A decade ago, Dick Beverly put a lot of trust in a 13-year-old, making that kid the first mate on a busy Lake Erie charter boat where it takes efficiency, knowledge, skill and savvy to keep the fish cooler full, the customers coming, and the business afloat.
For two summers that young fellow practically lived on Beverly's boat, soaked up everything the skipper offered, and proved wise well beyond his years.
"Even that young, he was better than some first mates who were twice his age," Beverly said. "He could operate any boat, he was a real good fisherman, and he spent half his life on the water. It just seemed like it all came natural to him."
Travis Ferguson is still a "kid" to Beverly, now retired from charter fishing, and Beverly is not surprised at all that Ferguson's love affair with the water will continue, now in a more formal arrangement.
Ferguson was one of two dozen individuals to recently complete their training to work as watercraft officers for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Watercraft. The group went through 18 weeks of intense preparation that schooled them in firearms, physical fitness, self-defense, motor vehicle operations, criminal and watercraft law, accident investigation, and detection of impaired motorists and boaters.
"I always knew I wanted to work outside," Ferguson said, "and when the opportunity was there to pursue a career as a watercraft officer, I didn't have to think about it for too long. I've always loved being on the water."
Ferguson's dad had a boat, so the introduction to the siren's song offered up by Lake Erie came early. The Toledo Christian graduate had that full-time summer work on Beverly's boat as a very young teen, and then earned his charter captain's license five days before his 18th birthday.
"Travis was always a good listener, and when they start that young and want to listen, they can learn a lot," Beverly said
Ferguson earned an associate degree in parks and recreation from Hocking College in 2010, but at that point did not expect law enforcement to be in his future. A yearlong internship with the ODNR's Division of Watercraft Maumee Bay Field Office changed his perspective.
"When I served that internship, the tables turned. I found out that was something I really wanted to do. It was law enforcement, but it was not the 'city cop' thing. You still deal with problems and violations, but there is a lot more educational work involved, and I liked that," the 23-year-old said.
Ferguson, who was honored at the recent graduation ceremony of his class of watercraft officers for his performance in firearms training, has been assigned close to home at the Maumee Bay station and will report there on Sunday. That office covers an eight-county area that includes a large section of Lake Erie, as well as numerous inland waterways and lakes.
He will work closely with veteran watercraft officers for the next year to complete his field training, and then be a fully commissioned law enforcement officer.
"It's very exciting to get out in the field and start interacting with the public and doing the job I've been trained to do," Ferguson said. "For a guy who loves the lake, loves boats, and wants to work outside, this is pretty much a dream kind of job. I plan to make it my career."
Beverly is confident that in the decade since he hired that 13-year-old as first mate on his charter boat, Ferguson has done plenty to prepare himself for the challenges and demands that watercraft officers face.
"With his background and foundation out on the lake, there's no doubt in my mind he is going to do fine as a watercraft officer," Beverly said.
"That's just the kind of person you want wearing that badge."
The recent graduating class of watercraft officers also included Sarah R. Koch of Liberty Center who has been assigned to the Cleveland office, Derek D. Hill of Fremont, also assigned to Cleveland, and Daniel W. Ferguson of Oregon who will work out of the Wapakoneta office.
LURE-MAKING DEMO: Fishing rod builder and lure maker extraordinaire Kevin Renner will be conducting a free perch and crappie rig-making demonstration in the showroom at Jann's Netcraft on Briarfield Boulevard in Maumee on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The demo will cover a variety of rigs constructed from both wire and monofilament.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.