'Great trips, great month' - Phillips lands Rodeo Captain of the Year

Tina Harbuck
Capt. Reid Phillips of the Destin Princess was named Party Boat Captain of the Year for this year's Destin Fishing Rodeo.

He joined the Navy in hopes of being on the water, but it took becoming a fisherman to spend real time on the water.

“I was in the Navy for four years and I never got to see a boat,” Capt. Reid Phillips said. But now he spends most every day on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico doing what he loves best — fishing.

And just last month, Phillips and his crew aboard the Destin Princess spent at least 20 days on the water pulling in award winning fish, capturing Party Boat Captain of the Year honors in the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“I got into fishing … just for the love of the water and fishing,” said the 42-year-old.

Phillips and the Destin Princess crew finished up the month-long fishing tournament, Destin’s oldest tradition, claiming 11 spots on the leader board.


Although he remembers them all, the two rodeo fish that stick out the most are a grouper caught by his mother, Mary Kay Phillips, and an Almaco Jack caught on the last day of the rodeo by Tom Milliren.

After Phillips just about had to talk his mother into going fishing, she landed a board-breaking catch.

In 4-foot seas, he looked down and saw her rod bent over.

“She was hootin’ and hollerin’,” Phillips said.

The crew knew she had something big, but they were surprised to see a 36.2-pound grouper pop up.

Reid said his mother was so excited, that she was still shaking 15 minutes after they got the fish on board. Her catch finished up in first place.

As for the Almaco, Phillips said they targeted them on the last day.

“I knew that big Almaco was waiting for us,” he said.

However, when Milliren hooked into the fish, he thought it was an amberjack and was fixing to cut it loose when deckhand Andrew Ready identified it as an Almaco.

“Andrew saw it and gaffed it,” Reid said. The fish topped out at 33.8 pounds for first place on the board.

“I can remember every fish that we caught that was on that board this year. I can remember where we were, when it was, who it was and what the conditions were,” Reid said.

“We had some great trips … a great month,” he said.

Phillips said they have been able to keep grouper all year long, but had only caught one. But in October they caught 15 gag grouper. The Destin Princess crew also had only caught one wahoo during the year, but then pulled in 13 during October.

“It was just amazing at how it worked out … just karma I guess,” he said.

“I’m going to do the best for my customers. Not only to catch rodeo fish, but just good fish all month. And I couldn’t have done it without Mike, Andrew and Aaron. The mates make all the difference in the world,” he said.

Phillips said they caught three of the biggest king mackerel they have ever caught, 26, 33 and 36 pounds, all in one day with 40 people fishing. “We couldn’t have done it with out them,” he said giving credit to his deckhands.


Phillips, like most captains, got his start on the deck as well.

After growing up in Tallahassee and a stint in the Navy, Phillips moved to Destin in the mid-90s. He got his feet wet working with the guys on the Sweet Jody and Capt. Cliff Cox.

His first mate job was aboard the charter boat Mary Lou where he stayed for about two years, before moving over to the Lady K for a year.

In 2004, Phillips started party boat fishing and worked the deck on the Destiny. In 2010 he took over as captain aboard the Destin Princess, a 65-foot catamaran party boat that can fish 42 folks.

“I loved being on the deck … I liked being with the people,” he said.

But Phillips admits it takes a “different” kind of guy to be a deckhand and dealing with all the personalities.

“You can’t make them all happy, but you try to work around their quirks and make them happy,” he said.

“We had a great crew,” Phillips said. With Capt. Cliff Atwell at the helm of the Destiny, Phillips worked along side Trey Windes, J.J. Brumble and Groovy (Craig Davis).

“That was one of the funniest times on the deck,” he said. “We were all upbeat.”

However, he jumped over to the Destin Princess and the next level, the captain’s chair.

“Being a captain wears you out,” he said, noting you have to be thinking all the time.

“I’m stressing over … are they having a good time, are they catching fish and being safe.”


After four years of rodeo fishing, Phillips has earned the title of Party Boat Captain of the Year with 217 points which come from daily entries and place holders on the leader board.

“It makes me happy for my customers and my guys … that they get some notoriety for the work they put forth,” Phillips said.

“Just happy to be there and feel fortunate just to get to go fishing.”

“And there is nothing I’d rather do than make a living on the water. We had a blast. It was a wonderful month.”

Charter Boat Mates Awards

• Largest King Mackerel Charter, 48.4 pounds, Craig “Groovy” Davis, charter boat Huntress

• Largest Wahoo Charter, 51.8 pounds, Eric “Turtle” Cornish, charter boat Big John

• Largest Grouper Charter, 55.2 pounds, Caleb Brown, charter boat Fifth Amendment

• Most Tagged Billfish Charter, 5, Aaron “S.J.” Smith, charter boat Sea Fix.

For Reel Photos Captain of the Year Awards

• Charter Boat Captain of the Year, Capt. Mike Graef, charter boat Huntress

• Party Boat Captain of the Year, Capt. Reid Phillips, party boat Destin Princess

• Charter Boat under 25 Captain of the Year, Capt. Scotty Whitehurst, charter boat On the Bite

• Private Boat Captain of the Year, Capt. Daryl Carpenter, private vessel Cari Lynd

• Private Boat under 25 Captain of the Year, Capt Trenny Woodham and Capt. Dwaine Spencer, private vessel Green Machine