Get To Know Fishing Guide Captain Wally Phinney

With more than 30 years’ experience running fishing charters, Captain Wally Phinney can help you with your catch in Hilton Head Island, Fripp Island, Harbor Island and Beaufort, where travellers can see porpoises, turtles and pelicans. With safety well in mind and onboard music, customers have been known to waltz on deck as well as catch their dinner when on a tour with the Captain.
Your website says you’ve worked on shrimp and crab boats from a young age and retired from the Army in 1982 to start guiding fishing charters seven years later – how and why did you make the move?

I was in the sixth grade when I first went camping and fishing, down the river with two other guys for the weekend, and I started learning a lot of skills in fishing. My father used to take me fishing all the time when I was a young man. After I graduated from Clemson University, I spent 20 years in the Army and I came back. I was going to teach Math and Science, but then the more I thought about it, I’d catch myself looking out the window, so I decided to get into the charter boat business to see what it was.

What really got me hooked on it was the people that I met: I saw families having a good time and I was part of it, and I was showing them how to fish, and I brought a lot of fun and joy to people. That’s how I got into charter boat fishing and I’ve been in it ever since.

In the ninth grade I worked one summer on a shrimp boat and then I ran crab pots when I was a sophomore at Clemson.

You guide in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, including Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. What makes these areas unique, and good fishing spots?

I cover Hilton Head Island, Fripp Island, Harbor Island and Beaufort. I’ve taken out 18,000 people during the time I’ve been chartered with no accidents. What makes the area neat is Beaufort County is a county which is about 72 islands. We have salt water, brackish water and fresh water and we have two high tides and two low tides in a 24 hour period. At one time we probably the most varieties of shark in Port Royal Sound, but we don’t anymore.

I do mostly bottom fishing and trolling, and most of the time I go about 15 miles or more out because we have artificial reefs offshore.

One of your testimonials mentions starting bright and early, catching Spanish mackerel and seeing a turtle – what does an average day look like for you and what wildlife do you see?

We have a lot of porpoises, in the rivers and offshore, and at times we’ll see them jump out about six feet. You’ll see loggerhead turtles, and of course, you’ll see pelicans. You’ll see sea ospreys around, but they leave during a certain time of year.

I do more five hour trips than anyone: that’s the best one. That takes them 15 miles offshore on an artificial reef plus another reef and some other fishing spots. I go about 10 miles down the river to the ocean and then I always give a safety briefing. I explain a lot of what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it, the safety factors, and then we get out and start bottom fishing. It might take about an hour to get out and an hour back, so they’ve got three hours. If they know how to fish, they’ll have enough for dinner that night.

What is the best part of your job?

The safety part of it. Nobody gets hurt. I’m in the flybridge looking down on the people I have, and I make sure nobody gets hurt. I have never had a safety accident in the 30 something years that I’ve been chartering because I always keep an eye on them.

My main job is safety and making sure they have a good time. I have satellite weather on my boat and music, and I usually get over 50% repeat customers. And I enjoy it, it charges my battery, it takes me an hour or two to wind down after a trip because I’m still excited. I enjoy meeting people, seeing them have a good time and sharing that little part of their life. My trips are mostly family trips because it’s a big boat, and they’re bonding together. It’s a good feeling to see that going on because you read so much bad news, but basically I enjoy seeing people have a good time and screaming and yelling when they get a fish on.

What’s your best memory when it comes to guiding first time fishers?

One time there was a daddy and a girl of about 13, and the little girl had a seasickness patch under her ear. The daddy didn’t take anything and he got seasick, and the little girl became the mummy and the daddy became the kid. And that little girl, she loved it, she was saying “Daddy, can I do this?” and “Daddy, can I do that?”, and you could feel the love pouring out from that little girl to her daddy.

Another time, there were calm seas, and the music playing was beautiful, and one lady was down here, dancing with herself. I told her I’d come down and dance with her, and I started going down the flybridge. Her husband was in the cabin and he came out and started dancing with her. That’s what she wanted, to get him out, so I got him out for them, and they started dancing.

Your website has an article from Saltwater Sportsman which mentions motion sickness cures, such as Smooth Sailing (ginger ale) and Dramamine – in your experience with your clients, which one works the best? Do you have any personal remedies you use?

The best thing for motion sickness is that patch under the ear, that you have to get from the doctor, there are no side effects. With Dramamine and other stuff, your mouth gets dry and you might get a headache and you just don’t feel like fishing, you feel groggy. Caffeine will make you seasick, and so if you have to have a cup of caffeine first, drink one cup but then eat something, because if you don’t eat, you’ll get the dry heaves and you won’t get the sugar up in your blood. Ginger snaps are good for your stomach, and ginger ale too.

Do not eat greasy stuff the night before. That’s heavy grease, like spare ribs or fried chicken, and in the morning you don’t eat fried eggs or fried sausage – you’re gonna get seasick.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?

The benefits are knowledge of the locations, the right rigs to use, what is running, the weather, the conditions, the right items to have on the vessel, safety on the water and when not to go.

In your view, what makes a good tour guide?

A good guide should be physically fit, honest, put 100% effort into his work, keep the vessel in good condition, look neat, speak nicely and not use bad words, be on time and ready to go fishing, take care of the customers to a high standard, leave before the time is up if conditions go bad, not smoke or drink while fishing and speak only when asked a question.

If you liked this, you might also like Explore South Carolina.

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