When it came to cobia fishing, Frank Helton was the man.
Helton, 81, died Wednesday morning, but the legacy he left behind in the Destin community will be remembered a long time — especially each spring when the cobia run.
“He pretty much invented cobia fishing,” said Charles Morgan of Harbor Docks Restaurant. Helton docked his boat behind Harbor Docks for years.
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Every year Harbor Docks hosts the Cobia World Championships and within that 2 ˝ month tournament was a three-day tourney tagged the Frank Helton Living Legend Crab Cruncher Classic.
“He built his own boat in his backyard, he made his own jigs … he did it all,” Morgan said. “He was one talented guy. He was highly intelligent.”
But beyond fishing, Morgan said he learned a life lesson from Helton.
Morgan said after Hurricane Opal ravaged the area in 1995, he left his home and came down to check on the restaurant located on the harbor. When Morgan got there, and went down stairs on the back deck he saw 300 feet of “solid floating lumber” that had washed up from construction on Holiday Isle. Amid the ruins were a La-Z-Boy recliner and a Hobie Cat.
Before the sun came up, Morgan said, “I looked around and there was Frank down there picking up one board at a time. That was a lesson for me … putting one foot in front of the other. Everybody else was shell shocked and Frank was already working.”
Capt. Tony Davis of the Anastasia recalls the first time he ran into Frank.
It was in the late ’70s and Davis was cobia fishing down near the old Crystal Beach Pier when he spotted a small boat near the beach and the guy onboard appeared to be busy, Davis said.
“I thought he might need some help so I moved in close to check on him,” Davis said. “He had four cobia on by himself.”
Davis offered to lend him one of his deckhands to help, but Frank’s reply was, “Nah I gott’em cap. ’ ”
Davis said he watched as he would reel a little on one reel and then move over to the next, working to get them in.
“And he caught every one of them,” Davis said.
After they got back to the docks, Helton came down and introduced himself and the two became friends.
As a matter of fact, Davis said during the cobia season of 1982 or ’83, “he fished with me everyday.” But Helton liked to fish down west, because he didn’t like the sun in his eyes when he was looking for cobia.
Davis recalled the two of them catching 23 cobia in one day. “I’ll always remember that day and the day I met him. He was a ton of fun … an absolute character.”
To give an idea as to Helton’s character, Peter Wright of Ships Chandler said that Frank and his dad, Bill, “always had a Coca-Cola bet when the first cobia would be caught each year. Frank usually won.”
However, Wright said that his dad says “he still owes him one.”
But the thing Wright said he’ll always remember about Frank was “his love for family and how much he loved fishing with his kids. And not just cobia fishing, but flounder fishing too … he just loved to fish with his sons.”
His family echoes that fact.
“He was a great dad,” said Frank’s son Michael “Mo”. “He was always willing to help others and he touched a lot of young lives fishing at the pier. I don’t know anybody that didn’t like him. He was a straight shooter and good at everything he did.
Memorial services were held for Helton on Friday, but his ashes will be sprinkled next spring at the start of cobia season on the west beach near Navarre.
“He touched a lot of people and we’re going to miss him,” Mo said.
Frank Helton Obituary: Services set for Oct. 12
Frank Helton, 81, cobia fisherman extraordinaire, went to be with our Lord Oct. 10, 2012.
Preceded in death by his parents, Dennis G. and Henry W. Helton; wife, Florence Amendola Helton; ex-wife, Miriam M. Helton; brothers, Alton, Ronnie, Walter, and Kenneth Helton; sisters, Henrietta and Nita; and granddaughter, Mary Elizabeth Bailey.
He is survived by brothers, Dennis G. Jr., and Eugene; sisters, Evelyn Eaves and Shirley (Jim) Hooks; children, Glenn (Susan), Tina (Richie), Michael (Sherry), Nancy (Jack) Estep, Marcia (Craig) Bailey, Vann (Mary) and Bobby(Tammie); grandchildren, Brooke, Christopher, Amber, Michael Jr., Katie, Nicole, Tabor, Caden, Logan, and Riley; many nieces, nephews, and fishing family along the Gulf Coast.
He was known for his awesome cobia fishing, but to us he was son, brother, uncle, daddy, grandpa, and PawPaw.
His legacy will live on through the stories people will tell and the memories we all share.
Visitation was to be held from 4-5 p.m. Oct. 12 at McLaughlin Mortuary with tributes at 5 p.m.