The Entertaining Mate Aboard the Spencer 62 Shoe

Johnny Fuentes is a professional deckhand who guarantees a good time.

Spencer Yachts 62 Shoe Mate
“Fishing is the easy part. You’re really in the entertainment business.”Jon Coudriet

Good deckhands are a rare breed: part fish hawk, part ­showman, and a critical part of any sport-fishing operation. It’s a high-profile job that often includes traveling to the world’s best fishing destinations, but dig a little deeper and you will find a different reality. Professional mate Johnny Fuentes takes us on a guided tour of his world.

The 24-year-old Fuentes grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida, where he earned his first job fishing with Capt. Glenn Cameron, working as a tower spotter aboard Floridian in local sailfish tournaments. Through hard work and dedication, Fuentes was able to parlay that position into a full-time job on J-Hook under Capt. Michael Dewey Price. He has now been working aboard Shoe, a 62-foot Spencer captained by Devin Silas, for four ­seasons. With a new boat on the horizon, his future looks bright — and busy.

M: So what's the deal with the guitar?

We were just goofing around, passing some time between bites during a tournament. The guests had a few drinks, so I pulled out this guitar and played a song. Wish I had a fedora or something.

M: Your nickname is Puerto Rican Johnny. How did you come by that one?

My buddy Kevin Paul had a hard time saying my first name, which is Justo, so he asked me what my middle name was. It’s Jonathan, so he started calling me Puerto Rican Johnny. It stuck.

M: So there's this photo of you with your head in a bucket …

It’s called a dunkaroo. You fill a bucket with ice and water, then someone puts their head in there for as long as they can hold their breath. Then they come up and chug a beer as fast as they can. It’s entertaining and a way to pass the time when fishing is slow.

Spencer Yachts 62 Shoe Mate
A professional mate’s dedication to the job means working long hours for days on end, especially when traveling to foreign locations or during tournament season. And sometimes even enduring the occasional ice-water “dunkaroo.”Jon Coudriet

M: Travelwise, what's a typical season look like aboard Shoe?

We’re based out of Sailfish Point Marina in Stuart, so in 2016 we went to Long Island in the Bahamas followed by Turks and Caicos for some high-speed wahoo trolling until February. Then we headed to the Dominican Republic for blue marlin until May. After that, we were in St. Thomas for the season and had a great time there, then went back to Turks and Caicos to fish for tuna.

M: You'll be fishing in the Pacific this year, correct?

Yep, we went to the Caymans and then down to Panama, through the Canal and up to Los Sueños [Costa Rica]. We’ll be there for a year, maybe longer. I’m looking forward to it.

M: Ever fished there before?

We were in Quepos for the Offshore World Championship last year, and the boss fell in love with the fishing. We’re going to ­fun-fish and do the tournaments, plus run some seamount trips for blue marlin.

Spencer Yachts 62 Shoe Mate
A well-known sight throughout the Caribbean, the Shoe team has relocated to the Pacific for 2017, where they will focus on tournaments and fun-fishing trips for blue marlin.Jon Coudriet

M: Shoe is owned by Don Schumacher, from the world of auto racing. How is it when you are tournament fishing with someone who thrives on competition for a living?

He is a different person on the boat. It calms him. It’s his break from racing, and while he’s competitive, he’s also cool and collected. Loves to fish. First-class gentleman.

M: Speaking of tournaments, they are a lot of extra work and stress on the crew. Do you love it or leave it?

I love it. Tournaments really get the adrenaline going through your body all day. I like seeing all the effort come together, from the hours you spend prepping tackle to rigging the perfect baits to getting the bites and being competitive against the other boats. It’s awesome. And if you happen to win one, the prize money isn’t bad either.

M: How was your season in St. Thomas this year?

We had a lot of fun. What surprised me the most about St. Thomas was how much more aggressive the blue marlin are there compared to the Dominican Republic. I love the DR — it’s one of my favorite places to fish. We were based in Casa de Campo, and the camaraderie on the docks is unbeatable. It’s like one big family.

Spencer Yachts 62 Shoe Mate
"Just work hard and pay attention."Jon Coudriet

M: Let's talk for a minute about the life of a professional deckhand.

It looks glamorous, and sometimes it is, but there’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes that most people don’t know about. You wash and chamois the boat from top to bottom every day and do a ton of maintenance and cleaning while you’re also getting ready for the owner and their guests with specific drinks, snacks and meals for everyone. The fishing is by far the easiest part of the job, and it’s also the most fun. It’s really cool to be able to see different places around the world — the travel makes it enjoyable for me. I also enjoy putting smiles on people’s faces.

The new Shoe will be a 75-foot Spencer that’s being built now. What’s it like to be a part of that process? It’s pretty neat seeing how everything comes together, and being hands-on helps you know exactly where everything is, all the pumps and hoses. I’m up there about once every other month, but [Silas] is there once a month. We’ll start going more once she gets closer to delivery, which should be in September 2017. She’s coming together.

M: Any advice for others who might be considering a career in fishing?

Just work hard and pay attention. Dewey Price once told me to be quick and pay attention, and I’ve tried to always remember his advice. Fishing is the easy part. As a professional mate, you’re doing a lot more. You are in the entertainment business.