After 40 years of fishing hard out of Destin, Capt. Gary Jarvis of the Backdown 2 has sold his boat.
“I’m just not as mad at the fish as I once was,” Jarvis said sitting at a table at Brotula’s, which overlooks Fishing Fleet Marina. “Most people don’t work 40 years at one job, but I have.”
Jarvis, 61 and elected mayor of Destin in November 2017, said it’s getting a little tougher to get in the engine room and do repair work after fishing all day.
“The ‘have to’ part of the industry — the have to fix the boat, the have to go run — has lost its luster. It’s just time to sell out,” he said of his 59-foot Miller Marine boat.
“It’s just time to turn over the reigns, the boat's in good shape and I’ve got a great business,” he added.
Capt. Phillip Blackburn took over the Backdown 2 on start day of the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, June 21. Blackburn is no stranger to the fishing community. Blackburn has run other boats along the harbor such as the party boat Destin Princess, Un Reel and Sea Fix.
“He’s been working for other people and this is a good chance for him to become an entrepreneur, his own boss,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis said he could have sold his boat for more money but it would have to leave Destin and the Backdown 2 has been part of the Destin fleet for 24 years.
“It’s a Destin boat. So not only will I get to sell it, but still see it because it’s going to stay here with a good young captain,” he said. “He’s an excellent fisherman, so anybody that goes on the Backdown 2 after I’m gone is not going to be disappointed. The Backkdown 2 tradition I feel will be in good hands."
But not to worry, Jarvis is not done fishing yet.
He is going to finish out the season fishing overnight trips with Blackburn and give his customers a chance to meet and fish with him, making the transition easier.
“I still have my health, but I want to spend the last part of my career doing what I wish I could have done early in my career — do the yacht boat thing, fish tournaments, do stuff that’s a little bit more fun,” he said. “The yacht job thing was glory and glamour, but never had any security to it, so I became an entrepreneur. I figured I can’t fire myself. So I became a charter fisherman.”
In his 40 years of fishing, Jarvis has brought in some huge hauls and won a lot of tournaments.
One of his biggest was an 846-pound tiger shark that won the Destin Shark Tournament back in 1979 while working as a deckhand with Capt. Tommy Green.
“That was a pretty spectacular day,” Jarvis said.
Green, who was captain of the Phoenix at the time, remembers it well.
Green said the shark was so big they had to drag it in the last 30 miles to the docks.
Over the course of Jarvis’ career he has won between $2 and $3 million and collected 11 first place tournament wins marlin fishing. Plus he’s won thousands of dollars cobia fishing, reeling in three over 100 pounds with his largest tipping the scales at 117 pounds.
“I’ve caught a lot of nice fish and won a lot of money … commercial fishing providing access to the consumer,” he said.
But his first love is blue water fishing for marlin and tuna.
“It’s all about the blue marlin,” said Jarvis, who’s caught a 744-pound and a600-plus-pound marlin before.
“Some people sit on the river bank two days waiting for the bell to ring or a little bite," Jarvis said. "That’s the way I am with the blue marlin. I don’t care how slow it is. I don’t care if I go 20 days in a row and don’t see one; I’m still going to get up the next day and go.
"Because when you’re out there you could get a 5-pound bite or a 1,000-pound bite," he added. "And when you get the 1,000-pound bite, there’s nothing like having a big fish on the end of the line. That’s just one of those motivations.”
In the past four decades, Jarvis has seen a lot of changes to the fishing industry.
“When I started in the business your only concern every day was what was the weather like, how long your trip was and if your guys were too hung-over from partying at AJ’s the night before, and where to go and what to catch,” he said.
But as regulations and fishing management came into effect, it changed how the fishermen marketed to the customers.
“Over time, we lost some of those customers as (fisheries) became more restricted,” Jarvis said.
Plus, the restrictions forced the captains to look at fishing in a new way and it kind of leveled the playing field.
“I went from crushing them every day to make myself look good to making sure the people had a great time, spending time on the water, catching a good amount of fish. So it just changed the focus,” he said. “When I became president of the Destin Charter Boat Association, I started to try focus on us becoming better business men to improve our ability to provide a good product.
“Right now the fleet is in about as good a shape as we’ve seen in a long time,” he said, noting the boats look nice and updated. “The guys are working hard.”
Although Jarvis said he will not be fully retired until his mayor term is up … he’s got plans.
“I want to spend as much time in the woods as I can,” he said. “I love to hunt and my wife (Pam) loves to hunt.”
He also has a booking business he’s looking to launch that will keep him tied to the charter industry.
“And being mayor will keep me really busy. I’m going to take the next three and a half years to heart now that I’ve got a little more time. I’ll step up to that political plate.”
But he’s looking forward to doing some more fishing.
“I’m still going to fish, I just don’t have to,” Jarvis said. “There’s a big difference between ‘want to’ and ‘have to’ … I’m going into the want to stage.
“I have nothing to prove if I don’t kill another fish in my lifetime, I got my fare share," he added. "I can go to my grave knowing that I’m in good shape. I got my quota of those poor little fishes. Many of them died a horrible death at my hand and I don’t feel guilty at all. And made a lot of people happy.”