EDITOR’S NOTE: For the next few weeks leading up to the October Destin Fishing Rodeo, The Destin Log will be taking a look at some of the men that help ensure that folks fishing aboard the boats have a good time while hopefully pulling something over the rail.
He’s no Boy Scout, but he is “prepared.”
“Being ready, being prepared” is the most important task of a deckhand, said Aaron Smith of the Sea Fix.
And for Smith, he’s kind of doubly prepared when it comes to the Sea Fix, as he is deckhand/owner of the 45-foot charter vessel that docks at Fishing Fleet Marina in the heart of Destin.
“A lot of people don’t know I own the boat,” Smith said. “I don’t tell them just because. … It’s one of those things where they might feel different. I want you to feel at home, it doesn’t matter who owns the boat.
“And I don’t want people to think I do things different because I own the boat. I do stuff the same way I learned on the Fish N Fool … do it the right way,” he added.
Smith said he still saves all his hooks, swivels and leads.
“A deckhand can waste more money then he can save or make,” he said. “It’s called bleeding and you’ve got to stop the bleeding.”
But it’s all about being prepared.
“If the customer is waiting on the dock for you to be ready to get on the boat, that’s not right.”
And to make sure that doesn’t happen, Smith starts his day at 4:15 a.m.
“I probably get here at 4:45 a.m. and at 5:30 a.m. I’m ready to roll,” he said.
During that 45-minute span, Smith tries to make sure he has all his bases covered. He gets everything out, gets ice, checks the rigs and makes sure he doesn’t need to make more.
“I’m the one that doesn’t like to rush. I like to have it all done and enjoy my two sips of coffee,” he said.
And apparently he’s readiness is paying off.
The majority of the customers that fish aboard the Sea Fix are returnees.
“That’s the way to build a business,” Smith said.
Smith, originally from Maryland, grew up fishing on the Chesapeake Bay with his dad. His dad moved the family to Fort Walton Beach in 1985. Smith worked at Los Ponchos for about 20 years, and when the restaurant was sold he decided to get back into fishing.
“My heart had always been in fishing and the enjoyment part of it,” he said, noting he had his own private boat that he fished on his days off.
The Sea Fix is Smith’s third boat. His first was a 19-foot Capehorn called the Kitchen Pass, then he stepped up to a 25-foot Bertram tagged the Just Reel.
The Sea Fix, which he said is his final boat, is the former Mother Lode, which was owned by Capt. Jason Hallmark. Smith worked the deck on the Mother Lode and jumped at the chance when Hallmark decided to sell in 2014.
Capt. Phillip Blackburn was running the boat at the time and Smith worked the deck.
So after Smith bought the boat, he thought why change anything.
“People always come back to see me. They don’t know who’s driving the boat,” Smith said.
He explained that the deckhand is the one communicating with the customers, entertaining them and having fun with them.
“They always remember the deckhand,” he said.
Nevertheless, he’s thankful for his captain.
“I’m really blessed to have Phillip … he’s a family man. He’s not a hotdog and he doesn’t put any undue pressure on himself. He’s just a really good guy,” Smith said.
Smith has great respect for Blackburn as his captain.
“I don’t boss him around and he doesn’t boss me around,” he said. “I don’t tell him where to go or how to drive. That’s his job. My job is down here to make sure it’s all square, ready, tight and neat. I think it’s better for the captain … that way he doesn’t have to worry about the deckhand job down here.
“He knows I’m going to be here. It’s a good partnership.”
Smith did make some changes, one being the name.
“I wanted to make my own T-shirt. Start my own brand,” he said.
However, one thing that Smith hasn’t changed over the years and relies on daily is his pliers.
“My pliers (are) on my hip … they costs $300 and they are worth every penny,” he said. “I never rinse them off, never wash them. I cut do everything I need to. I cut hooks out of my hand, out of their hand, cut line and tighten hooks.”
“I can’t leave without my pliers. I can hand line if I have to, but I can’t do without my pliers.”
As for a word of advice to upcoming deckhands, Smith said “stay away from drugs and alcohol.”
Deckhands can make a lot of money and those vices can be tempting. As a matter of fact, Smith said his biggest tip was $500 for a four-hour trip.
“I’m not saying don’t drink," Smith said. "Have a beer and go home. This is not a place to party. It’s a place to make money for 120 days.”
Other than that, Smith said, “Just come out here and have a good time. Don’t let your captains stress you. Be prepared.”