On Deck in the Salt

[Tips for reeling in a saltwater giant from a charter boat wife herself.]

First and foremost, The Gulf of Mexico is NOT an ocean. I repeat the Gulf is NOT an ocean. When you grow up 10 minutes from the sugar sand beaches of Destin, Florida you become quite accustom with the craziness that summer time brings. Summertime here means lots of sunscreen, pina-coladas, neon shirts and tourist. All though the beaches are like being on an exotic island the best part of Destin, Florida resides just beyond the rocks of the east and west jetty.

captain chris kirby and shelbyWhile the late-nighters are stumbling there way back to their condos or to a booth at Waffle House the deckhands and captains of North America’s largest charter fleet are preparing to set out. Around 5:00am the harbor begins to awaken and the charter boats begin to crank their diesels. After fueling up, icing up, and loading up customers, it is time to hit the bait banks. Rounding Noriega Point at the end of the harbor unleashes a stretch of water about a quarter mile long; the last strip of water until you reach the wide-open seas of the Gulf of Mexico. It is quite the site to see as the sun begins to rise and the fleet begins to bait fish. Big boats, smalls boats, all shapes and sizes fishing as fast as they can, in order to load up their wells with fresh live bait. This is where all the fun begins.

I met my husband, Captain Chris Kirby, when I was twelve down at the docks (go figure). He was unloading and washing down the boat as he had just gotten in from a commercial snapper trip. Living in a small town, I never kept my eye off him or my mind. 7 years later, after our very first meeting he invited me to go flounder gigging… and the rest was history. We haven’t spent more then a day away from each other since. 6 years of being a team, we have built a charter company called Destin Inshore Charters. Our mini fleet includes two 22ft cape horn bay boats and a 40ft infinity called the Backlash. We have two awesome captains who run our bay boats and Chris runs the Backlash. I handle all the marketing and bookings for each boat. When it comes to offshore fishing, Chris has taught me some very important skills that help me each and every time I’m on deck. Here are the top tips to help you reel in your catch of a lifetime while fishing down in the salt.

red snapper caught by shelby kirby

Stay Hydrated

All too often we see anglers (customers, friends, family, etc.) pounding the soda or in most cases some sort of alcohol and by the time they are a couple hours into fishing they are beat. While it is fun to grab a beer and get a buzz, don’t forget to replenish with WATER! Gatorade, PowerAde and other sport drinks are ok but just plain ole water is the ticket! Dehydration is very common while out fishing so do yourself a favor and pack a case of water. It’s also ok to bring extra for the ones who forget to bring their own supply. Trust me you will thank yourself when you get back to the dock and you don’t have a headache or feel weak. Being out on the water in the salt does take a toll on your body.

friends fishing

Dry Hands

Ok ladies, I know how you love that greasy tanning oil and sunscreen to be squirted in globs on your hands and then you vigorously coat yourself from head to toe with it. I am guilty of this as well. Please-please-please, make sure you bring a towel, napkins, old t-shirt, whatever you think will work best to completely wipe the lotion off your hands. ALL of the lotion and greasiness needs to be completely wiped off! Most of the rods you will be using to catch your amberjacks, groupers, snappers, etc. are going to be heavy duty solid glass rods equipped with 4/0 or 6/0 reels. If you are use to light-tackle-inshore fishing then these setups will be significantly larger then what you are use to. You will need every bite of grip you can get especially when a sea monster is on the other end of your line. Also, gloves are not a bad idea either! There are numerous brands of gloves out there designed with woman’s hands in mind. If you can’t find a “fishing” glove you like, you can also try golf, garden or any other type of non-slip grip glove that works for you. Once you pick out a pair you like, you can simply cut the fingers out about mid way down (at your knuckle) and you will have your very own fishing gloves. Fancy is not what we are going for. Functional is the key! A tight fit; non-slip glove is what you want. Once again you will thank yourself when you hook up to a big one and have no slippage on the rod or reel handle.


Put a Rod Belt On

Some of my closest girlfriends are awesome outdoorsman and tough as nails. They will come fishing and choose not to wear a rod belt because the “old school” Destin way is to place your rod butt on your hip and eat the pain. I am guilty of this too and have the scars to prove it. Don’t try to be Superman and hurt yourself. Strap on a rod belt and control your fish. The proper way to wear a rod belt is to strap it very tight and securely around your hips. Therefore, the pressure of the rod when fighting a big one will be put on your hips and allow reeling to be more comfortable and your arms will not be so worn out. A belt also helps you control the movement of the rod better as the weight is distributed through your hips and legs, letting yours arms have a break when you need it without losing control and having the fish take too much drag before breaking you off in the bottom. Also, a rod belt allows for you to move fast if the fish starts pulling the line in different directions around the boat. You will need to move swiftly and follow you line. With that being said this leads me to my next tip.

father and daughter fishing trip with a caught redsnapper

Proper Shoes

I live in my Rainbow flip-flops during the summer and have a habit of wearing them on deck. While they are fine for catching smaller reef fish, they can limit your mobility when a big fish comes to play. You want to wear something comfortable but made to move. While a big gag grouper may stay in one place and allow for you to stand on one corner of the boat, the tide may pull your line in a different direction. You need follow your line to whichever direction it goes. Wear shoes such as tennis shoes, Sperry top siders, or Sperry flip flops to help grip the deck and allow for quick, swift movements without slipping. Once again there are many brands of fishing tennis shoes and flip-flops out there. Find one that suits you best and fits your feet right. You want a tight but comfortable fit with a no slip sole. The last thing you want is to slip and fall on the deck injuring yourself or even worse, lose your trophy fish.

reeling in big blue


If there is one thing you remember from this article please remember this, DO NOT SET THE HOOK! When out in the Gulf there are lots of different scenarios that could happen and the conditions are ever changing day to day. From rough seas, to ripping tides, to warm and cold-water temperatures, the variables are endless when fishing offshore. When reef fishing here, you are required by law to use a circle hook. The circle hook law was passed to help prevent gut-hooking fish. The difference between a circle hook and a straight hook is that a circle hook is self-setting! In other words, the fish will hook itself when used properly! The most common rig we use is just like an over grown Carolina rig or otherwise know as a slip led rig. You have your slip lead on your main line, then your swivel with a leader and a snailed on circle hook at the end. When the boat has reached the fishing spot, you will hook your live bait on and wait for the captain to round up on the spot. Once the captain is ready, you will take the reel out of gear and let it straight down all the way until you hit the bottom and your line goes slack. Once there, put your reel back in gear. Sometimes you will be told to fish directly on bottom leaving your line slack or you may need to reel up a certain number of cranks to get your bait up off the bottom. Getting off the bottom can help to avoid being freight trained by a big fish and then being broken off in the bottom before you even know what hit you. The correct form to prepare for the bite is to hold the rod firmly with your left hand just above the reel; the rod butt placed firmly and securely into your rod belt, and your right hand on the reel handle ready to reel. When you feel you’re getting a bite, DO NOT JERK UP. DO NOT PULL UP AWAY FROM THE FISH. DO NOT SET THE HOOK. Once the fish has eaten the bait and starts to run with it, the circle hook will do its job and set in the fishes lip. Now its time! Time to reel. JUST REEL. No jerking. Just reel! Your hook set will be perfectly set in his lip every time if you just reel and don’t jerk. If the fish is a really big one and you feel like you aren’t gaining any line and you are stuck and cant turn the reel handle, now you can use your rod and lift up with your left hand and reel down fast with your right hand. This is done all together in one swift motion, keeping the line tight. This leads me to my final tip.

group of fishers with a blue marlin

Rod Pumping

There are a million ways to do this motion wrong and you risk pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth if done incorrectly. There is only one right way to do this. Pumping should only be done when you are no longer able to turn the reel handle and you are at a “stand still”. Pumping should only take place when you are close to the bottom. This motion helps to turn the fish’s head upward in order to gain more line. Pumping should be done in short gradual strides. You are to lift with your left hand to where the rod tip is no higher then eye level and then reel down quickly. Don’t jerk the rod up; steadily LIFT the rod up to move the fish carefully. Once you have gained a significant amount of line on the fish and are far enough away that he won’t break you off, now you can take your time and just steady whined on him. Be sure to keep that line tight! Before you know it you will see that lead coming up to your rod tip and sploosh your fish will be up on the surface for you to see. A job well done!

If you feel this is a lot of information all at once, have no fear! Whenever you are fishing with us, the first mate will be on deck to guide you through all of this and help perfect each technique. Y’all come see us down here on the beautiful Emerald Coast and put your saltwater fishing skills to the test. I hope this run down of tips is helpful!

See y’all on the water!
-Shelby Lynn Kirby

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