By Dustin Wilks
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: "Catching Bass with Dustin Wilks" airs four times per week on the World Fishing Network – 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier provides BassFans with tips about various aspects of bass fishing in these periodic submissions.)
I recently had a chance to speak with one of my sponsors, Caymas Boats founder Earl Bentz, about his new company, the state of the industry and other important topics. Earl has enormous influence in the fishing and boating industry and BassFans should gain some insight by reading his detailed responses to a series of questions I recently posed to him.
DW: When I first talked to you after you'd started Caymas, you had spent a few months in retirement at your home in Florida fishing, quail hunting and playing golf every day. While that sounds great to most of us, what made you decide to jump back in?
EB: While there is no simple answer, I missed it. I missed the people – our boating customers, our wonderful dealers and the talented employees that I had the privilege of working with for the past 45 years. I realized just how much love and passion I had for this industry when all of a sudden it was gone. The boating business is all that I have known since I was 14 years old. Other than my family, it has been what my life has centered around. Being out of the boat business for that brief 3-month stretch, I was not enjoying retirement even though I was able to hunt, fish and play golf nearly every day. My happiest days on this earth have been doing what I love and that is building boats and being in the company of those who share my passion for fishing and boating.
DW: Those who've had an opportunity to ride in a Caymas will tell you about how it performs in rough water. What specifically makes this boat such a great ride?
EB: Testing. Trial and error and things that our design team has learned over decades of testing and thinking outside of the box. In my racing days, we tested and tested and tested until we thought there was nothing left to try. You can always improve, and don't be afraid to try new things. This new hull is truly the best that I have ever had the privilege to run.
DW: Caymas has a full line of bass boats from 18 to 21 feet and offshore boats from 26 to 40 feet. How do you design and test that many different models and get them to market in such a timely manner?
EB: With great designers and tool-makers. We have designed all of our bass boats in-house. On the other hand, our offshore models utilize Michael Peters' double-stepped, patented-hull designs, our team designed the deck and floor plans, and the actual mold-building was done by a firm in Florida. Considering that we just started a little over 2 years ago, I'm amazed at how much our team has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I will tell you, however, it has been VERY busy and lots of long days. We have a very talented, dedicated team of highly experienced boat-builders who like to win at everything they do.
DW: Obviously, fishermen want it all. Are there any compromises in the boat that had to be made?
EBNo, none. We knew that the customer today is more demanding than ever, so we had to put our best foot forward without compromise to give a fisherman compelling reason to buy our boat over the others on the market today. We had the luxury of starting with a clean piece of paper, so to speak.
DW: I'm a shallow-water guy and I'm completely impressed by how such a great riding boat can draft so little water. If my trolling motor prop will spin, the boat will float. Was any thought given to that in the initial design?
EB: That came about as a side benefit of our broader width at the chine. At the waterline we are several inches wider than most of our competitors. We were looking to make the boat both more stable at rest, when a fisherman is moving from side to side, and to make it easier to drive at high speeds. This hull does have the uncanny ability to get skinny.
DW: Can you elaborate on the general fishing experience you wanted Caymas customers to get?
EB: There are lots of choices a fisherman has today when choosing a new boat. Remember, we were able to start from scratch with a clean slate, so we were not bound by any preconceived ideas. Our goal when we started to design the first Caymas was to look back on our 45-year history of design and innovation, look at what was out there available today, what was being done well and what brands were falling short of customer expectations, and what were the key features that were most important to our customers. We had many conversations with boat dealers and fishermen around the country to hear their suggestions on what they would like to see incorporated into our new design. The end result is the product that we have today that I think our team has done a pretty darn good job of satisfying everyone's needs and listening to our customer's recommendations.
Bentz says that boat customers today are more demanding than they've ever been.
DW: What was surprisingly easy in starting Caymas?
EB: We were very fortunate to have a huge base of boat-building craftsmen to pull from here in middle Tennessee who have decades of experience in building high-quality fiberglass boats. That has given us a solid foundation to build on and from which to hire and train new team members. Next, the community leaders here in Ashland City, Tennessee and our state officials have welcomed us with open arms, helping us navigate through the regulations involved in starting a new business. It has taken a lot of long hours and hard work from some of the best people that I have ever had the privilege to work with.
DW: What is your go-to lure for bass?
EB: Obviously it depends on where I am and what time of the year, but I love to fish a jig and any color is good as long as it's black and blue, both casting or flipping.
DW: What would your employees say about you if you were not around?
EB: I would hope that they would say that I always treat them with admiration and respect regardless of gender or race. I would hope that they would say that I have helped bring out the winning spirit in them that being just good is not always good enough, to always be the best they can be every day. I would also hope they would say that I have been a good role model of someone who is not afraid to get his hands dirty, not being afraid of long hours and hard work, never asking an employee to do something that I wouldn't do myself, but to live by the Golden Rule, treating others as you would have them treat you.
DW: In what ways has the COVID-19 virus affected the boat business that the average guy may not know?
EB: Going into this COVID thing, the boat business was enjoying a good year. Starting the end of March, when the virus really started dominating our everyday lives and the media was fanning the flames, instilling fear into every American, the entire economy shut down, including the boat business. We were forced to shutter our manufacturing operation the entire month of April as a result of all of our raw material suppliers closing their doors due to state and local shelter-in-place" orders. We could not build boats without parts and materials. Most of our dealers across the country were forced to close their doors the entire month of April as well. We cranked our operations back up on May 4 as our suppliers reopened their doors and most of our dealers reopened their businesses as well. By the middle of May, we realized that something was happening all across the country that I have never witnessed in my career: people were buying boats of all kinds at an unprecedented pace. They were tired of being locked up and were ready to quarantine with their family on the water. It was obvious that people's priorities were being refocused on family, close friends and recreating closer to home on a boat. Rather than spending their money on a high dollar vacation in some far away exotic location, they have chosen to invest in a boat that they can enjoy for years to come. This movement to the boating lifestyle has attracted new people to our sport and enticed seasoned boaters/fishermen to either upgrade their existing equipment or buy new boats. We feel that this trend to increased interest and participation in boating and fishing will continue for many years to come.
DW: What request do you get the most from customers and potential boat buyers?
EB: Many potential customers and existing ones want to come to our factory to see how our boats are built, which we strongly encourage and welcome their visit. As you know, Nashville has become a popular destination with all of our great restaurants and country music venues it has to offer, so many folks will combine a trip to visit our manufacturing facilities with a family vacation to Nashville. We are only located 20 minutes from downtown Nashville.
DW: What percentage of your customers are tournament anglers vs. people who just love to fish?
EB: While we haven't done a formal survey, my best guess would be the overwhelming majority of customers who buy our 20- and 21-foot models are avid tournament anglers, competing in both regional and national circuits, where we have put in place extremely lucrative tournament contingency programs for Caymas owners covering hundreds of tournament circuits across the country. While all of our bass boats from the 18-foot to the 21-foot are built and designed to meet the demands of hardcore tournament anglers, the casual, weekend fishermen get to enjoy the benefits and durability of our tournament-tested component parts that go into every Caymas.
DW: What's next in the near future for new models and continued growth?
EB: We are tooling our first of several fiberglass walleye models that will be available late spring next year. We are also in the middle of a substantial expansion to our engineering building and adding another 100,600 square feet to our current manufacturing facility so that we will be assured to have the room for our near-term anticipated growth. We are not letting any grass= grow under our feet, that's for sure. I'm proud to report that our boats have been very well received on every front, both in the freshwater and saltwater markets, and I'm looking forward to a long, bright future pursuing my passion in this industry that that I have been so blessed to be part of. I look forward to coming to work every day, watching all the pieces fall in place and to see the excitement in our team members' eyes as we exceed our projections every day.
DW: Okay, now the biggest, most important question for me: Would you like to fish with me on the "Catching Bass with Dustin Wilks" TV show?
EB: I’d love to, Dustin. Come out here to Tennessee in early May and we’ll catch a bunch of big ones.