Many locals and visitors alike are taking part in the 68th Annual Destin Fishing Rodeo this month. Our readers might be interested to know just how Destin got the title of “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Our History Mystery for this month will answer that question.
According to Reddin “Salty” Brunson’s journal, published in the book “Salty Memories…Along the Coastal Highway” by his grandson Tony Mennillo, the name became official on October 15, 1956.
Arturo Mennillo was the local photographer in Okaloosa County in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He had a studio just across the Brooks Bridge in Fort Walton Beach. He was also the official photographer for the local sheriff and police departments. In addition, he often took pictures for the local newspaper, which was known as the Playground Daily News in those days.
Salty Brunson’s son-in-law, Arturo, got word from the News Wire that Florida’s then Gov. Leroy Collins was passing through Destin in route to open the Pensacola State Fair. Neither the governor nor any state official had ever participated in the Destin Rodeo, but locals were able to maneuver the governor’s entourage to the fishing docks to pose for a few pictures that Arturo took to document the event.
Salty Brunson was standing by with a newly commissioned trolling vessel, the Miss Kathy. Governor Collins didn’t have much time, so Arturo and Salty had to con him into taking a ride around the harbor for a couple of photographs, with the promise of having him back on the dock within 15 minutes.
Salty set out a few rods to appear the governor was fishing, while Arturo snapped some promotional pictures. Salty made one pass out the East Pass and around the sea buoy. He was on the way back in when who would get a strike but Gov. Leroy Collins. It wouldn’t happen again in a million years!
When Governor Collins arrived in Pensacola, all he talked about was his Destin fishing trip. When one reporter teased the governor with, “That’s hard to believe that you could head out and return to the dock with a 19-pound king mackerel within 15 minutes.” Gov. Collins just smiled and replied, “Not if you’re fishing out of Destin. Them boys live with the fish. Destin’s the world’s luckiest fishing village.”
The phrase became official! When Gov. Collins returned to Tallahassee, articles with pictures wowed vacationers from all over the south about “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and Destin hasn’t been the same since.
Today, 60 years later, Destin not only is called the “luckiest” fishing village, but its harbor has the largest fleet of state and federally permitted charter boats in Florida and possibly the nation, with 125 vessels for locals and visitors to try their hand at deep sea fishing. A far cry from when Leonard Destin arrived in 1851 and decided to settle in a desolate area he called East Pass. Today, just like in 1851, and in 1956, Destin is known for its great fishing and seafood.
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 a historic book about Destin's pioneer settlers. DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 and Tony Mennillo’s book, Salty Memories…Along the Coastal Highway 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, or Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at email@example.com.