Tim Barrus just loves saltwater fishing, which is fortunate since he has built a business that involves him in it just about every waking hour.
Combining two family operations into a prominent bayside facility, he has made Ocean City Fishing Center a place where customers only need to bring a desire to catch fish.
They can go deep-sea fishing on the 70-foot Northstar, a party boat that can take 65 people to the ocean wrecks to catch black sea bass, flounder and porgy, or take families on the back bay for comfortable and casual fishing.
They can charter the 27-foot Wreckless, which accommodates six for ocean bottom fishing or trolling for striped bass.
Fishermen can rent a 17-foot skiff, custom-made a bit wider for up to seven people, with a 15 hp outboard.
Or they can rent a 24-foot pontoon boat, which holds up to 14 people and is also the boat of choice for personal sightseeing and family cruises in the back bays and Intracoastal Waterway.
And before setting off on any of these options, fishing fans can get what they need at the center's tackle shop with live and fresh bait.
Barrus, 30, of Ocean City, started creating the Ocean City Fishing Center by buying the Northstar from his captain brother in 2006 after working on the party boat for 10 years.
While in high school, he had worked at his father's boat rental business. When his father was ready to retire, Barrus took over the rentals and bought a bayfront property that could accommodate everything.
Barrus said he and his wife, Mary - "a strong, independent woman who knows what's needed to make things happen" - make the business work by putting in long days every day.
Fishing businesses in New Jersey have been reduced from 30 in 2002 to 25 a decade later, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. In the past three years, total wages fell from $8.1 million to $5.6 million.
The first four years with just the party boat were tough, Barrus said.
"There were a couple of years where I wasn't making enough money and took a couple of other jobs at night," he said. "I used to repo cars at night, not the greatest job."
A couple of years he had to go to Florida in the off-season to work boats there to make ends meet, he said.
The business hasn't been helped by the price of gas, used in quantity by the party boat. "When I first started, it was a lot easier with fuel less than $2 a gallon. Now it's $4 a gallon," he said.
Ocean City is a pretty expensive place too, but Barrus said he keeps his prices comparable to others.
Equipped and gassed pontoon boats with 50 hp motors rent for $140 for two hours. Skiffs, which also cruise about 15 mph, cost $70 for two hours.
Barrus said he's "never taken a vacation in my life," but the work is worth it because he's fully involved in what he loves.
"I've been a year-round fisherman since 1996. I genuinely like seeing people catch fish," he said.
That makes the modest returns on his business acceptable.
"We're not setting the world on fire, but I'm happy to be paying my bills and getting by," he said.
Contact Kevin Post:
Ocean City Fishing Center
Location: 300 Bay Ave., Ocean City
Owners: Tim and Mary Barrus, of Ocean City
Started: 2010, earlier for the party boat
Employees: 10, including family members