075, 4-6 night packages
Customized fresh and saltwater itineraries are the specialty of this contemporary, upscale lodge, 50 miles north of Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest and accessible only by float plane. A fully-equipped conference room accommodates 15, while the lounge, which accommodates 24, also doubles as a meeting room.
Mink Bay Lodge P.O. Box 6440 Ketchikan, Alaska 99901 (907) 225-7906; (800) 999-0784 Fax: (907) 225-8530 Rooms: 6 Rates: $2,125-$3,075, 4-6 night packages
Mink Bay, like its sister lodge Yes Bay, is an intimate fishing spot with its own fleet of boats and guides. The setting: Boca de Quadra in the Misty Fjords National Monument, 50 miles south of Ketchikan. Five major salmon and trout spawning streams are nearby. The lounge serves as a conference room for 12.
Maximum West Corporate Retreat Centre Box 33 Millarville, Alberta Canada, TOL 1K0 (403) 931-3337 Fax: (403) 931-3350 Rooms: 26 in six log cabins Rates: $425
The Peaks at Telluride P.O. Box 2702 Telluride, Colo. 81435 (303) 728-6800 Fax: (303) 728-6567 Rooms: 181 Rates: $220-$800
Perched 9,500 feet above Telluride in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, this ultra-luxurious resort is known for its 42,000-square-foot spa. Four meeting rooms and a ballroom accommodate up to 600. The list of optional group activities is exhaustive, from traditional golf, skiing and tennis to rock climbing, snow-boarding, mountain biking and – of course – fishing.
Cheeca Lodge P.O. Box 527 Islamorada, Fla. 33036 (305) 664-4651; (800) 327-2888 Fax: (305) 664-5427 Rooms: 203 Rates: $120-$350 (room only)
Sprawled over 27 acres, 75 miles south of Miami International Airport, this gracious Floridian resort is a favorite of former president George Bush, a sport fishing enthusiast, who hosts the annual George Bush/Cheeca Lodge Bonefish Tournament. The lodge is also home to the Florida Keys Fly Fishing School. A 4,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art conference center features three meeting rooms. Parasailing, kayaking and sailing are among the many water activities offered.
Hackberry Rod & Gun Club 485 Lake Breeze Drive Hackberry, La. 70645 (318) 762-3391 Fax: (318) 762-3791 Rooms: 8 condos; each sleeps 4 Rates: $275
In the bayou waterways of Cameron Parish, in the Southwestern corner of Louisiana, the population barely tops 9,000 and fish take center stage. No luxury trappings here, but guests will be well fed and cared for. Expect a down-and-dirty, hands-on experience and some of the best fishing instruction in the country. A clubhouse that accommodates 60 serves as a conference center. Fishing is the main priority at Hackberry, and duck and goose hunts are the only optional activities available.
Triple Creek Ranch 5551 West Fork Stage Route Darby, Mont. 59829 (406) 821-4664 Fax: (406) 821-4666 Rooms: 17 one- to three-room luxury cabins Rates: $475-$765
Expect to be pampered at this exclusive small ranch, nestled at the base of Trapper Peak, the highest point of Montana’s Bitterroot Range. Groups of up to 40 can convene in the library of the main lodge. When not sampling the kitchen’s haute cuisine, guests can angle in the ranch’s private trout pond for their dinner. Horseback riding, jaunts to nearby hot springs, massage treatments, rafting, hiking, lounging in a hammock, taxidermy lessons and flight-seeing are but a few of the many optional activities available here. Also on-site: tennis, putting greens and hot tubs.
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Sportfishing is divided into two categories – saltwater and freshwater. Where to go depends upon what type of fishing excursion you choose. M&C asked fishing pros across the country for advice on various types of group, outings. Their recommendations:
Back-Country Fishing: Seventeen-footlong skiffs with one guide and two anglers cruise shallow waters with light tackle and live bait. Bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook and redfish are the prey in Florida; in Louisiana, ling and mackerel join the list. Because back-country fishing takes place in protected waters, it’s very peaceful. Back-country fishing is an ideal choice for anyone skittish about boating in deep water.
Deep-Sea Fishing: Remember the man-versus-fish battles of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea? Also known as saltwater big-game fishing, this is considered by many to be the grande dame of sportfishing. Boats are equipped with a “fighting seat” and heavy tackle; the crew includes a captain, mate and four fishermen. A 30-yard baited hook is dragged behind the boat’s stern (a technique known as trolling) in hopes of enticing sail-fish, marlin and wahoo – all fighting fish. Once the fish is hooked, the boat is stopped and the battle ensues. Because the fish are large and the seas usually rough, the “fight” can be long and arduous. Prime seasons are late spring through summer, and fall through the end of February.
Freshwater Fly Fishing: Don’t be fooled – fly fishing is not quite as effortless as it appears, says John Foust of Hamilton, Mont., who runs a guiding company and was hired by director Robert Redford to make the fish jump for the closing scene in A River Runs Through It. Before Foust takes groups out from the Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Mont., he has them practice casting on the front lawn. “It’s easier to teach people to cast on grass than on water,” says Foust. “It’s also safer for everyone.”
In fly fishing, the typical rod is eight and a half feet, the cast 30 feet long. Using only artificial flys, never live bait, the fisherman entices the fish to the surface by constantly casting and reeling, the fly floating lightly on the water.
Although it seems romantic, forget about outfitting yourself in waders and standing around thigh-deep in the river. “Only experienced anglers wade,” says Foust. “It’s a lot harder to fish wading than it is from a raft. Most people will be on rafts.” However, groups are given waders and rain gear for warmth and rain protection; trips can last up to nine hours.
The game: bass, rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout in the June through October season. And don’t plan to eat your catch; in most states these fish are protected by catch-and-release laws.
Heli-Fishing: Popular in northwest Canada, heli-fishing is like heli-skiing, but better – you’re not left to make your own way down a mountain. Inflatable belly boats and up to six fishermen are loaded aboard helicopters and flown to remote lakes to fly fish for rainbow, cutthroat and golden trout. The season runs from the middle of June to the middle of October.
“If groups don’t have a lot of time between meetings, we suggest heli-fishing versus fly fishing, because the trip can be as short as 15 minutes away, compared to spending several hours boating on the river,” says Todd Bell, general manager of Maximum West Corporate Retreat Centre in Alberta, Canada, who frequently guides groups himself. “And if they want to go for the day, we pack flip charts and picnic lunches, and they have their meeting right on the banks.”
Salmon Fishing (also known as the Alaska Grand Slam): It happens every year: May through September, lines are baited with frozen herring, and groups of six (four fishermen, a guide and a captain) head out into the protected waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage in 21-foot cabin cruisers to chase the region’s most abundant sea life: coho salmon. Also on the hunt list are giant red snapper, halibut and cod. Most resorts will prepare and freeze guests’ catch to take home.
“The best thing about fishing in Alaska is the variety,” says professional fisherman Ronnie Kovach, founder of Eagle Claw Fishing Schools in Huntington Beach, Calif., and host of ESPN’s Big Game Fishing. “You can go after the big fish for a few hours in the morning, then take a short float plane ride and spend the afternoon fly fishing for trout.” But don’t be too ambitious, Kovach cautions. “Three days of fishing, 10 hours a day, is plenty.”