The family business adapts to changes in the fishing industry

BOWERS BEACH, Del. (AP) — For many, when the metaphorical seas get rough, they turn to family to find calmer waters.

When Captain Bob Trowbridge of the Bowers Beach-based charter vessel Captain’s Lady navigates treacherous waters off the coast of Delaware, he literally turns to those closest to him for help.

The Captain’s Lady, a 70-foot-long, 82-passenger charter boat with his and hers bathrooms and a sundeck powered by twin diesel engines, takes charters daily from her Paskey’s Wharf dock in Bowers Beach.

Captain Trowbridge’s family keeps their business afloat. Her brother, Captain Willie Trowbridge, helps her run the Captain’s Lady, and their sister, Doris Morris, takes care of dockside operations, ticket sales, and their shore-based needs.

The boat can be chartered for flagship cruises, birthdays and bachelor parties, weddings and more. The crew regularly takes anglers fishing off the coast of the First State. Additionally, the Captain’s Lady often hosts fishing tournaments and other angling events.

“We all grew up here, and we grew up around boats,” Bob Trowbridge said.

Although he left the area around 1989, a few years later he sold the businesses he had started and decided it was time to return home.

“I always wanted to be a charter boat captain,” he said. “I decided to get my license late. I think I was 40.

Then, in 2013, he and his then-business partner Mary Ewing took over the Captain’s Lady, making that dream come true.

Soon after, his brother joined the crew, along with their father and sister. Bob maintains the boat and all major projects, while Willie manages charters and clients. Mrs. Morris and their father worked with customers on deck and prepared the fish. The siblings lost their father, but the family stayed together for the sake of their common business.

“It’s unbelievable. I haven’t found better than my brother. He works hard. I say, ‘Willie, take a break.’ He always says, ‘No, I got it.’ On his days off he goes fishing,” Bob said with a smile.

“The more you do it, the more you love it,” Ms Morris added. “I’ve helped clean fish that have come off the boat for years. The more you learn, the more you like it.

His brother, Willie, agreed.

“We grew up around it here. I love it. I always liked him. I go fishing on vacation,” he said. “I got my license in 1983.”

Captain Bob started his charter business with Ms Ewing in 2013. Sadly she passed away in July 2021 after a battle with cancer.

Her obituary mentioned her love for the captain’s lady and her crew: “The boat was her pride and joy and (she) always loved to watch the boat come and go. You could always find her on the dock hanging out with people. She loved to sit in the afternoon with our regulars after an early morning trip and enjoy the conversations.

Bob called her “one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met”.

“And the one thing she taught me about being in business: When you give back, it comes back to you tenfold,” he said.

To that end, Captain Lady’s crew is proud to give back to their community. Bob said Ms Ewing tried to help anyone who called asking for help or a donation.

“She was like, ‘Bobby, we’re going to give these people tickets. We’re going to do this for that. We offered free charters for a child with cancer. We are firefighters, so we give to all of our first responders, military,” he added, noting a 10% discount for those people.

To remember and honor Mrs. Ewing, Bob had a meaningful dedication painted on the front of the ship, so that she will always be a part of the company and the ship.

“It’s a tough business here. Fishing isn’t what it used to be. For every fish we catch on this boat, you have to work,” Bob said.

Since the Trowbridge siblings were children in Bowers Beach, the waters and the fishing industry have changed a lot.

“There were boats stacked two deep here,” Bob said.

He said between ever-changing regulations and other transitions he’s seen in the Delaware Bay, it’s getting harder and harder to make a living fishing.

To keep her customers happy and continue the spirit of giving initiated by Mrs. Ewing, the charter boat captain and business owner had to think outside the box.

“We launched an oyster cracker tournament. Anyone who knows anything about oyster crackers is a naughty fish. Nobody wants to keep them or catch them. So we started tagging them. And we give money to whoever on the boat catches them. They pay a dollar to get on the boat, and they could win $1,000 if they catch a tagged oyster cracker,” he said.

With the price of fuel and other supplies rising, the crew of the Captain’s Lady must get creative. For example, Bob is buying a smaller, faster boat that he can use to take anglers out into the ocean for a different fishing experience. The smaller boat would be for more specialized groups, but it would allow the crew to work without having to spend the fuel used by the larger vessel.

“It’s something to keep people interested. In this business, you have to think outside the box. If you go out there and drop a line and you think the fish is going to come at you, it’s not like that anymore. We work for whatever we get,” Bob said.

The Captain’s Lady crew recently purchased a machine to marinate their bait, making it more attractive to fish.

“We go the extra mile to try to make customers happy,” Bob said. “If we have to run 20 miles to catch a fish, we will.”

Running a close family business is a hook, line and sinker for the captain, who said he works to make all of his crew feel part of the Trowbridge clan.

He often talks to the parents of his young employees to see how they are doing at school or at home. If he detects problems, he forces them to focus on their schoolwork or other goals. He said he also works to give people a chance that others might not take.

“Sometimes I pinch myself. When I’m out there, especially in the morning when you have the sun hitting you in the face and it’s a nice calm day, I literally pinch myself and say, “That’s my job. It’s my livelihood. And it feels good to be able to bring my family there,” Bob said.