'She's the real deal': You can bet on Bettinger, no fooling

TINA HARBUCK
Capt. Casey Weldon chats with Alyssa Bettinger on the docks after a morning of fishing. Captain says she has one of the best work ethics.

While most kids were sleeping late during their summer vacation, Destin's Alyssa Bettinger was up and boarding the boat almost every day at 5 a.m.

Bettinger, a 15-year-old sophomore at Fort Walton Beach High, spent her summer vacation working as second mate aboard the Fish N Fool with Capt. Casey Weldon and her cousin, first mate and captain, Wayne Riles.

"She has a natural instinct about fishing," said Capt. Weldon. "She makes the trip go smooth and answers the customers' questions in an adult way."

Bettinger, the daughter of Joe and Mary Lynn Bettinger, has been fishing since she was about 3 months old. Her first trip was on a center console boat fishing about 57 miles offshore with the family.

Although she can't remember her first fish, Bettinger has caught many over the years.

"We caught our first sailfish this summer; that was cool," she said. And as tradition has it, when an angler or deckhand gets their first billfish, they get tossed in the water. "I got tossed when we got back."

Bettinger started on the Fish N Fool by washing the boat for her cousin Wayne about three years ago. And then last year she was invited to go fishing on the boat and she just evolved into working as a second mate.

This summer was her second to work the deck with Wayne.

"I help to coach 'em up and teach them how to work the rod and reel, and help them to catch fish," she said.

"She’s good at the little things," Capt. Weldon said. "She's good at talking to the customers … it’s all about having fun."

As a matter of fact, Weldon says his customers love her.

"She's a dream come true… and she's good with the kids," Weldon said.

Bettinger said she got a few funny looks at first, because typically deckhands are guys.

"But it all works out in the end when they realize I know what I'm doing," she said.

"Wayne trained her since day one, and he's phenomenal too," Weldon said.

And when Wayne is off marlin fishing or fishing a tournament, "she runs the whole show on the deck," Weldon said.

"She's the real deal. She has one of the best work ethics I've seen," he added.

And the teenage girl loves being on the boat.

"I just like being out on the water and meeting new people," she said. "It's a good job to have."

In addition to working the deck on the Fish N Fool, she has also fished with Capt. Mike Eller on the Lady Em, Capt. T.J. George on the Daybreak, Capt. Ben O'Connor aboard the 100 Proof, and Capt. Bernie LeFebvre on the Windwalker II.

"I really look up to Capt. Harold (Staples)," she said. "He has always supported me … he's a great all around guy and I'd love to fish with him.

"They are all great guys down there," Bettinger said.

"They've (Capt. Weldon and Wayne) taught me so much. They are good people to look up to."

And her dad couldn't be more proud of her.

"She knows what she's doing because of those two guys," Joe Bettinger said.

The only drawback Alyssa sees in her job is the sometime long hours, noting 12-hour trips or two or three fishing trips in a day. But even the hours don't scare her away.

"I get up at 4:30 a.m. and I have to be there at 5 o'clock pretty much. But it's all good," she said.

So getting up for school — no problem.