Out-of-control gas prices cut charter captains, guides deep

Big fishing rigs like this one often have two 25-gallon tanks, plus another 30 for the tow vehicles, which at current prices ring up $300+ in fuel charges for a single fill up.
Big fishing rigs like this one often have two 25-gallon tanks, plus another 30 for the tow vehicles, which at current prices ring up $300+ in fuel charges for a single fill up.

Sometimes the effect of political policies are debatable, but controversial economic decisions on national and international scales have left inflation at record levels. There is no debate on that. And while it hits everybody, every day, sportsmen are really feeling the pinch when it comes to fishing.

The worst thing is skyrocketing gasoline prices. And it’s predicted to get worse. For the record, inflation was at 7.5% just in January compared with last year, continuing inflation’s fastest pace in 40 years according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. The national average price for regular unleaded gas in early March of 2021 was $2.06. The same month in 2022 it is hovering over $4.00 and heading up. Nobody knows how far it will go.

All this piles up on top of many south Louisiana parishes still reeling from the destruction borne by Hurricane Ida late last summer, especially those who make their living off fishing.

“It’s just ridiculous. I don’t get it. How did this happen? I mean, we’ve talked about it and we are just going to have to do what we can do,” said Kenny Heikamp of Bentrod Fishing Charters, whose home port is Bridge Side Marina in Grand Isle. “Grand Isle was hit so hard most folks aren’t even up and running yet, but we are getting close. Now with this, we just don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll just have to roll with it.”

Travel costs soar

Heikamp said the problem isn’t just boat fuel for the fishing trips or the lack of rebuilt facilities on the island, but also the fact that people come from all over the United States to Grand Isle and other points in south Louisiana to fish. Their cost of fuel will double or possibly triple for them to even get here to fish.

Capt. Kenny Heikamp and customers with a varied catch from one of his offshore trips.
Capt. Kenny Heikamp and customers with a varied catch from one of his offshore trips.

“We have some diehards who are going to come no matter what and we are thankful for them, but it’s a question of how many people have deep enough pockets to do it this year,” he said. “If it comes to spending money at the grocery store or going fishing, you know what most people have to do.”

Heikamp and many other charter captains burn 90 to 115 gallons or more on offshore trips, which is his main business. If gas is up from last year’s $2 a gallon to predicted $5 or $6 a gallon levels, even higher at marinas on the water, he’s facing at least $500-600 for fuel per trip. And everything else from sinkers and equipment to bait is going up as well.

Inshore guide hopes customers understand

The gas hit won’t be quite as hard on inshore trips, such as those headed up by Capt. Ricky Watts of Gotta Go Fishing Charters, also in Grand Isle. But it still stings.

“We are just starting to book a few trips and hope to really get going in April, but it is going to hit hard,” he said. “We fish mostly inshore and we don’t burn as much fuel as offshore. Normally it was around $60 a trip last year, but that’s going to at least double. The offshore guys are really going to be hurting, especially on top of everything else.”

Watts does feel like most customers will understand what’s going on and what’s happening with gas prices and they’ll be fair to their fishing hosts from one side of the state to the other as far as gas prices impact go.

Freshwater fishermen aren’t exempt, either. They can fish using a lot less gasoline on most lakes, but the fees for freshwater trips are also generally lower.

Freshwater guides hit

Freshwater guides on some smaller lakes don’t have to burn a lot of gas normally, but with the fish on the move in the spring, it takes some moving around to find fish. On big waters like Toledo Bend, it isn’t unusual to burn up 30-40 gallons of boat gas a day. Louisiana’s touring bass and crappie pros travel hundreds of miles to fish in events, filling up trucks and big rigs for practice and tournament days.

Wesley Miller of Big Sasquatch Outdoors is a freshwater guide and also a tournament fisherman. A trip from his home in northwest Louisiana to fish a tournament in Mississippi this week will be costly.

“Literally, by the time I get home from this tournament, I will have spent $700-800 just on fuel,” he said. “I’m going to have to finish in the top 10 just to make money to cover that. Back home, I’m having to go up $50 a day on guide trips to cover fuel… just for now. I’m going to say something about any guided trip you take, freshwater or saltwater. Guides depend on tips, especially in times like this, to make ends meet. If you feel like your guide gave you a good day, tips help them cover these increased costs. I don’t think some people even know they need to do that.”

Unless something is done about this in the next few months, there is going to be a recession and a lot of people really hurting, Miller said.

About Kinny Haddox 592 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.