Capt. Ralph Delph
Ralph Delph is a man who started out doing things pretty much like everyone else. He went to school, got an education, got a good job and it looked like he was well on his way to living happily ever after. It was pretty much the standard plan for most Americans, especially those Americans who came of age in the 50’s and 60’s like Ralph.
But along the way, he came to a fork in the road, like many of us do. But unlike many of us, he took the path less traveled and that made all the difference. That path was a narrow two lane road that hopscotched its way from Miami FL for 160 miles to the Southernmost point of the US, Key West.
It was here in Key West, surrounded by the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, that Ralph left his ordinary life behind and became one of the pioneers of the light tackle saltwater fishing industry.
“I came to Key West fishing in the early 60’s, this was a time when hand lines were prevalent. Spinning rods and reels did not exist, we came down with our first spinning outfits and people didn’t know what they were. They laughed at us for taking the light tackle out, but I came down and stuck it out and didn’t want to be anyplace else.”
“As time went on, I married my wife and we had the boys and I wanted to raise them in a versatile atmosphere and so we went out West and bought a place out there and the boys grew up half the year in Montana and half the year here in Key West. Between hunting and fishing that’s all we’ve known all of our life.”
Living one’s life according to the seasons instead of the clock created some problems for Ralph and his young family. “I had a tendency to get in trouble with my wife for taking the boys out of school to go fishing, but I’ve never known a person who later on in life said they wished they spent less time with their kids. I spend a lot of time with my kids and still spend a lot of time with my kids and when it is all over and done with, I’ll still say that I wished I spent more time with my kids.”
Ralph has created a true fishing family, steeped in tradition that began over a hundred years ago with Henry Flagler’s railroad and the men who traveled down the rails to fish the waters of the Caribbean and the deep blue current of the Gulf stream. It’s a family that has educated thousands in the art of light tackle salt water fishing in both seminars and conventions throughout the country.
Capt. Billy Delph
Born in Key West, Florida, Captain Billy Delph is what locals here in Key West call a Conch. Billy grew up in a fishing paradise under the shadow of a giant. His Father, legendary Captain Ralph Delph. The circles of influence that surround this unique lifestyle were as diverse as they were famous. Everything from pioneers in the commercial fishing realm, to other charter boat Captains, to well known names like Stu Apt, Flip Pallot and many others.
Billy started out as a teen paying his dues by washing charter boats and cleaning fish for the charter captains at Oceanside Marina where his father ran his boat, the “Vitamin Sea”.
“I remember getting a lot of complaints from the guys I would wash boats for. I hated washing those boats. I used to get paid ten to twenty dollars per boat, which was big money for a kid back then. I would clean their fish for free in hopes of being accepted and also be invited to go commercial fishing with them.” Commercial fishing was a great way to get knowledge that mattered quickly. He did it all from pulling stone crab and crawfish traps, to yellow tailing on the reefs, to long-lining in the north Atlantic. It really made Billy extremely well rounded in fishing and helped develop a more serious drive.
Billy always looked up to his father. “When my father fished in tournaments, I expected him to win every time as if that was a reasonable and normal expectation.” His father’s success jaded his young sons. “It wasn’t until I started mating on Charter Boat Row in downtown Key West that I began to truly appreciate the skills and techniques my father has bestowed upon me throughout my life. Before that I thought everybody fished the same way and my Dad was simply better at it. However it was his methods that set him apart.”
As soon as Billy was old enough he got his Captains license and started guiding. “That’s the moment the weight of my fathers’ success as well as expectations from his clientele came to fruition for me as I carried the Delph name on my shoulders. The constant pressure to perform on every trip regardless of fishing conditions was a heavy burden.” For several years Billy persevered until eventually his knowledge of the fishery and overall confidence increased.
Finally he saved up enough money and bought his first charter boat, a 27′ Contender. The day after he took delivery of the boat he fished his first charter on it. Unbeknownst and unplanned, Billy’s first clients just so happened to be his fathers first clients on his first charter boat over 30 years prior, long time customer and friend Dixie Burns. “One of the neat parts about doing this for a living is the life long friends and relationships found along the way.”
Several world records and tournament wins of his own, including some major records in the SKA, Capt. Billy Delph has proven to become a formidable force in the sport fishing world. He is continuing his family legacy and paving the way for his sons.
Capt. Billy and his wife Piper have taken it a step further with raising their four boys to become future fishing Captains. They have truly allowed them to become a serious part of the family business by letting the boys mate on Capt. Billy’s 40′ SeaHunter, “Protégé”, starting at an early age. Capt. Billy pulled no punches with his sons Daniel, David, James and eventually Sammy by setting the rules early. “Although I take them fishing for fun all the time, they can’t come on a charter until they are old enough and responsible enough to meet the challenges of this environment. It’s neat to see these guys grow into responsible young men.”
They already have a lot of skills most adults in the industry don’t have yet. The boys already got their boaters license and purchased their first boat, a 17′ skiff with a 90hp outboard and did so with their own hard earned money. “I wanted them to understand the inner workings of a boat so with my direction they tore the boat down, cut the deck out, installed a rigging tube and new center console and basically rebuilt the entire thing from scratch. They have a trap line they hall on the weekends. They’ve even fished with their Dad and won a few tournaments already. Daniel Delph was on the cover of the Florida Sportsman magazine with a monster Black Grouper. David Delph was part of the team and helped Capt. Billy land the all time biggest King Mackerel of any SKA tournament in the Atlantic Ocean. They all have had several magazine articles written about them and been featured in catalogs such as Bass Pro Shops.
The boys are already a real part of the family legacy. “I have some customers that won’t fish without them.” Capt. Billy says. “The first thing they ask when booking their days for they year is, ‘What days are the boys out of school?’ It kind of makes you laugh but it’s a good feeling when you realize your’e doing something right. It won’t be long before they’re running boats of their own and making their own wakes in life.”