Banachowicz keeping it safe on the water

Tina Harbuck

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the next few weeks leading up to the October Destin Fishing Rodeo, The Destin Log will be taking a look at some of the men that help ensure that folks fishing aboard the boats have a good time while hopefully pulling something over the rail.

For almost four decades, Tom Banachowicz has been keeping folks safe while fishing out of Destin.

“Making sure the people are safe. That’s my No. 1 job. And No. 2 is to every now and then catch a fish,” said the 58-year-old deckhand.

Banachowicz, who currently runs the deck aboard the Sure Lure with Capt. Don Dineen, has been on the back deck of many boats in Destin harbor. His longest stint was with the now-retired Capt. Tommy Browning on the Finest Kind. Banachowicz was with Browning for 29 years and eight months.

“He was a good mate, never late, always on time. I just depended on him and he was really good with people,” Browning said. “A mate has got just as much to do with making your business as the captain.

“We had some good times and caught some big fish. He’s a good fisherman and he always had his stuff together.”

However, the Finest Kind wasn’t his first boat.

“I’ve always fished,” said Banachowicz, who grew up fishing in Cinco Bayou and on the Navarre Pier. “I started fishing and never quit.”

His first deck handing gig was in 1979 with Capt. George Eller aboard the Bounty Hunter. And after a short stint, he worked with Capt. Joe Taylor on the Glory and then to the Rob-Roy with Capt. A.L. “Hoot” Hilpert.

While working with Hilpert, Banachowicz caught a 103-pound cobia in the old East Pass Tournament.

In 1982, he went to work with Capt. J.J. Ward on the Miss Betty, a privately owned boat.

“He’d drive and I’d rig the baits,” Banachowicz said.

He recalls winning the first Sandestin billfish tournament with a 607-pound blue marlin.

“The Miss Betty was a nice little rig … that boat raised fish,” Banachowicz said, noting that some boats make a certain noise that fish like.

Another boat he fished, and still does today, that has that “fish raising quality” is the Lucky 2.

As a matter of fact, Browning and Banachowicz were fishing the Lucky 2, owned by Leon Edwards, when they landed the biggest blue marlin ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico in 2001 — a 1,046-pounder that measured 15-feet long.

In 2002, they came close to setting an Alabama record with another big blue on the Lucky 2. They fought the marlin for almost seven hours and lost it under the boat.

“We caught a grander (the 1,046-pounder), it wasn’t as fat, but it was as big,” Banachowicz said, noting it was between 900 and 980 pounds.

In 2016, with Capt. Tommy Green at the helm of the Lucky 2, Banachowicz had a hand in landing a 112-pound wahoo that set a new record in the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic at Sandestin.

Banachowicz has fished with several of the guys in the fishing fleet; however, he says he learned the most from John Curr.

“He’s the guy who taught me how to marlin fish,” he said, noting he worked for Hilpert before he did.

“He just pointed me in the right direction and I pretty much learned the rest of it by myself by trial and error.”

Like most deckhands, Banachowicz’s day starts early. He gets up at 3:45 a.m. and is at the boat most morning’s just minutes after 4.

“I get here before most of the guys … I don’t party no more. It’s come to work,” he said.

He ices the boat down, makes sure they have plenty of bait and that all the tackle is ready to go.

As for what time he finishes up, “It depends on how many fish I’ve got to clean,” he said.

Nevertheless, Banachowicz said “I’m a whole lot quicker, I’m more efficient … I’ve figured it out. No wasted motion.”

Banachowicz has seen many changes over the years when it comes to fishing; the biggest though has been “rules.”

“It went from no rules to now we have rules. Rules for fish sizes and when you can catch them. It used to be ‘He who knew how to fish caught fish,’ ” he said.

With all the electronics on boats today, fishing has lost some of the challenge, he said.

But the thing he likes most about working the back deck is being with the people.

“I’m a people guy,” Banachowicz said. “I like working with the people. We get to have fun.

“When I drive the boat it drives me nuts,” he added

Banachowicz got his captains license in 1982, and sometimes drives the boat, but has never really wanted his own boat.

“It’s too much responsibility. I like going places,” he said.

And as soon as Oct. 25 rolls around he’s headed to the woods to go hunting.

But he’s not giving up on fishing.

“My body will tell me when it’s done,” Banachowicz said. “I’m not done yet, there’s still something else to do, not sure what it is. But there is always another fish to be caught.”