Living up to a Keys legacy

Rick Stanczyk's family owns a famous marina, and that's pushed him to be the best guide he can be

Mar 25 #fishing#saltwater

Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of The Guidefitter Journal
Rick Stanczyk Capt. Rick Stanczyk guides clients to snook, tarpon and other backcountry species with bait, lures and fly tackle in the Upper Florida Keys.
Photo David A. Brown

Stanczyk. If the name sounds familiar, it should. His father, Capt. Richard Stanczyk has owned and operated the historic Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, “the sportsfishing capital of the world,” since 1978. Great foundation, for sure, but Rick Stanczyk said that building his reputation alongside a Florida Keys landmark has pushed him to elevate his game at every level.

“There’s almost some added pressure there because you feel like you have to produce more on any given day,” he said. “People look at the Bud N’ Mary’s name, they see the Stanczyks and you feel like you have to be a step above the other guy. Whether that’s true or not, it makes me want to go out there and produce as much as I can.”

MEET THE MAN

Stanczyk, 37, was born and raised in the Upper Florida Keys. He spent a couple of years living in Orlando while pursuing a business administration degree at the University of Central Florida. He’d eventually complete his Bachelor’s online. Now he uses that education to run his guide business and promote the Bud N’ Mary’s brand.

In addition to his personal social media efforts, Stanczyk takes an active role in helping populate the marina’s website and Facebook page. He and his father have also launched the weekly Bud N’ Mary’s YouTube channel through which they deliver insightful angling instruction paired with conservation-minded messaging.

“We want to show what really happens here — from the backcountry to the offshore fishing,” Stanczyk said. “Every saltwater species that swims in North America can be caught here at one time or another.”

Regarding species, tarpon is his main target. Keys’ guides catch them 9-10 months out of the year. Stanczyk also brings clients to snook, redfish and trout in the backcountry. Occasionally they head northwest into the Gulf of Mexico for permit, cobia, tripletail and mackerel.

FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE

Former Sports Illustrated photographer Ron Modra has fished Islamorada for several decades. Recent years have seen him spending a lot of time on Capt. Rick Stanczyk’s boat where he has seen consistent growth and development.

“Bud N’ Mary’s has, without a doubt, the best group of backcountry guides in the Keys,” Modra said. “Ricky has developed into the best of the best. He is always prepared, he likes to be the first out in the morning, he studies Google Maps looking for new locations that might hold fish, and he’s the best caster I’ve ever seen.”

Modra said the guide has the perfect personality to get along with his clients to make their backcountry trip a good one. “We fish the Keys a lot,” said Modra. “But for many folks, it’s the one and only time they might have a chance to fish the backcountry. Ricky makes it a great trip for them, too.”

Stanczyk works so that all of his anglers have that same impression. “I hope that everyone who fishes with me leaves with an unforgettable experience and will want to come back and do it again,” he said. “Sharing fishing and the outdoors with families is something special about this place.”

Bud N’ Mary’s Marina

Bud N’ Mary’s Marina is a landmark in what’s called the sport fishing capital of the world, Islamorada. Rick grew up on its docks and learned from top-shelf saltwater guides.
Photo David A. Brown

BUILDING THE KNOWLEDGE

There’s a definite upside to making your living in an area between the Gulf, Florida Bay and the Florida Straits. There are so many options when it comes to targeting game-fish species. But there’s a steep learning curve. Stanczyk said he’s learned to make his way in the Florida Keys guiding business by blending the lessons of those who’ve gone before him with his own sweat equity.

“There are a lot of the older captains who have fished out of here, like Cecil Keith who I knew pretty well growing up, and Skip Nielsen, who’s still fishing,” Stanczyk said. “I definitely learned a lot from Skip over the years. He brought a lot of the offshore tactics to the inshore.”

Nielsen is the super-friendly and hard-nose sailfish tournament captain who ran the “How ’Bout It” out of Bud N’ Mary’s for years.

Stanczyk has worked to integrate his knowledge of technology and modern business management with the traditionally laid-back ambiance that has made Islamorada one of the world’s most popular angling destinations. When clients leave his boat, Stanczyk’s work day is far from over.

“Getting the pictures, telling the stories and relaying all that for promotional purposes is a lot of work, too,” he said. “There are some guides who just want to go out there and fish and not deal with that side of it. But someone has to do it to keep the business here and keep the people coming. There’s a lot to do once you’re home and done with your fishing trip.”

FAMILY FRIENDLY

Of all the lessons he’s learned about the guiding business, Stanczyk said the one that resonates most deeply tells him to never lose sight of the fact that everyone starts somewhere. Not everyone is a hardcore pro looking to set an IGFA record.

“Having people on your boat is about more than catching fish,” Stanczyk said. “A lot of our business here is taking families. So there’s definitely a lot to be said for having a good attitude and showing the people a good time, being interactive with them, making it fun, no matter what kind of fish you’re catching or how much you’re catching.”

Stanczyk said that’s something that new guides don’t know right off the bat. There are a lot of guys who grow up fishing in the Keys and are great at fishing, but people may not always have the best time on the boat with them. A guide has to be a people person and entertain clients, especially when the fishing’s not so great, he said.

Educating clients is important to Stanczyk. Along with teaching knots and casting skills, he takes the opportunity to instill an appreciation for the amazing Florida Keys habitats. He’s built a stable of regular clients, but he also guides a lot of first-timers, who are all ears.

“You want to show them what you’re seeing through your eyes, because a lot of people don’t pick it up on their own,” he said. “You’re out there every day and you kind of take this stuff for granted. So, as I’m fishing, I try to point out the subtleties, the little things here and there you see — where to cast, what the bait’s doing, where the fish might be laying.

“It’s really fun when you get people you fish year after year — especially kids — because they seem to be the best at picking up instruction,” said Stanczyk. “You see them grow and become anglers.”

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