Many locals and visitors alike are taking part in the 69th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo this month. Our readers might be interested to know how fishing has changed since Leonard Destin arrived at Moreno Point 165 years ago.
Today the docks at the Destin harbor hold the largest fishing fleet in America and locals and visitors alike enjoy sport fishing on one of the many charter boats at the harbor. Fishing today is a far cry from the type of fishing Leonard Destin did when he established a small fishing village at East Pass. For one thing, the fishing that Leonard Destin did was his occupation and not for enjoyment or as a leisure time activity.
Secondly, the method that Leonard Destin and the early fishermen at East Pass used was much different than today. Our History Mystery this month explains the original Destin method of fishing. To explain Leonard’s method we will look at what Nathaniel Holmes Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wrote after he visited Leonard Destin and his family 142 years ago, from Feb. 21 to Feb. 27, 1875.
Mr. Bishop explained, in detail, the method Leonard Destin and his crew used in fishing as follows:
“His modus operandi was rather peculiar. Having rowed along the beach on the open Gulf, a boat-load of fishermen, with their nets ready to cast, rested quietly upon their oars in the offing, while a sharp-eyed man walked along the coast, peering into the transparent water, searching for the schools of fish which feed near the strand.
The fishermen cautiously follow him, until, suddenly catching sight of a lot of pompanos, sheep’s heads, and other fish, he signals to his companions, and they, quietly approaching the unsuspicious fish, drop their long net into the water, and enclose the whole school.
Drawing the net upon the beach, the fish were taken out and carried to Captain Len's landing, inside of the inlet, where they were packed in his sailing boat. Upon receiving its cargo, Captain Len’s boat started immediately for Pensacola. In this way the pompano, the most delicious of southern fishes, being repacked at Pensacola in hogsheads of ice, found its way quickly by rail to New York City, where they were justly appreciated.”
This method of fishing is commonly known as “beach seining” and was used in commercial fishing along the Florida coast for decades. After a day’s seine fishing, the nets were dried out on net reels like the one shown in the photo on this page.
Commercial seine net fishing ended in 1994, when the Florida voters agreed to ban gill nets of larger than 500 square feet. Unfortunately, beach seining (which did not use gill nets) was inadvertently banned also. This lead to commercial fisherman no longer being able to use the method that Leonard Destin brought with him from New London, Connecticut, when he first settled at East Pass and established his small fishing village in 1852.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - "DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940" and "DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin." Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.