Fourth-generation fishing guide commands boats and respect
Stereotypes and history may suggest that navigating deep waters is a man’s world. But at least one Galvestonian is proving women have a rightful place on the bridge.
Jillian Williams, a fourth-generation offshore party boat operator, is one of the few — if not only — women with a captain’s license operating in the Gulf of Mexico.
As the lone woman in a sea of men, she sometimes has to put up a tougher front to prove her ability. Other times, she’s held up as a role model.
But, for the most part, her gender is an afterthought.
Williams, 26, leads fishing trips for her family’s company, Williams Party Boats, commanding deckhands and escorting up to 83 anglers to offshore sites for day trips or overnight stays.
“I get to be out on the water and get away from the world for the day,” she said.
She’s no stranger to the territory. Williams Party Boats has been in business since 1946, first headed by Williams’ great-grandfather, her grandfather and later her dad. She made her first offshore trip when she was just 2 years old.
“My dad says I caught the first two fish of the day,” she said.
Her most noteworthy childhood memories stem from fishing trips with her grandfather, who died when she was 12.
“The first time I caught a kingfish really stands out,” she said. “I remember my grandpa was holding the pole and I was using two hands to pull it in.”
The fish weighed about 30 pounds, she recalled.
Williams now takes experienced anglers, or those just looking for a fun escape, out on day trips and overnight tours. Those groups are chasing vermilion snapper, grouper or tuna — depending on the season.
In 2012, Williams went through the lengthy process of getting a captain’s license. To get the certification, a boater must have clocked more than 720 days at sea and gone through weeks of classes to learn the rules of the water, she said.
She was the only woman in her class. By her account, she might be the only female captain working in the Gulf.
Because she’s a young woman in an industry dominated by men, Williams sometimes gets second-guessed on her ability to lead a trip, she said.
Men on some occasions have grumbled and blamed her when they’ve come back without a catch. Other times she’s met with shock when passengers learn she’s the captain.
“There’s been several times where we’ve got off the boat and a guy is like, ‘You were driving the boat?’” she said.
Some men shamelessly flirt with her, and she’s been asked for her number more times than she can count, she said.
Sometimes, she gets attitude from a deckhand. Such behavior has forced her to at times adopt a personality that’s firmer, and perhaps blunter, than she otherwise would.
“Most of the deckhands are nice and respectful, they’re good guys and good friends,” she said. “Those that don’t respect my authority don’t last very long.”
But Williams said there are also moments when her gender is met with admiration. While out with a church group once, for example, a group leader approached her and said, “I tell these girls that they can be anything they want when they grow up. You’re showing them that.”
Another time, a young girl approached her after a trip and asked her to autograph her boarding pass.
On most trips, though, being a woman isn’t a topic.
“I encounter it a lot less than people think I would. The longer I’m doing it the more people respect the fact that I’m driving the boat,” she said.
Depending on the time of year, Williams may run four-hour, eight-hour or 12-hour trips in the bay. She also leads 36-hour overnight tuna trips.
Her 75-foot-long catamaran, named Capt. John after her grandfather, holds up to 83 people and can sleep 40. Texsun II, her second boat and day-tripper, can take up to 55 people out on excursions.
“My family has been out there forever so we have a ton of fishing spots,” she said.
Williams typically goes out with a second captain on the overnight runs. She works the night shift, running the boat and assisting anglers. Her 10-year-old son, Justin, tags along when he can. He’s an avid fisherman and quick to make friends, she said.
“My son usually turns my wheelhouse into a day care and invites other kids in,” she said. “I’ll have all these random kids in there playing.”
In her job, Williams has the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, including Russia, China and Canada. That and spending time on the water beats the typical 9-to-5 workday, she said.
“I love catching fish,” Williams said. “But I’m even more excited when someone else gets to catch one.”
For information about Williams Party Boats, visit www.charterfishinggalveston.com.