Capt. Chris McConnell is back on the water fishing in an Au Sum new ride
After working the deck for more than a decade and even sitting in the captain’s chair a few years, Capt. Chris McConnell is back on the water with a new ride, Au Sum.
The 1990, 45-foot Hatteras, Au Sum (pronounced awesome) is named after his two daughters, Autumn and Summer. And instead of a hyphen to separate the two names, his wife Kasey designed a pink hairbow to represent the girls.
McConnell, now 32, got his start on the docks working aboard the Sweetheart, which was owned by the Windes family. He went from there to work three years aboard the Sweet Jody with Capt. Cliff Cox and then to the party boat Destiny. He actually wound up driving the Destiny and working some on the Destin Princess as well.
He later filled in for former Okaloosa County Commission Kelly Windes during Windes' last full-time year as captain of the Sunrise.
“I spent a year with him, relieving him when he had commissioner things to do,” McConnell said.
Then he took a year off from fishing and moved the family to Paxton, where they bought a 23-acre farm.
“I like the space we have up there,” he said, noting his wife has a degree in horticulture and it gives her the chance to do that kind of work.
He said they have about 15 cows. They also planted about 6 acres of produce, including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and zucchini. McConnell said they even experimented with growing corn.
But fishing was in his blood, and he was ready to get back on the water.
“I’d spent some time away from it and realized it’s kind of a part of me that I can’t get rid of. … I realized how much I missed it,” he said.
McConnell bought the Au Sum, which was called All In previously, from a man in Pensacola.
“He had chartered it in Destin and I was actually going to be the for-hire captain on it, but then when the COVID thing started, they decided they wanted to get rid of it,” McConnell said.
“Luckily for me and my wife, all the ducks lined up just right where we could get into business for ourselves finally, after all this time,” he said, noting they bought the boat in May 2020.
McConnell ran the boat out of Heron Harbor last summer and did well, running many six-hour trips.
This year he renamed the boat Au Sum and has docked it at Destin Fishing Fleet Marina where he started out.
As for the boat's name, McConnell said he came up with the idea a few years back while driving the Destiny. Plus, he said he was inspired by longtime Capt. Harold Staples and the Al-Lin, which is named after his two children, Allen and Lindley.
McConnell said people like the name but don’t realize the significance until he tells them the story.
“Then it’s like … 'ah, that’s cool,' ” he said.
In addition to a cool name, the six-passenger boat has an air conditioned cabin, complete with refrigerator and a fresh water system for the showers and sinks. It sleeps six comfortably for those overnight trips and holds 600 gallons of fuel.
"We anticipate a great year,” McConnell said, noting he is already fishing. “We do whatever kind of fishing people want to do.
“We’ll do bottom fishing, some mackerel fishing, even some offshore fishing,” he added, noting he is looking to incorporate a few overnight trips in the near future.
And they’ve got the tackle to do most any kind of fishing folks want.
As for the kind of fishing McConnell likes, it's bottom fishing.
"It keeps my mind busy up there. Keeps me thinking about what the fish are doing,” he said.
One of the biggest fish McConnell has been a part of catching was an 80-pound black grouper on the Sunrise with Capt. Windes.
“It was the first one I’d seen (a grouper) that big,” McConnell said.
He also remembers it well because Capt. Windes got fired up about it, thinking it might be a state record. However, it fell short.
But the thing McConnell likes best about fishing is seeing the people get excited.
"Seeing somebody that’s never seen an 8- or 10-pound red snapper pull one over the rail, and be in awe of how it looks and how it fought. Seeing the excitement that people get, catching a nice fish like that … definitely makes all the long hours worth it, including the work on the boat to make sure they are having a good time,” he said.
For McConnell to make that happen, he has to be on the road by 4 a.m. to make the hour drive to Destin.
"But it’s worth it,” he said.