After COVID-19 last season and missed trips, Destin fishing fleet off to a good spring

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

After dealing with COVID-19 last season and missed trips, the Destin fishing fleet is off to a good spring and summer ahead. 

In 2020 many of the charter boats missed out on a lot of spring break trips, but that's not the case this year. 

“It’s looking good so far,” said Capt. Phillip Blackburn of the charter boat Backdown 2. 

Spring breakers are enjoying their time on the water fishing. Zack Fisher, 17, of Knoxville, Tennessee, puckers up to a triggerfish he caught on the Au Sum on Wednesday afternoon with Capt. Chris McConnell.

“We’re actually having a spring break this year, compared to last year,” Blackburn said as his deckhand hung up fish Tuesday afternoon caught by a group of spring breakers from Nashville, Tennessee. 

“Bookings are good. … June and summer is looking good. I think people are ready to get out and go fishing,” he added. 

The docks along Destin harbor were busy Tuesday afternoon, with boats coming and going and potential customers walking the boardwalks looking to charter a vessel. 

“We’ve been doing well compared to last year,” said Capt. Casey Weldon of the Fish-N-Fool. “We’ve had 10 to 12 trips in the last few weeks.

“A lot of the spring breakers are last-minute trips,” he added. 

“But summer is looking good, too. It’s looking to be a good year for us,” Weldon said as he got ready to go out on an afternoon trip. 

Capt. Chris McConnell also is having a good spring aboard the Au Sum. 

“I’ve already got a few trips each week in March and a few into April … so it’s definitely looking good,” McConnell said as his deckhand hung up a catch of mingo and triggerfish. 

He, like Weldon, said he gets a lot of last-minute charters. 

“We’re just glad to be running anything compared to last year,” McConnell said. 

Lindley Staples Ward, who books the trips for her charter boat Mighty Fine captained by Bud Miller, said the season looks “very strong.” 

“It’s extremely busy and we’re looking to have a great season," Ward said. “We’re booked for most of the month and the summertime is already well beyond our expectations.

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“COVID doesn’t come on vacation,” she added. “People are here and ready to spend money. We’re blessed to be open for business.

Capt. Bud Miller on the Mighty Fine heads out for an afternoon trip Wednesday.

“Our season is strong. I’ve talked to a lot of the other booking girls and they can’t keep up with the phones. They are ringing off the hook,” she said. 

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Capt. Tony Davis of the Anastasia said he’s been getting a lot of calls. 

“I booked six trips just yesterday for later in the year,” Davis said Tuesday afternoon as he stepped off the boat. “The phone is ringing maybe a little better than usual." 

Capt. Jim Green of the New Florida Girl's American Spirit said they have been steadily getting online bookings for the party boat.

"The bookings are as strong as I have ever seen them," Green said.

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Juliette Irving, who is a booking reservationist for HarborWalk Charters, said business has really picked up the past two weeks.  

“Especially this week, it’s been very busy,” Irving said. 

Juliette Irving, booking reservationist for HarborWalk Charters, says online bookings are up.

On Tuesday, Irving booked 20 boats for one customer. 

Not only are people calling, but booking trips online for June, July and August. 

“To me it looks like it’s going to be a good year,” Irving said. 

Although last year is not a good comparison with the pandemic, she said compared to spring break 2019, HarborWalk wasn’t this busy. 

“This is almost like summer busy … not there yet, but it’s getting there.”