TV crabber nets Conch Key lodge, marina
June 26, 2019
CONCH KEY — “Deadliest Catch” crabber Erik James didn’t just check into a room at the Bayview Inn Motel & Marina, he bought all 11 rooms, the bay bottom and the four parcels the hotel sits on.
He has rebranded it as the Conch Key Inn & Marina and given it a funky, tropical motif of at least five different colors.
“I painted it all bright colors so people can see it, and I’m going to build the gnarliest place in town,” he said. “As everything else around changes, I want this place to stay as a real fishing village and a place where locals can come and have a beer, be comfortable and bring their dog.”
James’ faithful companion, a chihuahua named Rico Suave, is always with him.
The Captiva Island native recently sold his Mexican restaurant, Captiva Cantina, and invested in the Middle Keys motel about four months ago.
He attributed his former restaurant’s success not to his management skills but to it being a favorite hangout for locals.
James said he’s slowly rehabbing each room at the motel with a fresh coat of paint and new linens, but his true intentions are to cater to the local community. Plans for the service tiki bar and café are underway.
“It’s been crazy with a lot of people in the store. I’ve been selling a ton of bait, ice, beer and gas,” he said. “I’ve put in about $200,000 in improvements so far. I fixed the boat ramp and the gas pumps, and it’s been cranking here.”
He’s made friends with his neighbors and offers his boat launch to commercial fishermen for free.
“This is a special place and these guys are the backbone of this community,” James said. “It takes a unique kind to live on Conch Key. There are crab traps everywhere, I love it and the community has really taken me in.”
James is an avid fisherman and commercial crabber. He’s netted Alaskan king crabs for two seasons, one of which was filmed on season 15 of the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” in Alaska with Capt. Wild Bill Wichrowski, an old family friend.
The transition from Florida to Alaska can be daunting.
“There’s no tutorial on how to deal with the cold. If your hand isn’t in a glove even for a second, your fingers will turn blue and you have to work them for an hour to get them moving,” James said. “Wearing all that gear is 50 percent of the battle and those guys know how to do it. Those cameras are rolling. They filmed me messing up and fumbling around with my gear and being tossed around. It’s a learning experience.”
He said he’s planning to return to Alaska this fall for crab season and encourages folks to drop in for a visit before he heads north.
“The doors are open here, locals and tourists are welcome to stop by and check it out and have a beer,” he said.
The Conch Key Inn & Marina is located at 3 N. Conch Ave. at mile marker 62, bayside. For more information, call 305-289-1525, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit bayviewinn.com.