J.R. Wood spends his days as a fishing guide off Port Aransas, but that wasn’t always his profession. He’s a former bronc-riding cowboy from Kansas who has worked on ranches in several western mountain states.
Despite being relatively new to the fishing game, and to Port Aransas, Wood, 45, is being named one of three Boatmen of the Year for 2019.
The others who received this year’s award are Josh Garcia of Port Aransas and Thomas Dutton of Aransas Pass. Each year, the Port Aransas Boatmen Inc. name hall of famers and Boatmen of the year before the Deep Sea Roundup. This year’s roundup will be held July 11 to 14.
As a member of the Boatmen, Wood also has been named volunteer of the year, and he was part of the tear-down and setup crew during the 2018 Deep Sea Roundup.
“It’s such a great organization,” he said. “I don’t know that I have missed a meeting yet. I try to be as active as I can and not just be a member who doesn’t do anything.”
Before getting his start in fishing, Wood spent his days on ranches. He hails from Junction City, Kansas, located about 60 miles west of Topeka. He was a college bronc-rider for one year before he got his start working on ranches. His first ranching job came that summer, and he never looked back.
“They paid me whether I got bucked off or not,” Wood said about his first paying job as a cowboy. “I thought it was a pretty good deal.”
From that point on, Wood bounced around, training colts and horses mainly. He ranched in places like Colorado, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming.
“It was a lot different (from fishing,”) he said.
During his cowboy days, Wood didn’t do much fishing. He worked long hours and had little time on the water. Plus, he enjoys saltwater fishing, and he lived in mostly-landlocked states.
“I was too busy looking at the south end of a north bound cow,” he said. “I did a little bit of fly fishing, but that was it.”
Following a divorce, Wood decided he was done living the cowboy life in 2008. So, he jumped on a motorcycle he built with only a few belongings and hit the road.
“I headed for the coast and ended up here (in Port Aransas),” he said. “I didn’t even know this town existed when I got here. I just found it on dumb luck, and I fell in love with it.”
After he arrived in Port Aransas , he and some friends went fishing on Baffin Bay, and from that point on he was hooked.
“I caught my first black drum down there, and it was game on after that,” he said. “When you’re chasing black drum, and you can see them, and you’re pitching that bait right to them, that’s what I love.”
Back in Port Aransas, Wood started a boat detailing business in 2008.
He washed bay and sportfishing boats, and he also spent a winter as a deckhand in Isla Mujeras and another in Key West doing the same.
With his detailing business, he gained clientele after nine years, but his true calling was to start his own guide service. That’s when he decided to obtain his captain’s license and buy a boat.
In 2017, he started Wood’s Guide Service, and he purchased a 21-foot Majek. That’s also when he joined the Boatmen.
Asked if he had a name for his boat, he joked, “Mine.”
Wood said owning a boat and being a fishing guide is “a lot more stressful” than boat detailing.
“It’s amazing to me that fishing for a living can be as stressful as it is,” he said. “There’s days when it’s tough to produce fish. You want your customers to catch fish more than probably they want to catch the fish. On days when you struggle, it’s exhausting, mentally.”
Wood said aside from being named Boatman of the Year, the highlight of his fishing career has been simply making a living in fishing.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said.