DESTIN’S DEADLIEST CATCH: Destin fishermen have a few tales of their own to tell

Tina Harbuck and Jessie Coker
Capt. Jimmy Miles, Rodeo Weighmaster Bruce Cheves and Capt. Harold Staples

Face to face with Jaws

It's been more than 30 years since Capt. Jimmy Miles came face to face with about a 12-foot shark, but he recalls it like it was yesterday.

Miles, 59, like a lot of Destin captains was out working in the oil fields when he was younger, about 25, on a 100-foot crew boat.

It was slow this particular day and they were tied off. Miles said he had already caught about three 30-pound amberjack and had tried to catch another one when "something grabs it and spools me. Bam …. it breaks off the end of the line."

Miles said he wrapped up some more line and was fishing away when he got another big hit. "I try to stop it and it breaks me off," he said. "Half my line is gone again."

Thinking it was a big amberjack, Miles decided to get his snorkel and fins and check it out.

Armed with a makeshift spear he made from stuff he found on the vessel, Miles jumped in.

"I'm swimming along with my spear and all of a sudden I look up and here it comes … it's a giant shark," Miles said. "He's coming straight at me.

"I'm about 10-feet down and here he comes. Full grown hardtails, about 20 of them, following his tail.

"The shark came about 5 or 6 feet from me, then it just turned," Miles said.

At that point, Miles said he swam to the back of the boat and started yelling "hey, there's a shark in here."

When the crew finally heard him, they didn't believe the shark tale.

"I got the 6 ought out now and found some wire and put it on the hook … took one of those 30-pound jacks and hooked it in the nose," Miles said. The crew questioned what he was doing.

"I said I told you there's a shark down there," he said.

He tossed the amberjack out for bait, then "boop!”

“Half of it was gone just like that," he said.

Miles got the rest of the jack and threw it out again. He put it in gear and handed it off to his co-worker Rusty. Seconds later, Rusty was yelling and line was flying out.

"We had it on," Miles said, of what he figured to be a mackerel shark.

They awakened the rest of the crew and fired up the engines.

"We've got to chase this fish down," he said. "So we're chasing this fish one hour, two hours, three hours. Taking turns on the rod. There's four of us on the boat. After an hour you're whipped … so the next guy would take over."

Going on the eighth hour, "we've done nothing but go around the rig," Miles said.

On the ninth hour, they had to turn the engines off and just walk around the boat with him.

At this point, it was dark but they put the flood lights on. Then the shark made its move.

"It came rolling straight at us and spinning around," Miles said.

On the 12th hour, the line got caught on something and broke off.

"It was well over 12-foot long when I saw him," Miles said.

When it was all said and done, the oil rig folks never called them to go to work that day, even though they had put in a full day of shark chasing.

Beware of the wahoo

When it comes to fishing, most fish that come aboard are reeled in over the side. But, every so often one comes in uninvited.

Such was the case aboard the Wyn Song about 15 years ago with Capt. Harold Staples at the helm.

"We were out fishing a tournament and we were going along at 26 knots in a big ole lazy ground swell rolling along when all of a sudden I was standing at the wheel and I saw something coming at me," Staples said.

"I threw my arms up like this," he said as he relived the incident. "And it hit me in the chest and it hit my boss man.

"It fell at our feet," Staples said. "It scared the boss. He kicked it."

At that point they still didn't know exactly what it was.

"It had knocked me back in the chair. The boat rolled up on a wave and he slid and he was just about to go overboard when his nose caught the pipe … and he went down and landed in the cockpit … BLAM!”

"Then the boat rolled the other way and he slid all the way across the deck and his nose got stuck in the scupper," Staples said. "It was about a 30-pound wahoo."

Capt. Staples said that's the only wahoo he's ever had jump and fly through the wheelhouse on him.

"Them things have been known to jump 30 to 40 feet in the air," Staples said, remembering how Capt. David Windes, years ago, had a wahoo jump and land in the open fly bridge on his boat.

As for the one that jumped through the wheelhouse on Staples, he said the fish must have been jumping at a bait. Wahoo are known to strike a surface bait hard. And they have a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Staples tells the story of some guys who were out tuna fishing offshore and were pulling one in when a wahoo followed the tuna up and bit one of the guys in the face.

"Wahoo are a dangerous creature, but they are beautiful and wonderful to eat. They are the cat's meow.”

An adventure in ‘rude weather’

Bruce Cheves is never at a loss for words when it comes to fish tales, but pulling one out of his 36 years fishing in Destin was easier said than done.

Although most fishing trips are meant to be leisurely, relaxing trips, Cheves remembers one trip that was the complete opposite.

"Many years ago, probably 25 or so…" Cheves begins. "It was my last trip out on the Heavy Set; the seas were hitting from 12 to 18 feet high."

Cheves goes on to say, that the fishing didn't even start until about 320 miles offshore.

All the other longline captains had decided they were going to head on in because the weather was just going to keep getting worse. But his captain stood his ground and said, “I'm fishing” — and he did.

"The 6th day is when it got really bad," said Cheves. "The seas were as high as 18 feet, but the fish were biting, and they were biting well."

But they had to dodge giant waves to bring them in.

Cheves told The Log it’s an unspoken rule of sorts, watching each other’s back — especially during trips like this one.

"If you are seeing a big old wave coming, and your buddy doesn't, well you just grab onto him, grab onto the boat railing and he instinctively knows to brace himself and spider out on the deck so he doesn't get carried off."

Cheves said that this trip, which totaled 11 days, was some of the best fishing he's ever experienced, but it was also the "most rude weather" he's ever experienced.

After the trip was over, and Cheves and the others made their way to the East Pass, Cheves said they all walked funny for two or so days, trying to compensate for something that wasn't there anymore — the extreme seas.

"Many people will know what I'm talking about when I say that," said Cheves. “It's like losing your sea legs, then finding them, and losing them again.”

Cheves will tell more stories like this one as he becomes the mouthpiece for the 65th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo, which begins in October.

"This might not be the Bering Sea, but we've all got our stories and all of the different waterways have their stories and rhythms. This is not a job, this is a lifestyle. Many have tried, but very few have succeeded," Cheves concluded. "It's not scary, it's an adventure.”