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Fun with the girls

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For those of you that do not get the St. Paul Pioneer Press...

Fun with the girls

Gray skies, sick kids even slow fishing can't damper the enthusiasm of the Fishin' Chics, a charter boat business run by sisters Stephanie and Samantha Williams.

Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated: 06/28/2008 08:07:19 PM CDT

GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — On a cold, rainy day, the 26-foot charter "Fishin' Chics" eases out of the Grand Marais harbor, piloted by the two chief Chics, Stephanie and Samantha Williams.

"I don't think we have to worry about seeing any other crazies out here on a day like this," chuckled Stephanie, 21.

The Chics are sisters. They're fun and funny; their official "Fishin' Chics" T-shirt says, "Life's Too Short to Fish with Ugly Men." On this morning, when Lake Superior looks like a gray lady, with the potential for crankiness, the Chics wear ponytails and brightly colored nail polish while a classic rock station blares "Amie" by the Pure Prairie League over the boat's loud speakers.

Samantha, 25, leans over the gunwale and watches for logs bobbing in the water as Stephanie kicks the engines up a notch. The water is calm, but an Arctic-feeling 36 degrees. We're going fishing for lake trout and salmon, and while the Chics bring some welcomed perkiness on this dreary day, they're also all business when it comes to negotiating the big lake.

They are, after all, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captains who grew up a stone's throw from the lake. They know its moods.

"It's an unforgiving lake," Samantha says.

Samantha rigs the fishing rods and lowers our lines down to 70 feet of water with a cable downrigger. The boat sways in the small swells and Stephanie watches the fish locator for signs of trout near the bottom.

"You know, this was our mom

and dad's idea," Samantha blurts out.

"Well, kind of Dad's idea," Stephanie says. She rolls her eyes a bit. "My parents are always looking for ways to make some money."

The Genesis Of The Chics / Well, let's say it was a family idea.

Cathi and David Williams own Bear Track Outfitting in Grand Marais and they have five children, including Stephanie and Samantha. It all started when someone in the family mentioned it would be nice to have a big boat for fishing Lake Superior — was that you, Dad? — then someone mentioned, hey, it's expensive to own such a big boat, so let's maybe have a charter fishing business with a fun name?

Then the family idea was floated: Let's have Stephanie and Samantha get their Coast Guard licenses and run the boat and appeal to larger clientele of Grand Marais visitors than just fishermen?

"I think it was the girls' idea," says the Chics' mom, Cathi Williams, a graphic artist by training, coyly.

Well, whoever's idea it was, the Fishin' Chics — the name was Cathi's idea — is currently in its fourth season on Lake Superior and business is good. Stephanie and Samantha took more than 50 trips on the lake last year, offering dinner cruises, bird-watching and sightseeing trips, in addition to fishing trips, and they're getting filled up again for July and August.

"It was pretty novel having young girls as charter captains," said Cathi. "When Stephanie got her Coast Guard license, she was the youngest charter captain on Lake Superior." The Williams sisters are reportedly the only all-female crew on Lake Superior as well.

The Fishin' Chics have taken out a bachelor's party ("They were a riot," Samantha says), families with young children and couples from around the country — all eager to catch a fish or simply see Lake Superior from an angle you don't get while on shore.

"Who knew it would be such a hit?" Stephanie says.

"It's not like a huge money maker," Samantha says, "but it's been good for us."

"I never imagine it as a full-time job in the summer," adds Stephanie, who also works at a nearby hotel.

"Yeah, when you have day off, you end up going fishing!" scoffs Samantha, who has a bachelor's degree from St. Cloud State and works fulltime as a manager at the Grand Marais municipal campground.

There are disadvantages to working as a charter captain on Lake Superior. It's a big lake, and inevitably guests get seasick on the "Fishin' Chics."

"For some reason, I'm the puke magnet,'' says Stephanie as a dull rain begins to patter on the boat's canopy.

"People always puke with her,'' agrees Samantha. "But for some reason, I always have a lot of little kids with me on the boat, and they always puke with me."

"When that happens,'' says Stephanie, "most people want to go in right away."

The Williams sisters like to needle each other, which is part of the fun. Once, a customer had made sequined fishing hats for her family's trip on the boat.

Stephanie saw the hats and chimed in, "Oh, Samantha will wear one of those!" The excited customer plopped a hat on Samantha's head.

"I thought they were funny," Stephanie recalls with a cruel grin.

"Yeah, I had to wear it the whole day," Samantha says glumly.

On occasion, the Williams sisters will have to deal with a male customer who makes an off-color comment. Most men, however, are novices to Lake Superior and they will ask questions about the boat and the fishing. "A lot of them say, 'I have no idea what you're doing,''' Samantha says.

But with the jerk-baits, "We know how to handle them," says Stephanie, not offering any details. "We can hold our own."

Sick kids and sexist men might be drawbacks to the charter business, but so is slow fishing. The Fishin' Chics didn't have much hope that we'll catch anything on a day as cold as this, and their prediction is coming true. After trolling across the lake for four hours, we haven't gotten a nibble, although several large fish have appeared on their fish locator.

Two years ago, one of Stephanie's parties landed a 15-pound lake trout that almost won a local fishing contest. But not today. The best fishing is yet to come in July and August, she says, when the water warms and the trout move into shallow waters and feed more aggressively.

With business booming in the fourth season, the Williams sisters say they're almost too busy with the charter boat. So they've made a decision: They'll add a partner to help with the fishing this summer.

"We'll call ourselves, "Fishin' Chics and Dad," Stephanie says.

Dad will have to be on his toes to avoid wearing the sequined fishing hat.

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Great article!!! It is always a pleasure to read about women who break the typical boundaries. I always wanted to be one of those women, but was a tad bit lazy. In high school (60's) I had wanted to take shop and woodworking classes, couldn't because they were segregated so I was stuck with home economics and sewing. While the sewing has helped in my adult life, I hated both classes. I am not very domestic. Cook dinner or build something outta wood, heck build something and eat out. laugh

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Salmon fishing in Alaska? Sounds great!!

Maybe one of our future Get Togethers.

This article is awesome. Goes to show that anyone can do anything they want if they put their mind to it.

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I've heard of these "chicks". laugh They sound awesome and don't worry ULTom, I don't think we'll need the link to book any charters with them since they're already locally famous and easy to get info for. It'd be fun to fish with them wouldn't it!! laugh

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I'm up for a charter on Superior. I have only done it once before, and it wasn't that great. I'd like to try again, but this time do a little more research about the better times to go.

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