Capt. Todd Allen of Big John says 'it's just time' to step away
After five decades of fishing, Capt. Todd Allen, whose roots run deep in the fishing village of Destin, will be fishing one last Destin Fishing Rodeo in October before putting the Big John up for sale.
Allen, 61, has been fishing out of Destin as long as he can remember.
As a matter of fact, when asked when he started fishing, his quick reply was when he was born.
Allen said he was about six months old when he went with his mother Dale Maltezo Allen on his grandfather’s boat, the Capt. Nick, a 63-foot wood boat.
Allen’s grandfather was Capt. Nick Maltezo, one of the early fishermen of Destin, who moored his boat in the same slip where Allen now has the Big John, on Destin harbor at 306 Harbor Boulevard just east of the Boathouse Oyster Bar.
The Maltezo family were shipbuilders who came to the United States from Greece in the late 1800s and later settled in Destin.
“My grandfather was running a boat out of here in 1912. My grandfather lived at the top of the hill with his two sisters and uncle Dave Marler lived over there,” he said pointing up the hill from his boat.
As for Allen, he’s been driving a boat out of the slip since 1985 and the Big John, a 52-foot G&S boat, since 1993.
Allen started fishing when he was about 10 or 11 years old and his first official deckhand job was with Capt. Bob Walters.
Over the years he worked with Capt. William Frank Davis and Capt. Kelly Windes. He ran the charter boat Daybreak for two years before Big John.
What has kept him going all these years?
“I’ve always loved fishing,” Allen said as he sat in the cabin the Big John. “Every day is different, so it’s kind of cool.
“And the people we’ve met through the years. I still have some people that have fished with me since 1985 … now their kids are chartering the boat,” he added.
But the thing he likes best about fishing is simple. “I like catching them. I like to kill them,” he said.
And his favorite type of fishing is for grouper and red snapper.
“He likes pounding the bottom,” said his deckhand, Brian Friend.
“I don’t like trolling too much. I’m too impatient … looking for one bite all day. If they are not biting let's move to another spot,” Allen said.
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The biggest grouper Allen has even been a part of catching was an 80.6-pounder pulled in by a doctor out of Niceville.
Allen has also left his mark in the grouper division of the Destin Fishing Rodeo over the years.
“I’ve won the grouper division about seven times … no telling how many times we’ve come in second,” he said.
His biggest Rodeo grouper was a 69.6-pounder, gutted, caught in the late 1990s.
And the largest red snapper he’s ever caught was a 36.6-pounder.
Allen said some of the best fishing was after Hurricane Opal in 1995.
“It was unbelievable fishing. You could go out there and catch groupers off the sea buoy. After Opal it was ugly good,” he said.
Who is Big John?
Big John was one of the first big G&S boats built by Buddy Gentry and Steve Sauer. It is a 1977 52-foot model and was the original Mollie.
Capt. Royal Melvin bought the boat and called it the SS Venture. He ran it for a few years and then Allen and Earl Hamilton bought the boat.
Allen named the boat after a friend of his that had died, Charles Johnson of Fort Walton Beach.
“He’d fished with me forever. He was a true big John,” Allen said, noting he stood about 6-foot-9 and weighed about 360 pounds.
Allen explained that Johnson had cancer and died in October of 1993 and he bought the boat in December and changed the name to Big John.
“People ask, ‘are you big John?’ No, I’m big Todd,” Allen said with a laugh.
Why sale now?
“It’s just time,” Allen said. “It’s a young man’s day now … with the two- and three-day trips.”
Plus, he doesn’t like sleeping on the Gulf, he said, noting he was a light sleeper.
“I like one trip a day. I want to go out the pass and come through the pass one time a day. But you got to do whatever it takes,” he said.
Allen said it’s not that he can’t do two trips a day, he just doesn’t want to any more.
He and his wife Barbara have property in Union Springs, Alabama, that they bought in 2003 and they have plans to move there.
Nevertheless, he’s not totally done with fishing.
“I’m not done fishing,” he said.
“If I want to go fishing next year and Tony (Capt. Tony Davis) calls me and says come run my boat for a couple of days, if I don’t want to, or got something to do, I don’t have to," Allen said. “I’m not giving up on the fishing part of it, but the ownership part of it.”
And Big John is currently in good shape.
“Everything is brand new,” Allen said.
He recently put in a new fuel tank, shafts, air conditioning, motors and generators.
"Everything has less than 300 hours on it … so it’s still under warranty. All someone has to do is come buy it and put some lipstick on it. It just needs a good paint job. We just ran out of time this year at dry dock,” he said.
“Whoever gets this boat, it's a solid one,” Allen added.
Allen said he would like to see the boat stay in Destin.
Allen is a little sentimental about the boat that he’s been at the helm of for 29 years.
“He notices everything on this boat … from a screw being loose. He knows the boat,” Friend said.
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“I’m pretty sure it will” be hard to say goodbye, Allen said.
In the last few weeks, he has already had three or four people express interest in the boat, some local and some from Orange Beach.
But until it sells, he’s going to keep fishing.
And his October, Rodeo month, should be one for the books.
Allen said after folks saw his post on Facebook about retiring his phone rang off the hook.
“I could have booked the 31st a million times,” he said, with people wanting to be the last ones to fish with him.
Allen said he has also had a lot of his old deckhands call and book trips in October.
“I hope it’s a pretty month,” Allen said.