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Destin charter boat captains say can't get time back lost to COVID-19

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Although Destin charter boat captains had a good red snapper season, some say it didn't make up for days lost in the spring to COVID-19.

Deckhand Justin Taylor on the charter boat Destination with Capt. Stan Phillips cleans up one of the many red snapper catches this past season. Destin charters had 62 days to land snapper.

"We lost 32 days," said Capt. Mike Graef of the charter boat Huntress. "You never make that up. We were going to run every day during snapper season. It's the days before and the days after ... you don't make them up. It's like a big storm, you don't make those up either."

PHOTOS: Fishing aboard the Huntress

The 62 day red snapper season just wrapped up on Aug. 1 for federally permitted charter boats, which is the majority of the Destin charter boats. For many of the fleet, they ran two trips a day, which is not unusual during the summer snapper season.

"What's lost is lost," said Aaron Smith, owner and deckhand of the Sea Fix. "You're not going to make that up, no matter how many doubles you run."

Smith said the Sea Fix had a busier than usual June and August is shaping up nicely as well. 

"It seems like our August is better than it has been in the past," Smith said, noting they are booked through the 20th. 

As for the Huntress, "We had a decent snapper season ... and we're about where we usually are in August," Graef said, noting some charters are already slowing down. 

Capt. Chris Kirby on the Backlash said he had a great snapper season.

"That's probably one of the best snapper seasons we had in a while," Kirby said.

As for days lost in the spring, "We can't make them up but we're here and grinding it out either way," Kirby said. "People are here and showing up. As long as it stays the way it is, we'll be good to go."

Capt. Tyler Brielmayer on the Nothin Matters is having a good August thus far, following a big snapper season.

"Snapper helped ... it made it break about even, made it a little profitable," Brielmayer said.

Brielmayer said the spring is usually how they make up for the winter time.

"We're doing way better than we were earlier this spring," he said Monday afternoon, noting they are still pulling a lot of doubles each day on the Gulf.

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For Capt. Cliff Cox of the party boat Sweet Jody, he said "snapper always helps."

"We're always busy in the summer, snapper or no snappers. People are going to be here for the summer no matter what," Cox said.

Although Cox said they had a "good season," he's been running his vessel at 50 percent since the middle of May.

"I could have filled the boat up, but I felt the right thing to do was keep it at 50 percent," he said, adding they have turned people away every day. "I just felt like since restaurants were forced to do that, I felt like we should too. I think people felt better about it on the boat ... people loved it."

However, "the bottom line didn't love it. We lost a lot of money. Until things are better than they are, we're not going to do it," he added.