Captain Skip Bradeen is in the cockpit of his beloved Blue Chip Too, barking instructions to his angler.
“Now listen to me,” says the captain in his New York-staccato dialect. “He might be eating it. All right, hit him.”
The angler reels down, raises the rod and a nice dolphin (mahi-mahi) leaps into the air off the Florida Keys.
In September 2014, 72-year-old Skip Bradeen marked his 50th year in the Florida Keys charterboat business. The legendary skipper is best known for his enthusiastic personality and quick wit.
Skip’s love for the Keys began in September 1964 when he was 22 years old. He had just finished a stint in the U.S. Air Force and was destined to become a New York butcher. In a bar in Long Island, N.Y., he told some friends about plans to travel to Fort Lauderdale for a vacation in his new Chevrolet Impala convertible.
“I was going to Lauderdale to chase women for a couple of weeks before going back to Long Island and meat-cutting school,” he said. “A buddy of mine asked if he could come and share expenses, because he had a job offer as a deckhand on the Tradewinds party boat in Islamorada.
“I had never even heard of the Florida Keys, but he talked me into passing Lauderdale to bring him down,” Skip recalled. “I stopped at the dock to drop him off, got out of my car, walked around and this captain says to me, ‘You wanna go fishing tomorrow?’”
Skip explained he didn’t have money to go fishing, but the charterboat skipper offered him the opportunity to work as a mate.
“We went out the next day for a half day,” Skip remembered. “Caught eight barracuda and went back to the dock at noon. He gave me a $5 bill after I cleaned the boat and the party gave me a $5 tip.”
Thrilled with making $10 in a half day, Skip decided to stick around for a little while to learn the charterboat business.
“So I called mom and told her I wasn’t going to be home until Thanksgiving,” he related. “And then when Thanksgiving came, I was doing even more charter work and told mom I wouldn’t be home until Christmas.”
Skip kept postponing his return to Long Island, and in the spring of 1965 he called his mother to deliver a final message.
“Mom, you know my cold weather clothes?” he said. “Give ’em away. I’m not coming home no more.”
In 1966 Skip purchased that first boat he had worked on as a mate for $3,200, including fishing gear. He’s been a captain ever since — and over the years has built a strong and loyal clientele of professionals and their families.
Barron Pritt, now 27, started fishing with Skip when he was a 7-year-old on a family vacation.
“We just picked a boat and we went,” he said. “Now, we make it a reunion to come down here and always fish with Skip — nobody else.”
The captain’s style is to let his customers become fully involved in the angling experience. That’s one of the reasons Saltwater Sportsman magazine named him one of 50 top charterboat skippers.
“He wants it to be a hands-on experience for you, so you know what fishing is,” Barron Pritt said. “He’s always so happy and energetic and outgoing — wants to make sure everyone catches fish and has a good time.”
That’s exactly what Skip’s goal has been for more than 14,000 charter fishing trips.
“When they get off the boat, whether we catch a lot of fish or not, people say they had a wonderful time,” said the iconic captain, who has skippered for American presidents, rock stars and sports celebrities.
Will Skip Bradeen ever retire?
“That word is not in my vocabulary right now,” he said. “When (Denver Broncos quarterback) Peyton Manning lost the Super Bowl (XLVIII), they asked him about retirement.
“He said ‘I’m on a journey, not a destination’,” Skip said. “I’m the Peyton Manning of this business — on a journey, no retirement in sight.”