If you’re shooting the breeze with the locals at a Hilton Head Island tackle shop, chances are that Brian Vaughn’s name will come up in conversation. A United States Coast Guard licensed captain and fishing guide, Brian Vaughn is the owner and operator of Off The Hook Charters. And with over 25 years of experience in the LowCountry marshland, rivers, and coastal waterways, he lives on the water over 300 days of the year. I had the unique opportunity to spend some time with him on his boat, in his home with his family, and with a few fellow captains at a local watering hole.
Growing up in Hilton Head Island (HHI) as a young lad, Brian spent most of his afternoons and summer days fishing on ponds, marshland and inlets in the LowCountry. “I was one of those little doc rats…ya know, just fishing off the piers and learning the waters.” There, he met local legend, Fuzzy Davis, and his passion for becoming a guide was too strong to ignore. “Fuzzy mentored me…taught me how to fish…he taught me what it meant to be a guide.”
Though he graduated from college with a fine-arts degree, Vaughn could not escape his passion for being on the water. And after a unsuccessful business endeavor in New Mexico, Vaughn returned to HHI, went back to the drawing board and decided he wanted to begin his own fishing charter company. In a short amount of time, Off the Hook Charters was launched and has become one of the go-to fishing charters on HHI.
As we shared a few beers and exchanged story after story, I found myself incredibly inspired by Vaughn’s life and the gusto in which he takes on each day. I have to confess that I’m not really a “fishing guy.” I’m quite impatient and when I can’t pick up a hobby or skill instantly, I’m prone to lose interest and move onto something else. And while I love the idea of being out in the great outdoors, I’ve never had a strong urge to spend my Saturdays chasing down fish that I’ll most likely end up putting right back into the water. But I’ll tell you this: after ten minutes of being around Captain Vaughn and hearing his passion for fishing, I changed my mind.
You see, for Vaughn, being a fishing guide is far more than catching or not catching a fish. Success is not about making the most money, booking the most trips or even catching the largest fish. Success is about giving someone the experience of a lifetime. Being a captain is about investing all of your skill, all of your knowledge, and all of your experiences into another so that they can truly experience something great. Success is defined by the smile on a young boy’s face the first time he is able to reel in a Cobia or Red Fish. Or more than that, picture the pride on a father’s face as he sees his son overcome his squeamish fear of placing his finger inside of a fish’s mouth to release the hook. Success is having a story to tell. And as we all know with fishing, that’s a story that gets better and better each time you tell it.
I was amazed to discover Captain Vaughn’s unique way of commemorating each fishing trip. No, not by telling some tall-tell. Instead, leaning into his fine-arts degree, he memorializes the experience by using a Japanese art form called Gyotaku. Taking the very fish little Junior just caught, he covers the fish in ink, rolls rice paper over the fish, and then adds in color with colored pencils or some other medium of paint. And I must say, his artwork is absolutely incredible.
Brian’s a rugged gentleman. He works long, hard days; he’s a grill master; he remodeled his house and he has a man cave. He loves the outdoors, is adventurous, and can turn a boat trailer on a dime. More than that, he’s an honest, humble guy who loves his wife and daughter and is marked by gratitude, integrity, and dedication to his craft. Yeah, he’s set some pretty impressive fishing records and he’s booked most all the time. But if you ask me, his success is measured by the way he loves his family, how he’s a loyal friend to his fellow captains, and how he seems to have figured out how to get the most of life by being grateful for each new day.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more of Brian’s story. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and grab a couple Riverdale Fishing Shirts and get outside.
-Written by Matt Scott of the 2654 Project.
Matt is a singer, songwriter, musician, carpenter, and photographer.