EDITOR’S NOTE: Log Reporter Matt Algarin is a member of this year’s Destin Forward class. He will be filing stories monthly chronicling his experiences in the Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program.

It’s been 20 years since the parcel that is home to the Fishing Fleet Marina was for sale, and after all these years, Kelly Windes says he is still blessed to own the property.

“That was probably the best investment I have ever made,” said Windes, captain of the charter boat Sunrise.
Speaking to the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Destin Forward class recently, Windes shared his experiences as a fisherman in Destin with the group during breakfast at Dewey Destin’s Harborside.

Windes, along with restaurant owner Dewey Destin and Tetra Tech Engineer Michael Bomar, spoke during the morning session, before the class toured Coast Guard Station Destin and Destin harbor with the crew of the Southern Star and learned about local waterways from the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, as part of “Waterways Day.”

As he talked to the class, the longtime boat captain said the formation of the Destin Fisherman’s Co-Op and the purchase of the Fishing Fleet property were two major accomplishments that allowed him to help others.
 “The fuel crisis was killing our business,” Windes said, noting high gas prices that struck the city. “It (the Co-Op) provided stability.”

The Fisherman’s Co-Op, located at the Fishing Fleet Marina, was a joint project between captains Royal Melvin, Brant Kelly, Kelly Windes and David Windes. The men were looking for a way to help cut the fuel costs and bait costs for the fishermen in Destin.

The cooperative opened in 1989 at the Kelly Docks (where HarborWalk Marina is now located), before relocating to it’s current home in 1995. It’s said that the Co-Op sold 2,700 gallons of fuel on opening day.

As a lifelong fisherman, Windes told the class that the types of fishing in Destin have changed throughout the years, as seine or net fishing dominated the ’40s, before a shift to sport fishing became “all the rage” in the ’60s.
“We would catch six or 10 sailfish out of every 16 or 20 attempts,” Windes said.

As the sport-fishing craze started to slow down, charter fishing floated to the surface.

“Destin was put on the map by red snapper and king mackerel,” Windes added, but within the past 15 years, two-day fishing trips for yellow fin tuna have become popular.

While on the topic of fish, Windes briefly touched on red snapper regulations, telling the Destin Forward class that the current restrictions are based on old numbers.

“It’s more political than it is practical,” he said. “We could go out there and catch two per person and not even make a dent.”

So, despite increased fishing regulations, hurricanes, economic declines or fuel shortages, Windes said that fishermen are tough and learn to adapt to whatever conditions they face.

“In order to be successful in this business, you’ve got to be flexible and roll with the punches.”