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.

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With 40 to 80 lines in the water, party boat fishing can be awesome and pandemonium all at the same time.

And Bill Harrison, first mate on the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit, loves every minute of it.

“Fishing on a party boat can be great, chaos and mayhem … anyway you put it,” said the 30-year old deckhand. “There are a lot of lines in the water, lots of hazards, lots of things you have to pay attention to.

“But for the most part, if the customers listen to us we’ll have a successful day.”

This is Harrison’s sixth season to work aboard the 100-foot party boat American Spirit, which docks behind AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, home of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“It’s pretty simple to fish 80 on this boat,” Harrison said.

But with 80 fishermen, that means more deckhands.

The Spirit carries one deckhand per 20 anglers.

“This boat requires two deckhands and one captain up to 45 people,” Harrison said. “Then we have to load on more deckhands and crew at that time.”

Harrison is first mate or the lead deckhand on the Spirit.

“He’s as reliable as it gets. That’s what it requires,” said Capt. Jim Green of the Spirit. “You can be the best fisherman in the world but if you’re not here, it’s not worth it to the crew and the boat.

“On a party boat, everybody has their job and their strengths. It’s important that the entire crew shows up and that they have a leader like Bill to keep everybody on task,” Green added. “He’s a good with people, he’s a good leader and he’s a hard worker. He’s good at all the tasks that are on his plate.”

Harrison sees the main task of the deckhands as three-fold.

“The most important thing is to make sure we come back to this dock with everybody safe and sound,” he said. “Second would be everyone’s happiness and third would be fish.”

Running the deck on a party boat, with so many customers aboard, is a bit different than a regular charter with six to 12 customers.

“On this boat, instead of running from person to person or picking a side, we like to carry a full circle,” he said.

As they are fishing, the deckhands are walking laps around the boat making sure to help any customer that might need assistance. By the continuous laps, there isn’t any favoritism shown and hopefully everyone gets quick service.

“My mission as first mate is to make sure that we all circle this boat and talk to all of our customers … to be able to have some kind relationship or helpful hand during the trip," Harrison said. “Some of these customers that have come on this boat have turned into life long friends.”

The Spirit gets a lot of repeat customers. Harrison said a week doesn’t go by that he doesn’t come across at least three repeat customers.

For the repeat offenders on the boat, they know the drill of party boat fishing. But for those who do not, Harrison said they give a brief fishing lesson on the boat about 10 minutes before their first stop.

“Most of the time we don’t like the customers to handle the fish, because No. 1, we have to make sure they are legal, and No. 2 these people can hurt themselves big time on the teeth, gill plates or fins if they don’t know how to handle the fish,” he said.

So when an angler gets a fish to the boat, the deckhand is there to take it off and put it in your assigned bucket. Your bucket of fish is then put on a stringer with an assigned number to make sure you go home with your catch.

“For the most part we will be there when the fish comes up. It’s awesome on our deck,” he said, noting their newest crew member is two-seasons deep, while the rest have served multiple years.

“We have great deck chemistry,” Harrison added. “We are able to read each other and know what the other deckhands are going to do and know how to respond to their action.”

Harrison loves party boat fishing.

“My favorite thing about fishing on this boat is the same thing that got me hooked when I was 8 years old. There was a deckhand that came across and taught me how to fish,” he said.

So now his favorite thing is to teach children to fish and then “help that one guy that want listen to me,” he said with a laugh.

And catching fish is something they do plenty of aboard the Spirit.

“The most fish we’ve ever brought in is 630 mingo this year,” he said, which was with a full load of customers.

But the Spirit also catches more than just mingo

The largest fish has probably been a shark, but of course they release those after folks have had a chance to snap a few photos. George Gray has pulled in a 55-pound gag grouper. They have also reeled in some nice wahoo, amberjack and 20 to 30-pound red snapper over the years. This summer, especially in the last month, the Spirit has pulled in 20 to 25 cobia.

One of the advantages of party boat fishing is getting the fish charged up with multiple baits in the water.

“When we have 70 people on this boat, there are about 140 baits in the water and when you have 140 baits in the water you’re are going to get those fish up and moving and wanting to eat. That’s a quicker, faster way to fire up the bite.

“If they are there and ready to eat, it only takes a few to get the train rolling. So it’s a domino affect after that,” he said.

But in order to fish 60 to 80 people it takes a lot of tackle and preparation.

“We go through a lot of reels during the season,” Harrison said, noting they always carry 10 to 15 extra rods on their trips.

For the most part they have about 150 to 170 rods and reels for the Spirit.

Harrison gets to the boat by 5:30 every morning, about an hour-and-a-half before the boat leaves the dock. This gives him and the others time to get bait, ice and any additional tackle they may need for the day.

“If we’re ready and we get there, and the fish don’t bite, we did everything we could do at this point,” he said. “But if we get there and we’re not ready, and the fish are biting, then we have failed at our jobs.”

However, failing is not on his list. Harrison has hopes of continuing in the fishing business.

“I have hopes and dreams,” he said. “I wouldn’t mike moving to the chair one of these days, but I have a lot to learn between now and then.”

For now, he’s happy on the deck and plans on continuing.

“As long as my body will naturally let me do it, I will,” Harrison said.