Like many of you out there, I’ve indulged the fantasy of owning a remote and bad-ass fishing lodge. The reality is I am not properly wired for anything remotely related to service. But Andrew Bennett is, and he owns the Deneki Lodges on Andros, The Kanektok, and the Dean.
I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Andros South for the first FIBFest back in the day. Andrew struck me as a bright, easy-going guy who could laugh at himself but at the same time had his shit together. These type of people can be disconcerting, especially when they are younger than you. I threw a few questions at him, just to find out what it’s like to run your dream business.
So why did you want to own a fishing lodge operation?
I grew up in Alaska and always spent a ton of time outside. After college I spent 9 years working for a great software company…but I got the small business bug pretty bad, and I also missed being outside more, and I also really love fishing. I remember thinking to myself “why should I work 50 weeks a year so I can do what I really want to do for 2 weeks a year”.
Putting together a group of fishing lodges seemed like a neat way to build a new kind of business and apply some of what I learned in my previous life – but in an industry where I was much more personally passionate about the product.
You’re Ivy League; shouldn’t you be launching a tech start-up or bundling subprime mortgages?
Do you know how many of those guys spend all of their time wishing they were on a river or on a flat or hanging out at a tiki hut on a beach? No I don’t spend most of my time in any of those places…but I spend a lot, and working on business issues is a lot easier for me when the business is all about fishing.
The irony of being a guide is that you’re on the water all the time but never fishing. Does that hold true for lodge owners?
Let me start by saying that I know how incredibly lucky I am to have spent so much time on the water as part of this business. Hanging out with our super high quality team and spending time with interesting guests is a ton of fun. And I really truly love the fishing at all of our lodges – they’re amazing places.
That being said, it does get difficult to turn off the ‘business brain’ when I’m at our lodges. No matter how much fun I’m having, I’m constantly thinking about how we can do things better.
So no, I actually do get to fish quite a lot, and I’m really lucky that way – even if it’s not quite the same as just fishing with friends without a care in the world.
What does Deneki mean? And is it pronounced Den-eh-ki or Den-EEK-i?
Duh-NEE-kee. Deneki is an Athabascan Indian word that means ‘moose’ or ‘little moose’. A popular children’s book in Fairbanks where I grew up was ‘Deneki, An Alaskan Moose’, by William Berry. When my brother and I were quite young – he was 6 and I was 4, I think – we got our first dog, a Springer Spaniel. My brother had just read the book – he suggested and we all agreed to name our dog Deneki. That’s the story!
I’m guessing behind the scenes there’s a fair amount of stress, putting out fires, and solving logic puzzles. I mean, these are often peoples’ dream trips, and a blown starter motor on an outboard could ruin somebody’s day. How much is involved to make it seem seamless to the guest?
It is absolutely incredible how much goes on behind the scenes, and like I said I am incredibly lucky to have a solid, experienced team that handles the vast majority of it. Our job is to make sure all that stuff is invisible to our guests so it doesn’t get talked about much – but yes, the average guest has no idea what’s involved.
In Alaska we have a full-time employee who does nothing other than run freight and fuel to our camp. In BC everything comes in via helicopter or float plane (or barge if it’s really big). On Andros we pay 57% import duty to bring in vehicles.
Our team rebuilds motors, learns foreign tax codes, literally fights actual fires, plants gardens, aims satellite dishes…the list goes on and on. And that stuff is all in addition to normal daily logistics, guest management, customer service, and…oh yeah…fishing.
Why Andros and the Kanektok?
And the Dean! [editor’s note: we stupidly forgot the third one] Very simple – first and foremost, start with the best fishery possible. That’s just the most important part of the formula. We are 100% focused on delivering high quality fishing trips, and for that you need the highest quality fishing. If you want Alaskan salmon and trout, you want the Kanektok and the Arolik. If you want bonefish, you want South Andros Island. If you want steelhead, you want the Dean.
At the end of the day, if the fishing isn’t the best, it doesn’t matter how friendly the staff is, how good the food is, or how nice the lodge is. We sell fishing trips.