RODEO RECORD: Capt. Kelly Windes and crew haul in 'freak of nature' grouper

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Editor's Note: The Destin Fishing Rodeo, Destin's longest running tradition, will be celebrating 73 years this October. In the last few weeks, The Log has looked back at some of the fish that hold down Rodeo Records, and the fish to beat for this year's fishing tournament. Here’s the last of the six.

Rodeo record — Grouper, 70.2 pounds 

When you catch so many big fish, it’s hard to remember which one was which. But Capt. Kelly Windes can. 

“We caught five in the 70-pound range over the years — don't remember which was which,” Windes said.

But once he heard the name of the angler, Bill Smith out of Covington Georgia, he said, “I remember him.” 

In 1993, Capt. Kelly Windes and his crew hauled in a 70.2 pound grouper to set a record at the Destin Fishing Rodeo. Standing from left are Capt. Windes, angler Bill Smith of Covington, Georgia, and deckhand Pat Meyers.

And the fish tale was on about how Smith pulled in the 70.2-pound grouper in 1993 that set a Destin Fishing Rodeo record. 

“We caught him on a big speedo minnow — live bait,” Windes said. “We were actually catching big amberjacks way up in the water … and the fish hit. It almost ran back in the bottom.”  

Pat Meyers, who now captains the Only Way, was his deckhand on the Sunrise back then. Meyers worked on the deck of the Sunrise for 10 years. “He didn’t miss a day,” Windes said. 

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“I remember when the fish floated up in the back. Pat said, ‘You're going to like this one,’ ” Windes said. "I looked over there and it was a damn freak of nature grouper. I remember that fish.”  

Windes said it only took about 15 minutes or so for Smith to reel it in on the 6-ought. They were fishing down south of Pensacola. 

“The only reason we caught it was we were way up in the water amberjack fishing … he couldn’t go back in the wreck,” Windes said.

“A grouper that big, you rarely catch him on the bottom. He was a nice fish,” he added. 

Windes has been part of some big catches over the years. 

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In 1985 they caught the world record red snapper that held for about 10 years, at 46 pounds, 8 ounces. 

That same year he and Steve Haeusler, now captain of the First Light, hauled in a massive 436-pound 12-ounce Warsaw grouper that is still listed as a world record. 

Windes won his share of Rodeo accolades, winning captain of the year on numerous occasions. 

In 2012 he was named the Rodeo’s Captain of the Year with the most points for his big catches, including an 87.4- and 85-pound amberjack. 

As for that day when they landed the Rodeo record grouper, 70.2 pounds, Windes said they caught some big amberjack, but nothing big enough for the board that day. 

“But we had a good trip … a good box of fish,” he said.