Entrepreneur Profile #2
Todd Wicks: Owner/Operator,
Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing,
There are few people in this world who enjoy their work more than Todd Wicks. Growing up in the isolated Indian village of Hoonah, Alaska, he knew from an early age that he loved to fish and it would provide him a source of joy for the rest of his life as well as a successful business. Todd is the picture of a successful local entrepreneur, running his business with unflinching principles while at the same time deriving great enjoyment in every fishing trip he takes (he takes ALOT).
Growing Up Tlingit
When Todd was just a kid his parents uprooted him from what he knew in Oregon to move to Hoonah, Alaska. Instantly, Todd was put into a culture shock situation, he was a minority in a small Tlingit Indian fishing village. He was an outsider looking in and if he wanted to make it he¹d adapt to a new lifestyle and that is what he did. He assimilated into the village, becoming popular amongst his peers through his easygoing personality and by becoming a star player on the high school basketball team. This is also the period in which Todd was introduced to fishing and he realized that it would be part of his life from then on. He learned from the best fishermen in Alaska, Tlingits have been fishing in Alaska for generations and Todd was lucky enough to have much of their local knowledge passed onto him.
Todd began commercial fishing with fishing poles when he was 14 years old from the deck of his small skiff on the waters of S.E. Alaska around Hoonah. From then on, he would receive commercial experience on board seiners, hand-trollers, gill-netters, and power-trollers while fishing for salmon. He¹d also receive substantial experience long-lining in the Gulf of Alaska for halibut. Even while he fished commercially, Todd would fish for pleasure on his days off, an addiction was born. After graduating high school and a stint overseas in the military, Todd returned to S.E. Alaska to receive his degree at the University of Alaska S.E. in Juneau and became a teacher.
The Captain Has the Best Job
Fishing is hard, time consuming, physically taxing work. This experience is multiplied as a deckhand who works on the back of the boat and is expected to maintain a certain level of output, even in poor weather. It takes any deckhand only a few hours to realize that the captain has the best position on the boat as he yells orders and runs the operation while reaping the biggest financial rewards. Through all his time on commercial boats Todd knew that when he had the ability he¹d be the captain and someone else would be the crew. He wanted to run the show, he wanted the financial benefits, and he was ready for the responsibility.
After teaching in Kotzebue, Alaska for a period of time Todd moved back to Juneau. It was during this time he began crewing on his Dad¹s boat, the FV Beartrack, and the roots of his charter business would be planted. Todd and his father ran their boat through a broker service and current competitor, Juneau Sportfishing. It was only a short time before Todd bought his own boat, a 22 ft. Seasport, and became captain of his own boat for the first time. After two years, Todd¹s father was looking to sell the 42 ft. FV Beartrack and sensing an opportunity to expand his operations, Todd bought the boat.
My Own Sport-Fishing Business
In the early 1990¹s tourism in Alaska exploded and is currently the only growing industry in Alaska, replacing the once dominant industries, commercial fishing and logging. Juneau continues to draw an increasingly larger number of tourists each year. Todd was well aware of this trend and combining that with increasing contempt towards working for someone else, he decided to run his own charter fishing service, Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing.
Early on, Todd vowed a different approach to charter fishing, a sort of balls to the wall, no B.S., fish hard or go home ideal that is the basis for his business. If you go fishing with Todd, plain and simple, he will work hard for you and catch you fish (or come close to dying trying). These guiding principles, his 30 plus years of experience, and his experienced crew enable Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing to differentiate itself from its competitors as the most successful (in terms of catch-rates) charter company in Juneau.
Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing provides a service unparalleled by any in the industry, striving for quality of service and providing ³once in a lifetime experiences,² it continues to exceed expectations while increasing in popularity. When you book a charter you talk to Todd, he answers your questions, he takes your information, and he¹ll even pick you up at your location and take you to the dock. When you first step on the boat you are struck by the situation, this guy knows what is going on. State of the art electronics litter the control panels, quality fishing gear is being prepared outside, you are ³at home² in a spacious cabin, and you get the feeling that it will be an outstanding day; this situation plays out everyday during the months of May-September. Todd provides customers with the ability to go fishing for salmon for periods of 4, 6, 8, or 10 hours. Auke Bay Sportfishing is also one of the few companies in Juneau that offer halibut fishing and few experience the success the Beartrack has in catching these monster fish. You can partake in a halibut excursion for periods of 8 or 10 hours. Also, Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing provides customers with the ability to participate in whale watching and sightseeing in a comfortable setting. Finally, Todd offers customizable overnight and extended excursions throughout remote areas of S.E. Alaska.
Todd¹s target customers love to fish, they are interested in a great Alaskan experience, but they place a great importance on returning home with fish. This customer is interested in an experienced captain and crew with a no-frills attitude. They want a comfortable, proven, and well maintained boat. These people are local residents of Juneau and their friends and families. They are independent travelers who reach Juneau by ferry or airplane and they are cruise ship passengers who arrive in Juneau everyday throughout the summer season. In reaching these customers, he utilizes yellow page ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, and colorful brochures. Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing holds the distinction of being one of the first tourism companies in Alaska to rely heavily on the internet for advertising its services to the world. However, if you talk to Todd he¹ll say that his most important method of advertising is ³word of mouth.² Through his years as the owner of Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing he has had left wonderful impressions on thousands of people, contributing to a high percentage of returning customers and a web of ³word of mouth² advertising that spreads all over the world.
A Look Forward
Todd has experienced increasing success in running his business and he has big plans for its future. He is currently a few years from retiring as a school teacher, at which time he will concentrate fully on running his business and having a great time. He plans on running Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing for at least 12 more years. In that time he will not stray from the principles that got him to this point and will strive to provide top-notch fishing adventures. As of right now, he is expanding the business to run beyond the summer fishing season into the fall deer hunting season. He is currently offering weekend deer hunting excursions and when he retires he plans to expand this area of the business. Finally, he would like to upgrade to a bigger boat in the future both for the increased comfort of his clients and for himself.
Personal Thoughts and Conclusions
I¹ve had the rare and awesome ability to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and catch some of the most spectacular game-fish the world has ever seen during the past five summers. I¹ve done this while working as Todd Wicks¹ deckhand on the Beartrack and sole employee of Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing. I¹ve seen and experienced first hand his no nonsense approach to fishing and as a result the many hundreds of joyfully overcome clients. There is no captain quite like Todd in Juneau and Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing is truly in a class by itself in terms of success and ability to expand. I admire what he has done with his business, his hardworking attitude, and the principles on which he runs his business. Finally, I¹m thankful for the opportunity he afforded me on my arrival in Juneau and for the friendship I have gained in the five seasons I worked for him. Todd Wicks is the epitome of an entrepreneur doing what he loves driven by the successes of the past and the promise of the future while maintaining unwavering principles.
1) Auke Bay Sportfishing and Sightseeing Website, http://www.aukebay.com
2) Email Interview with Todd Wicks
3) Countless conversations with Todd Wicks during the time I¹ve known him