Farming on the water: Captain Brad of Sonny Boy Charters
Captain Brad Rumph of Sonny Boy Charters has been working on boats at Bohicket Marina since his teenage years. Brad’s success as a fishing guide is evident when you consider that “80 percent of our business is repeat customers.” He continues: “And we are at the point in our career where the children of my own clients are now bringing their own children fishing; we’re taking the third generation fishing. And some repeat clients fish with me ten to twenty times a year.”
The majority of Captain Brad’s clientele is tourist-based. Because of his location — between the gates to Kiawah and Seabrook Islands — his business is likewise seasonal, when children are out of school. “We do pick up a lot of trips from second homeowners who use their houses during the offseason,” he adds.
To an even greater degree than guides closer to Charleston, Brad’s livelihood is tied to beach-going vacationers. For this reason, “at Bohicket Marina, we refer to June, July and August as ‘90 days in the hole,’” Brad explains. “For those three months, we run three trips a day — weather permitting — for seven days a week.” Brad typically works two nearshore trips a day, followed by an evening trip that might consist of inshore fishing, a dolphin ecotour, or a booze cruise.
Captain Brad’s perspective on fishing is directly influenced by his own Lowcountry roots. “I have always referred to fishing as ‘farming on the water.’ We have three months to make it or we don’t make it. I feel blessed; not everybody is as busy as I am, so I had better make it while I can!” He realizes.
Rumph’s agricultural analogy is particularly appropriate when you consider that Sonny Boy Charters was christened in honor of the childhood nickname of Edward Guilford Harrison, Jr., Brad’s maternal grandfather (and my own), who farmed on John’s Island, Edisto and Meggett. We never knew the patriarch whose death preceded our own births, but we were mesmerized by tales of his zest for life, twinkling eyes, work ethic, attention to detail, quick temper and sense of humor.
Sonny Boy Charters is truly a family affair. Brad’s wife Angela handles the marketing and for the past five years, their son Dylan DeCosty has worked on the boat. When he was younger, Dylan helped wash the boat and was excited finally to earn a position as part of the two-man crew. Brad lauds the young man’s efforts and dedication: “Since he started working with me, Dylan has never asked for a day off; he has earned his stripes as a good worker! Dylan is at The Citadel and he relies heavily on scholarships. Every cent of income he makes, he applies towards his college education. He even earned a 4.0 GPA during his first semester as a knob.”
Dylan’s role has evolved far beyond deck hand. “He is crucial to the point where his name is included in our reviews. At this point in my career, Dylan has become a partner in slime! He is loved and respected and considered part of the family of the Bohicket Team — a tight-knit group that is difficult to break into. Dylan works with me — not for me — and that’s important because we know what each other is thinking; we have a well-oiled operation. Our motto is ‘work hard; play hard.’”
For years during his early days as a guide, Brad fished inshore for spot-tailed bass and trout from a Hewes flats boat. He witnessed firsthand dwindling numbers of fish, brought about in part by inconsistent federal funding for the release of redfish fingerlings. “In addition, the North Edisto River has a high dolphin concentration. With clear water and low boat traffic during the winter, there’s nothing for the porpoises to eat — except redfish and trout.”
Brad still fishes inshore and remarked that “we did have a good trout bite this year.” But, the Sonny Boy, a 25-foot SeeVee, allows more versatility, casting a wider net for potential fishing spots. Though he takes from one to six passengers fishing, Brad's average trip includes close to a full boat. “I often take up to six passengers and the majority of my trips are to nearshore reefs and out to 20 or 30 nautical miles offshore,” he tells us.
Captain Brad enjoys fishing the reefs because “they provide so many different options from three to 30 miles offshore. The reefs are not just one cluster; they scatter structure around different materials: old bridges, army tanks, automobiles, old barges, man-made concrete cones and rip rap,” he says.
“On reefs closer to shore, you have red drum (spot-tailed bass), weakfish, flounder, spadefish, sheepshead and black sea bass. You can cover a half-mile of different structures scattered around. If you have marks on spots that have humps or bumps, they’ll hold baitfish, which attract bigger fish, such as cobia, red snapper, vermillion snapper (b-liner), triggerfish and black sea bass — on your deeper reefs.”
Brad outlines his own approach to fishing the reefs: “I prefer to drift over artificial reefs or live bottom. I can use my GPS and tracking system to locate and work a school of fish instead of anchoring and limiting myself to one particular spot and waiting on the fish to come to me. Once I find them, I can keep the boat in position in regards to wind and current and that’s when I rely heavily on Dylan to work with the clients, keeping their lines baited and unhooking fish.”
Our seasoned angler continues: “Personally, I like the diversity of the reefs and the higher numbers of fish you catch. Kids like to stay active, so it’s important to have them bend the rod! The reefs are where it’s at for me. Fishing the reefs is very consistent during the summer months. I like to say that fishing the reefs this time of year is a lot like Forrest Gump: You never know what you’re gonna get, but you’re going to catch something and it’s going to be a fun time.”
Although a romantic aura lingers above a life lived on the water, a fishing guide should be prepared for hard work and a demanding schedule; in addition, he must possess the patience of Job and a gregarious nature. Captain Brad reflects on the rewards of his art: “You know, I enjoy passing on a love of fishing and the tradition of keeping these kids more outdoors and away from video games. When the fishing starts, I make the kids put away their phones. About 15 minutes later, you start to see them come out of their shell and when the fishing starts; it’s pretty rewarding to watch them get into it.
“Some kids started fishing with me when they were six years old and now, they have graduated from college. I let the kids drive the boat on the way out. I love watching them enjoy the whole experience of the outdoors — whether it’s a beautiful sunrise off the ocean, a sunset, a trophy fish battle or a mediocre fish battle. Each fish and each trip is different; you never have the same conditions. And I get to be a part of precious family memories.”
Southerners are fond of history and Captain Brad is the historian of his own career. “I have documented every fish caught from every trip I have made; each trip is different and special and I want to be sure to record the experience. When I die, there will be a lot of things people can say about me, but one thing is for sure; when people look at my photo albums, they’ll have to say: ‘That son of a bitch sure caught a lot of fish!”
To make and record your own angling memories, check out sonnyboycharters.com or call Captain Brad at (843) 708-1486.
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.