Weighmaster Amberjack: Former Miss Destin finds her perfect job
If there was ever a job designed for a person, fishing tournament coordinator for the Summer Slam is like it was drawn up just for Amber Helton.
Helton, 32, who grew up on the fishing docks and is a former Miss Destin, is back on the docks every day serving as the weighmaster for the Boathouse Oyster Bar Summer Slam, and she loves it.
“I wake up every morning and say ... I’m touching fish today,” Helton said with a smile on her face.
Helton was hired as events coordinator by the Boathouse in late fall but she was still teaching preschool. Once school ended in May, she came on full time at the Boathouse.
“And it could not have been a more perfect event for my first event as the event coordinator for the Boathouse than an entire summer long fishing tournament,” she said. “I love it.”
The Summer Slam started June 1 and goes through Aug. 9 with weigh ins daily at the Boathouse from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. The Summer Slam is a boat tournament with just three species — red snapper and grouper are available now and amberjack opens on Aug. 1.
Although it’s just a three-species tournament, it has a junior and ladies division as well as a Pounder’s Division. Plus the boats are divided by federal, state and private boats.
In the Pounder’s Division, each boat can weigh two of each eligible species per trip. In other words, two snapper and two grouper.
"Without the Pounder’s Division I probably wouldn’t be weighing as many fish,“ Helton said. “I’m like their little cheerleader ... it’s 3 pounds don’t be embarrassed, every ounce counts.”
Capt. Cliff Cox of the Sweet Jody said Helton was “a little firecracker.”
“She gets on to me if I don’t bring her one ... she says every pound counts,” Cox said.
Helton gets to the docks every day about 10:30 a.m. and gets the scales set up and ready for the day.
To be eligible to weigh a fish, the boats have to be through the pass by 7 p.m.
“They have to call and let me know ... kind of like the Rodeo,” Helton said.
By the time she weighs in the last fish of the day, put the numbers in the computer, update the leaderboard, and take down the scales, her day finishes up a little after 8 p.m.
And it’s an every day schedule. She does have a few volunteers here and there that help out.
“But I don’t want to miss it ... it’s like my thing,” Helton said.
She said the captains that are entered in the tournament call or text when they will be coming in. They either back in at the Boathouse or she meets them at their dock with her handy fish cart, that bares her title “Weigh Master Amberjack”.
“I offer courtesy pick up and drop back off ... and I’m hustling back and forth,” she said.
Helton said the boat captains are really getting into the tournament, sending pictures and asking what they have to beat.
The biggest thing she’s weighed thus far was a 150-pound swordfish, which was a courtesy weigh, something weighmaster Bruce Cheves often does during the October Destin Fishing Rodeo each year.
When asked if she’d be up for taking over for Cheves she said, “I don’t have as cool of stories as far as catching the fish ... and the unique species of the fish. I need a little more under my belt before that.”
And if you’ve ever been to the Destin Fishing Rodeo, Cheves is known for his catchphrase: “Bring me a fish and I’ll make you famous.”
Helton has her own catchphrase, “Bring us a fish and we’ll give them something to talk about.”
And the folks are talking about the Summer Slam.
While chatting with Helton about the tournament, a captain stopped her and asked how big was the snapper in the state category.
Helton said the state and private boat catches fluctuate the most on the leaderboard as well as the ladies division.
This is the second year for the Boathouse to have the Summer Slam and the number of boat entries has doubled from 15 to 30.
“And we went from no state boats to four, so I’m real proud of us,” she said.
Helton said she loves her new job.
"Well this is boat home ... all of us is like a family,“ she said about the Boathouse crew. “I’ve been on these docks since I was a little girl watching my dad’s fish come in and mom working the charter booth. And then one of my favorite times of my life was Miss Destin ... so it’s a smidgen taste of that.
“It kind of like takes me back. It’s like every decade of my life, I kind of find my way back down here,” she added. “It really could have not been a more perfect ... full time event coordinator for it to be a fishing tournament.”
And when Helton is not on the docks hustling up her fish, she’s doing a little fishing of her own with her 4-year old son ,Ethan.
“I like to be on the water. I really do,” she said noting she took off last Sunday to fish with her son. “He is eat up with fishing. That boy will fish and fish. He loves it. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
As events coordinator for the Boathouse, Helton is looking to have a few more fishing tournaments. She said they are taking the kids fishing on the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit in July, something she calls tackle boxes, not Xboxes. She’s also tossing around the idea of a billfish tournament in September and maybe even a flounder event later on.
“I just love fishing ... I think that’s a common denominator down here,” Helton said.