Sailfish catch, Captain J's Deep Sea Fishing Kauai

Talk Story with Captain J

By Ryan Collins The Garden Island | Sunday, August 4, 2019

Jude “Captain J” Schwarze has owned Deep Sea Fishing Kauai since 2002. Before that, he was working for the state and didn’t want to be a part of the “30-year plan.” That’s when he saw a boat was up for auction. Flash forward 17 years and that very boat is still a part of the fleet.

It wasn’t an easy decision. It’s something that required Schwarze to mortgage his house.

“That person had passed away and it ended up going for auction,” Schwarze said. “And then I did a full restoration on that. It was a 31-foot Bertram and we switched out the engines and redid it and it has been redone three times since. That’s my original, and that’s the one that is out fishing today.”

After the original boat, he bought another 31-foot Bertram and a 32-foot Blackfin. The boats were accompanied by slips that were oftentimes harder to come by than the boat. Eventually, the three boats are what makes Deep Sea Fishing Kauai what it is today. That and Captain J.

Schwarze sat down in Port Allen Small Boat Harbor with The Garden Island to talk story on a sunny Thursday between rigging one of his boats for the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship regatta Saturday at Hanalei.

What was that first season like after you got your first boat?

It was pretty scary but it was also a blessing. It was scary because I mortgaged my house and quit my job. We were blessed that it kind of happened during the housing boom and everybody thought that they were rich. Everybody was coming out here and they were dropping a lot of money and selling their houses in California and making big bucks. So the season was excellent for the tourism side, plus I was like the only guy down here.

The other thing that happened was the fishing was really, really epic for the first couple of years there. It cycles in and out, but it was really, really good. So lots of happy people, great fishing, great adventures. Young kids, the family and stuff, and it was lucrative enough where it paid my mortgage and the boat payment. That’s what it had to do.

When did you know that it was going to work?

Oh, I still don’t know if it’s going to work. It’s working so far. As far as the long -term plan. It’s not where it just settles in and you have a retirement. There’s no pension. It’s hard to save money. It’s hard to pay yourself. The business runs and it pays bills but it’s hard to write yourself a check, especially if you’re not on the boat. If you’re on the boat and you’re making it that way, that’s one thing.

But if you’re trying to manage the whole company and still have people work for you, then your wage is not really there. That’s the hard part.

You end up spending a lot more time taking care of everybody else and making sure they have jobs and a lot less time managing for yourself and making sure you’re OK. I think every small business owner does the same thing. Once you start taking on the responsibility of employees then their needs become more than yours, so to speak.

What kind of clientele do you cater to?

We don’t really cater to anybody in particular. I’m not seeking a certain type of client because people will come to Kauai, and the ones that figure out we have a great fishery, they’ll give us a call. Families, friends. You have a wedding party, they’ll want to get rid of the guys so the girls can go to the spa. Couples, anniversaries. People that have just done the same thing on the island year after year and finally figure out they haven’t been fishing.

There’s no specific clientele that I’m looking for. I’m not looking for the big-fish angler or the world record-setter. Just get the families, get some people that haven’t had that experience and give them an experience that’s something they can talk about and share.

I bet you have a lot of fish stories. What’s your craziest fish story?

I’ve got a lot of fish stories. There’s too many, I don’t know. There’s too many. I caught my biggest fish with my deckhands first day on the job. We caught one that was over a thousand pounds. That was his first paid day on the job. Usually I will have a deckhand work with me for two days just to see if they can do it.

We had a really nice fish, just a miracle fish. It came in real easy and was about an hour and 47 minutes was the fight, and then we came back in and he was so excited, he had just turned 21 and he was going to go have a party and he was all amped up. I looked at him and said, ‘get back on the boat, you’re going back out.’ Because he had another trip just right after that, and he went ‘what?’ And I said, ‘get back on the boat. Welcome to the charter business, it doesn’t ever stop.’ It was good for him. It was a nice big fish and it was also early on in my career, so it was good to have a big fish and have that done. There’s just been over the years, so many triples. I had a lady who somebody tried to run her off the road, so she survived a very tragic near-death experience and she survived.

She wanted to come out and catch a marlin and let it go. And I said, ‘Karen we don’t have any marlin right now but we have a lot of tuna.’ She was like, ‘oh, OK,’ with her and her husband. Just really epic day, triple-triple, got them all. We came back in and she had me booked for two days because if you’re going to go for a big fish you kind of want to give yourself a chance.

The next day she got her marlin and we let it go and she had an epic time. Friends for life. And then I had another friend and we went out for six hours and didn’t catch a thing. We turned around and he said ‘J, you ought to come visit me sometime, I really enjoyed your company.’ And as he’s walking away, I said, ‘do you mean it?’ And he says, ‘yeah,’ and I went and visited him up in Maryland and he is a really good friend of mine, and that happened in a six-hour trip.

Not a bite, and I’m going to go visit him in September. It’s more about the people, and you can catch fish or not, but you’re going to meet some quality people out there. I’ve had a lot of lifetime friends that I’ve made over there and I wish I would have taken more people up on that offer to go when they tell you to come visit. And you’re like, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah,’ but they mean it and if they mean it you should go, because life is short, you know?

What kind of fishery does Kauai offer?

It’s real diverse. It’s quality. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere. We don’t have a lot of other influences other than the island. The people who live here, that’s who fishes here. Transients don’t really make it across the channel. As far as the fishery, it’s huge.

You got all your project species, yellowfin tuna, big-fin tunas, skipjack tuna, kawakawa, mahimahi, ono or wahoo, all your marlin species except for the white marlin, pretty much. It’s diverse. We got a lot of good stuff all throughout the year too, and it doesn’t just stop. Over here it just doesn’t end. It can show up at any time of the year.

I’ve had November blow up with tuna and be the best month ever. February, December, it’s not over, it just passes by and it returns. It doesn’t just go away, it doesn’t shut off, it’s not done. You can be surprised any day, you can be surprised with something spectacular.

Have you noticed a change in the fishing or the fishery in the past decade or so, or has it remained steady and constant?

It’s pretty steady. The temperatures change, La Nina, El Nino, things come and they go. We have a great fishery that goes phenomenal and then it goes back to great when you had five years of phenomenal. It would go back to great and you might think to yourself, ‘well it’s not as good as it was,’ but what it was was phenomenal. It’s not a poor fishery, it’s not even a good fishery, it’s still a great fishery, it’s just not phenomenal.

That will happen with the temperature lines when they come in and they’ll just hover over the islands for a period of time and that’s just something that happens on a global scale as temperatures come and go.

When the right ones come and they stay long enough, the fishery gets phenomenal. And then when it passes by then it’s nice and it’s a great fishery. I wouldn’t say it has diminished off or tapered out in any way. Just like this last two weeks will tell you, you can’t even sell a tuna right now.

The market is down below a dollar and they’re not taking them at the wholesaler. They’ve been catching fish, so maybe if you’re not catching enough fish maybe you aren’t fishing hard enough.

Do you just stay on the Westside or do you fish the entire island?

Range-wise we are running a four-, six- or eight-hour day. Boats are boats and I’ve got a lot of great boats, a lot of performance, but you can only go so far so fast. There’s really no reason to run around out here. It’s there. We fish right out in front, three to seven miles up and down the coast.

We can run over to the Eastside, we can get down to the Westside, we can fish the Southside, but pretty much the North Shore is too far away for most runs and most of the time things are kind of right out in front.

What’s your favorite fish to eat?

I like them all. I actually like Nohu. It’s something you catch on the reef. That’s one of my favorites. It’s not one that we catch when we’re out there. That’s what I used to catch diving with my dad.

What do you do with the fish?

Some big ones go to the market if the market is good. Right now it’s a poor market so we’re just trying to cut fish and share it. There’s always lots of friends. You can always make aloha. Sometimes aloha is more valuable than a dollar a pound. That’s for sure. And then when the market is right, we try to get some bigger fish to market. You can’t take pieces from it. As much as I love you, you can’t take 10 pounds out of the side of a 150-pound tuna. I gotta get the whole fish to the market.

The day in and day out, we just try to cut fish for our friends that came with the boat. Take care of them for about a week while they’re here. We don’t do any packing or shipping, or flying and stuff. We generally take it to a restaurant and keep my friends working for a week and just kind of cycle through that way.

What do you love about it the most?

I love the diversity of it and I like the people. I’ve met so many great people on the boat. You’ll meet one sour apple in a great while, but they make an impression that will not go away. It will sour you for a long time because they are just bad. They were rotten to begin with. But that’s one in 10,000 people.

I’ve taken over a 100,000 people fishing. I could fill a stadium with the clients that I’ve had. I know five of them in there I would never have back again. They make a lasting impression, so it does take another 1,000 great people to wash away the taste of that one bad apple. But as far as what I like on the water, the people and our fishery is sudden.

It’s impactful and it’s unpredictable. You can be going along thinking you’re doing one thing and you can just have something completely out of the ballpark. Any given day a 1,000 pound fish can jump on the line. You can have a 200-pound-plus tuna jump on the line and you’re thinking you’re gonna catch a little something or another or it just isn’t going to happen.

One last fish story

“My friend John Walker came out. He wanted to catch a big fish. I said ‘John, we haven’t got any big fish, man. They haven’t been around, there haven’t been any for a long time. So I went out to the (fish-aggregating) buoy and I worked and I worked and I beat that thing just to catch anything, and he was a really great guy.

“We were driving away and I put out a lure, just dropped it down the middle, put the boat in gear and just setting up the rest of the boat, and the center went off and it was a 226-pound tuna out of nowhere. It was a gift from God for John, and it was a wonderful day for both of us. It was unexpected, and I never would have thought it was going to happen for him, and it did.

“And then he got sick with cancer and that was one of his best memories. We kept in touch throughout his whole battle, and now he is better. He got through it, and we’re still in touch, and just that one experience made all of it happen.”

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