John Rollins, owner of the 56-foot Rybovitch, Fondana, loves being at sea. "I don't care if its rainy or sunny. The knowledge that I can just point the bow of my boat and take off in any direction is freedom. It's the limitless boundaries that I love and the chance that being on the sea offers to reflect, transcend self and devote time to thought," says the Lewes, Delaware native, who now calls Sailfish Point in Stuart, Florida, home. "Of course, I always keep a keen eye on the spreaders!"
Rollins, who modestly calls himself a mechanic with an education, started his own company straight out of college at the age of 24. Over the next thirty-six years he built Rollins Trucking from nothing to a sizeable and successful truck rental company with 450 locations in North America, a fleet of 55,000 trucks and 12,000 employees. He sold the company in the early 2000's to General Electric.
Says Rollins, "If you're fortunate, and successful, you can get to an age where you can do what you want. For me, that meant returning to what I most loved to do when I was growing up - fishing."
Rollins started bottom fishing at the age of six off the Delaware shores of Cape Henlopen. "I started off on a little boat with a tiny outboard and, I must admit, I didn't like bottom fishing all that much. It took until my late 20's, when I could buy a bigger boat and head offshore from Ocean City (Maryland), that I discovered white marlin and that I like big fish."
After awhile, he says, it got boring. "Either you are out fishing or on land. There's no where else you could go in Ocean City. But it was about that time that I met some folks who told me about the fishing in Florida and about a boat builder there that they thought I'd enjoy meeting."
Lo and behold, Rollins met friends for life when he spent part of a year with the Rybovich family, in Palm Beach, Florida, and enjoyed helping out on weekends around the family's boat-building yard. He soon was able to buy a small, second-hand Rybovich fishing yacht. Today, he owns a 56-foot Rybovich, Fondana, named for his wife, Diana, and daughter Fontaine. The Fondana is Rybovich hull number 56, built by the late Tommy Rybovich and refitted by Tommy's son Michael.
"There are two things I like about a Rybovich," Rollins says. "First, they're built for fishing. After all, this is the family that invented outriggers and tuna towers. Second, Rybovich's are built out of mahogany planking and cold-molded. That gives them beautiful sheer lines. It's a style that hasn't changed from the 1950's. The boats are built for comfort and fishing. Like a fine piece of furniture, the boat's are a classic, a luxury that I'm proud to own. I do admit that I enjoy maintaining my boat as well."
Rollins meeting with the Rybovich and becoming a Rybovich owner proved his entry into the world of professional sports fishing. "I met some of the other Rybovich owners and became fascinated with the idea of traveling around the world to fish," he says.
Fishing off the Northeast coast, both in Ocean City and Cape Hatteras, then off Florida, led Rollins to test the fishing waters for more consistent billfishing in the Bahamas, then Mexico and most recently the Virgin Islands.
"We spent four months fishing out of St. Thomas last summer," Rollins says. "We went fishing everyday and averaged at least one marlin a day."
He adds, "We fished the Boy Scout tournament (USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament), and I enjoyed the fishing, the people and the atmosphere. There are quite a few tournaments in the U.S. that have lots and lots of boats and there's a hullabaloo of boozing and beer drinking. I don't really enjoy that. It might sound funny, but I prefer a more gentlemanly tournament. The kind of event where there's a reasonable number of boats, where you can bring your wife, there are professional fishermen, top of the line boats and conversation where you learn something. For these reasons, I also enjoy the Custom Boat Shoot-Out."
Rollins himself employs and enjoys top-notch crew. Of Capt. John Adams and mate, Tim Smith, he says, "Crew is everything and I have real pro's. How you handle the bridge on a big fish is everything. And, when we're traveling, John will use the side-band radio and telephone to call his friends in different areas and find out everything from how the fishing is to recommendations for rental cars and restaurants."
Next year, he says, "I want to go to Bermuda and see if I can catch a grander. Although I don't want to kill a fish just to see if is does weigh better than 1000 pounds. We'll also head to the Bahamas, Isla Mujeres in Mexico for sailfish, down to the Caribbean and possibly stop to fish in the Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, then to St. Thomas in the summer and then back to Florida where I usually get repairs done on the boat."
When fishing for billfish, Rollins says, "I love light tackle, 50 or 80 pound test. I want my fight with the fish to be equal, I want the fish to win too. Marlin are wonderful animals. I love big fish."
He adds, "Everyone thinks there's something magic to catching a fish. I don't feel that way. It all comes down to practice, to experience, to putting time on the water. And then its all about having a good team, skipper, mate, angler, and of course good luck."
What's Rollins best fishing day? "Let's just put it this way, its any day I go out. I've got salt water in my veins. I want to be on the water all the time. In fact, I want to do the deliveries. I'm not one of these people that just tells the crew to take my boat somewhere and I fly out to meet it."
Eventually, Rollins want to take his boat through the Canal and fish Guatemala, Panama and Cabo San Lucas for striped marlin and sailfish. "I won't take my boat, but I want to fish Australia and New Zealand," he says.
With a son, daughter and son-and-law who like to fish, and two grandchildren just born, Rollins worries about the sport of fishing as becoming too expensive for many people to enjoy. "To campaign a NASCAR on the circuit costs about $15 to $20 million. Fishing is almost getting that expensive. Boats cost more. Fuel costs more, especially if you travel. Then if you do tournament fishing, it starts at $250,000 and goes up by $100,000 increments. The costs sneak up on you. Sports fishing isn't a sport for weekend warriors."
Photos - Stewart Loveland