Hayles makes move from deck to captains chair

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Sometimes when opportunity comes knocking, it’s good to answer the door.

And for Eric Hayles, who’s worked the deck on some of Destin’s finest for more than 20 years, he answered the door and is now running the Misa. The Misa is a 1997 60-foot Blackwell that is docked on the Destin harbor behind Harbor Docks Restaurant.

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"The boat is equipped to do everything,“ Hayles said. “We’ll do anything from short half day family trips, to all day bottom fishing offshore trips, to two- and three-day trips.”

Hayles, 40, pretty much grew up on the docks.

“I’ve fished my whole life. My father (Capt. Ricky Hayles) did it and I’ve done it since I was a child,” Hayles said.

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After getting a degree in finance from Florida State University he came back home and has been fishing ever since.

“You know that’s pretty much all I’ve done,” he said.

Hayles said fishing help to pay his way through college.

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“I never really had any intentions on leaving Destin,” he said, noting that when he got out of school he came back to Destin and worked with Capt. Mark Hanshaw on the Summer Wind.

“I could go to work for him and make twice as much working with my degree ... so that’s what I did, been doing it ever since.”

From Hanshaw, Hayles moved over to work with Capt. Robert Hill on the Twilight for seven or eight years, then the oil spill hit and that was end of that, he said. While fishing with Hill, Hayles helped to reel in the 844-pound mako during the 2007 the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Hayles did a year of freelance work before going to work with Capt. Mike Eller on the Lady Em. During his time with Eller, he tournament fished with Capt. Jeff Shoults on the Mollie. As part of the Mollie team, he helped to fight blue marlin for up to 13 hours.

“Then I got the opportunity to jump over and run this boat,” Hayles said, referring to the Misa.

Brad Cole of Georgia, who has fished out of Destin for more than 40 years with the likes of Capt. Tommy Browning and Capt. Kelly Windes, bought the boat and hired Hayles on as captain at the recommendation of Shoults.

“He’s had a boat for years and just wanted to be part of the charter industry in Destin,” Shoults said.

Cole purchased the boat in Virginia.

“Eric was the right guy to take over and run it for him ... it’s going to work out fantastic for him,” Shoults said.

Around the end of January, Shoults and Hayles went up to Virginia and brought the boat back, 1,400 miles in four days.

The Misa, which is named after Cole’s wife Melissa, is loaded full of amenities from leather couches in the salon, to a set of bunk beds, to a full size bed and two bathrooms. It also has TV, stove and refrigerator.

“It has everything you could imagine. It’s set up nice,” Hayles said.

When asked if he ever thought he’d be running a boat this nice, Hayles said he wasn’t sure.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve had so much fun deckhanding all these years,” he said. “I never thought I’d quit what I was doing. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some really good guys and good money. I never had a reason to leave it. But it’s a great opportunity and I’m happy to have it.”

Hayles has had his captains licenses for almost 20 years and Eller would sometimes let him run the boat.

“I got to the point where I’m older and it’s wearing on me, I needed to do something,” Hayles said.

Shoults said the Misa will be an “upscale boat” with its leather couches. Plus it’s fast, topping out at 40 knots.

Although the boat is open for charter, the boat will also be available for those who want to go and spend time at Crab Island.

"We see the trend of fishing going more toward entertainment and the families ... you’ve got to do whatever they want,“ Shoults said.

“We’re offering it all,” Hayles said.

As a matter of fact, Hayles has already run a few trips on the Misa, despite the COVID-19. And he has no plans to hang up his rod and reel any time soon.

What keeps him on the water?

“Just a passion for being out there and enjoying it,” Hayles said.

“For me and through my deck-handing career it just always seemed there was something new that kept me interested,” he said, from bottom fishing to going offshore and fishing the rigs to live-baiting for blue marlin. “There was always just something around the corner that kept me wanting to come back for more. I still haven’t found any reason to quit.

“I hope to do it for a while ... mind, soul and body permitting, I will,” he said.