Destin’s No. 1 fishing fan: Tom Milliren, of Pace, is like family for party boat crews

Tina Harbuck
Tom Milliren loves party boat fishing.

If the party boat Destiny or Destin Princess is going out fishing — so is Tom Milliren.

Milliren, who is a retired Navy serviceman and now makes his home in Pace, fishes every chance he gets on either one of the party boats that dock at Fishing Fleet Marina in Destin.

The 60-year-old figures he's already logged about 120 trips this year between the two boats.

"Fishing has always been a passion of mine. My dad took me as young as I can remember," he said.

Milliren's been fishing in and out of Destin for the past 40 years.

He fished in the area while he was stationed in Pensacola from 1975-1978, and then his parents turned into Destin Snowbirds and he would come and visit them and fish.

In 2008 he and his wife Jodi bought a house in Pace and would come down two weeks at a time. However two weeks turned into two months.

"This August we pulled the trigger and made the move," he said.

But it was about two or three years ago when he started getting serious about his passion for fishing. He's been dropping a line almost daily ever since.

"The people at the docks would see me every eight-hour trip they'd have," Milliren said. "They are becoming much like family to me. They put in a lot of time and effort."

And the feeling is mutual.

Capt. Chris McConnell of the Destiny said, "He's just become part of the crew … part of the family. But he still goes out of his way to be a customer," McConnell said, noting he insists on always paying.

McConnell said he comes over early, marks his spot on the back of the boat, and then tries to catch a few pinfish off the docks to have for live bait ready for the trip.

"He's pretty easy-going and just loves being on the water," McConnell said.

Milliren says he likes the eight-hour trips the best, because of the time spent to make the trek to Destin from Pace. He notes it almost takes about an hour and 15 to 30 minutes to get here.

As a matter of fact, in October for the Destin Fishing Rodeo, Milliren just got a motel room in Destin for the entire month.

"I went every day," he said, except for the week that the tropical storm was expected to blow through.

 He even got on the daily leaderboard and finished with a first place dolphin in the Offshore Division of the Rodeo.

"I just love the challenge of fishing," he said. "You never know what's going to be on the end of that line — a ruby lip or a sailfish ..." he said. "You never know what Neptune is going to put on the end of the hook."

The biggest fish he's ever caught was a 347 1/2 pound blue marlin when he lived in Hawaii.

But out of Destin he's landed a 70-pound sailfish off the Destiny a couple of weeks ago and about a 60-pound grouper back in March.

He released both.

"Both went back to Neptune for the breeding process," he said.

Milliren said he used to own a boat when he lived in Hawaii, but he has no plans to do that again.

"I know what BOAT stands for," he said, "Bring Out Another Thousand," he laughingly said, referring to the high cost of maintenance and fuel.

"The party boat captains know where the fish are," he continued. "And you don't have to worry about a thing … everything is provided" — from bait, rods and licenses.

At the end of the day, whether he's caught fish or not, he tells the captains and crew, "It was a great day."

"And I honestly mean that to the guys. They consider me family and I them."

Before the end of the year, which is nearing quickly, Milliren figures he will have gone out 140 times.

"They have me on speed dial" down at the booking booth, he said, noting he only needs about an hour and a half lead time to make the trip in to Destin — but not without the okay from his wife.

"I always ask for permission and I always get it," he said. "She knows it's my passion and she supports it."