The Good Ones: Maine Tuna Captain Shawn Tibbetts

Sunrise Camp Ellis, Maine

One of my real pleasures of guiding is interacting with other guides who see it like I do. I draw on their experience, knowledge, skill and passion. I also envy the ones that do it full time. A few years ago I met Captain Shawn Tibbetts while teaching a Guide’s Course. He was looking to get his hunting guide license to go on top of his tidewater guide’s license and his U.S.C.G. 100 ton Masters License.  He’s also a Marine Corps Veteran, a big woods deer hunter, and a strong advocate for veteran’s support through outdoor activities.  

Not surprisingly with those shared interests Shawn and I have become friends. He came to Orono to bear hunt with me the following fall. We swapped deer tracking stories all tracking season, and in the dead of winter, just about the time I was ready to put two slugs into my snowblower out of hate for the damn machine, Shawn called me with an amazing offer. Veteran Angler Charters, one of the many veteran support not-for-profits Shawn is a part of, he was willing to take me and five other veterans on an all-inclusive off shore trip. Shawn is a put your money where your mouth is kind of guy. He doesn’t just say he supports his fellow veterans, he actually does. It goes beyond a hand shake and a thanks.

On a Sunday in August I was able to scrounge up the five guys I needed to go with me on the trip. Our group of merry fishermen was made up of; my brother Billy, a veteran of the US Army, my Uncle Ernie, a Marine Corps Veteran, his friend Bill, a Coast Guard veteran, a high school friend Mark an Air Force veteran, and Brandon, a Marine Corps veteran and former student in my guides course.  We arrived at the dock a little before 6AM and the Miss Megan II with Captain Shawn at the helm was there waiting for us. After quick introductions the ritual began. When you get a group of seven veterans together who don’t really know each other there is a unique thing that happens. Being trapped in a civilian world for so long where everyone is easily upset (insert soft here) We stay on our guard talking about safe topics like the weather, the Red Sox or some mundane thing that normally bores the hell out of us. This went on for about three minutes. Suddenly I realized I was about to be on a boat for 6+ hours. I had been living on caffeine and nothing else for a few days. I better go find a sit down room. Sensing his moment to break the tension, at my expense, Shawn made a joke. Unfortunately, I can’t repeat the joke in print, all I can say is that nothing brings veterans together like a joke about someone else’s bodily functions. From there the ice was broken and we were free to be ourselves, using the language of our people a language that focuses on four letter words. Shawn had seen this before, and knew exactly how to loosen everyone up.

Eastbound into the rising sun.

After a 15 mile trip off shore we started fishing. There was a study flow of haddock, and whiting coming over the rail. There was also a dynamo of activity from the Captain. I’m certain that Shawn was committed to this trip just as much as any other trip he books with paying customers. Operating without a mate for the day he mended rods and tangles, handled fish, cleaned the boat, and chatted it up with other Captains on the radio to get us on the best bite. If there was one second where someone wasn’t on a fish Shawn was fileting the day’s catch. He never stopped taking care of his sports.

Captain Shawn at the filet board.

For us it was a banner day. Everyone had their limit on haddock (15 each), and a half a dozen whiting each for a bonus. The water was relatively calm, the sun wasn’t brutal, and the boat was comfortable. We laughed we joked, again nothing I can repeat here. Some of us made plans for other trips with each other, and we all relaxed. The governor we install on our stream of thought to keep our, jobs, civilian friendships, or from ending up on the governments watch list was off for a few hours and it was pretty friggin cool.

Uncle Ernie, Brother Bill and I.

As we made our way back, there was a sense of; “shit, it’s over.” The limited out fisherman each approached me and asked what the appropriate tip should be. I told them he wouldn’t take it. They didn’t believe me. When we hit the dock Shawn went back at it cleaning the fish, getting great pictures, and putting a few of the guys on his pet striped bass he keeps under the dock. There was that awkward moment when we all knew it was time to go but nobody wanted to say good bye.  Someone tried to tip Captain Shawn and he refused. He said make a donation to Veterans Anglers, we did.  

Mark and the pet striper.

As I drove away from the dock I saw Captain Shawn Tibbetts scurrying around the deck cleaning the Miss Megan II and getting ready for the next trip. I thought to myself if those folks got half the experience we had, they would leave with a lifetime of memories and a cooler full of fish.

Shawn is a helleva Captain, one of the real deal. He’s not in it for the money, he’s not in it to better than someone else. He’s in it because he loves it. He is one of the good ones.

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