After a half century at the helm and pulling in his share of big fish, Capt. Kelly Windes is reeling back and passing the torch.
Windes, who was just re-elected without opposition to the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners, has sold his 53-foot charter boat, Sunrise.
“This county commission job I have now is taking more time than I anticipated,” said the 71-year-old Windes. “And I hate to do anything unless I do it right.
“When you live on the Gulf for 50 years, it takes a toll on you … knees, hips and back and I’m getting just a little bit older. It was just time for me to slack off a little bit. I’ve worked hard for a long time,” he added.
However, the main force in his decision to step down was his son Trey, who is also a captain.
Trey, who’s had a 38-foot six passenger boat for almost 10 years, expressed an interest in wanting a bigger boat to do some commercial fishing.
“He just came to me and said 'Dad, I’m interested in a bigger boat,' and I said 'I’m interested in getting out,' ” Windes said. “He’s a real good negotiator.”
At the end of January, Trey hoisted the boat out at drydock in Freeport and repainted the hull and changed the name of the boat from Sunrise to the name he has built his business around — Outta Line.
“It’s going to be tough to see it go by under another name, but it’s still in the family,” Kelly said. “The compensating balance is, he gave me a grandson five months ago and he named it after me … so that’s alright.
“Basically, it’s his turn to make his mark. I’ve had my day and it’s been good to me. But now it’s his turn, it’s his boat, his name, his business and he’ll be fine,” Kelly said.
Over the years, Windes has been known for reeling in big fish and filling the rack behind his boat at Fishing Fleet Marina with huge red snapper, amberjack and grouper.
“In 1985, we caught the world record red snapper that held for 10 years, 46 pounds 8 ounces. That was a thrill,” he said.
That same year they hauled in a massive 436-pound Warsaw grouper, which is still on the record books today.
Another memorable fish, and world record catch, was an 80.4-pound gag grouper they caught on the Sunrise in 1992.
Windes has also left his mark on the Destin Fishing Rodeo books as well.
“I think I won the rodeo eight years in one stretch,” Windes said.
In 2012, he was named the rodeo’s Captain of the Year with the most points for his big catches, including an 87.4 and 85 pound amberjack plus many more.
But he’s also caught his share of big tuna and swordfish.
“I was always a long range fisherman,” Windes said.
And when the billfishing slowed down, the tuna fishing picked up. It was at that time, about 15 years ago, that he bought the 53-foot Sunrise and put bigger motors in it to do the two-day rig fishing for tuna.
“Back in the day I’d do 35 of those two-day trips a year and it was great fun and good money,” Windes said. “But as you get older you don’t want to hit it quite that hard.
“I’ve said it before … I’ve fought the Gulf for 50 years, and sometimes the Gulf wins and it beats you up a little bit. I’ve had enough of that.”
Fishing has had its ebbs and flows over years, but most of the changes Windes has seen have been “mostly regulatory” and they haven’t all been bad.
“They brought the snapper fishery back,” Windes said. “It’s good snapper fishing … for a limited time. Now my boy will have a better chance at making a living in the business than I did,” adding that Trey has a permit to commercial and recreational fish for snapper.
But with regulations have come disappointments, as well.
“The disappointing part is you can’t keep much any more,” Windes said. “Only so many people are going to do this catch and release, they like to take some home to eat and that’s getting harder and harder … that took some of the fun out of it for me.”
Windes said he built his business around catching big fish in deep water or on long range trips. But if customers can only keep two snapper, the 12 or 18 hour trips are no longer needed.
“It’s been a good run in the fishing business and I’ve loved it,” Windes said.
But before he stepped down, The Log asked if he had any words of wisdom or advice to pass on to others in the fishing business.
“It’s real simple, keep the customer in mind and don’t underestimate the competition,” he said. “That’s the recipe for success in any business, not just fishing.”
His third word of counsel was “don’t be afraid to give the baker’s dozen … that means stay an hour later if you need to. If you have a slow day or an even an adequate day, if you make another stop or two you might get a big day or make it a great trip.”
Although he will not be running the boat, he hopes to do a little commercial fishing with his son as well as take a few of his old standing customers out just to introduce them to Trey.
“I still love fishing … I just don’t want to have to do it,” he said. “I promised the people of Okaloosa County that I’d work hard and do well on the commission and I intend to do my best at it. It’s just finally time to concentrate on one endeavor at the time.”