‘Papa Joy’: Destin loses a touchstone to its fishing heritage


Capt. Joy Dunlap, one of the Emerald Coast's pioneering saltwater flyfishing fishermen, died Sept. 24, 2013, in Alabaster, Ala.

Dunlap moved to Destin in 1970, after he retired from the Air Force. He passes on as one of the renowned rod builders in Florida and the south.

The bomber and fighter pilot had pretty much fished his whole life, but the Gulf of Mexico was an eye-opener.

In a 2006 interview with the Daily News, Dunlap recalled his first local flyfishing catch decades ago.

Back when Crab Island was actually an island sticking out of the water, Dunlap anchored his skiff near its shore and started flicking a fly.

A few casts later the fight was on. Twenty minutes after that, a 20-pound redfish came along side.

"That kind of settled it for me," he said. "It's really the best way to fish.”

He was a guide, owned a charter boat, helped establish the first local flyfishing club, became the International Game Fish Association's official area representative and built rods of all sorts. Nicknamed "Papa Joy" by his fellow members of the Destin Flyrodders, Dunlap’s favorites, of course, were fly rods and his specialty split-bamboo.

Dunlap built fly rods for First Lady Laura Bush, actor Robert Redford and former Oakland Raiders quarterback Kenny "the Snake" Stabler.

Fishing wasn't Dunlap's only involvement with the community in Destin. He sat on the boards of several organizations, including the YMCA and Destin History and Fishing Museum.

But, fishing was the reason he moved to the Emerald Coast. From spotted seatrout in Choctawhatchee Bay to pompano in the surf to tunas nearshore, the captain tangled with them all using fly rods. In fact, tunas and jack crevalle were his favorites to catch because of their strength and tenacious character.

In 2006, The Dunlaps took advantage of Destin's hot real estate market to sell their home and move inland.

It was tough to leave a place where he had worked and lived and fished for more than three decades, but Destin had grown up and Dunlap missed the humble fishing village.

Now with Dunlap gone, the once humble fishing village has lost another piece of its heritage.

Godspeed, Captain.

To watch a video about Joy Dunlap’s World War II military service on a B-17, go to:

Read Dunlap's obituary at: