EDITOR’S NOTE: They say a photo is worth a 1,000 words. For the next few weeks leading up to the October Destin Fishing Rodeo, The Destin Log will be taking a look back at some iconic Rodeo photos found in the “Fifty Years of Fishing the Destin Fishing Rodeo” book and relay the story behind the photo — hopefully in less than 1,000 words.
It was more than four decades ago, but he still recall the details, right down to the straightened out hook, and how they landed the king mackerel that broke the Destin Fishing Rodeo books.
Capt. Tommy Browning, 82, was running the Finest Kind when he and his “real good customer” Henry Hinkel pulled in a 59 pound 12 ounce king mackerel to set a new Rodeo record in 1977 for the 29th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo.
For the prize winning catch, Hinkel was awarded a $1,000 bond from First National Bank of Destin.
As for how they landed the money fish, Browning said they were fishing at an area known as White Hill Rock about five miles off Fort Walton Beach.
“Hinkel was just letting the line out … when that one hit,” Browning said, noting they were kite fishing. “It took off like a rocket, just burning line."
As a matter of fact, Hinkel burnt his thumb trying to slow it down.
“He blistered his thumb good,” Browning said.
Hinkel was finally able to throw the brake on it and reel him up.
Kenny Johnson was Browning's deckhand at the time.
“The bad thing about it when we hooked him and got it up to the boat with the gaff … he fell off the gaff and went back overboard,” Browning said.
“My heart went right there,” he said, motioning with his hand to his throat.
The mackerel had hit the rail and bounced off the gaff and back in the water.
“You could have cut a throat on any of us and we would have bled a drop,” he said. “We just knew that thing was gone. But he came right back in after that. He didn’t make much of a run after that.”
When they finally got the mackerel in the boat, Browning said the hook was almost straight.
When they got to the Rodeo scales the fish weighed in at 59 pounds 12 ounces, knocking off Capt. Jimmy Trammell who had landed a 48 pounder earlier.
Browning said that he and Hinkle went out again the next day and landed a 52-pound king mackerel.
“We could have taken first and second,” Browning said.
But Hinkel said no because it was Capt. Trammell's last year to fish.
“Hinkel said, ‘We don’t need to take both places, I’m just tickled to death to take first place.’ ”
However, he was excited about the money.
Browning remembers Hinkel saying if they had caught the 52 pounder first and then the 59-pounder … “we’d broke the bank twice.
“He loved getting money out of that bank because he put so much in,” Browning said with a laugh.
Hinkel loved to mackerel fish.
“He didn’t care anything about snapper fishing. He said if I wanted to work that hard I’d never left the cotton fields,” Browning said.
Hinkel was from Memphis, Tennessee, and eventually moved to Destin where he did a lot of good.
“He was constantly donating to the community,” said Browning’s wife, Janie.
Hinkel, who died in 1989 at the age of 75, actually paid for the first “Welcome to Destin” sign at the foot of the bridge. He also paid for the roof on the old Destin Library, which now houses the Destin History and Fishing Museum, and he foot the bill for the building of the Destin Fishing Rodeo office.
Hinkel’s memory and fondness of mackerel fishing is still very much a part of the Destin Fishing Rodeo with a division named in his honor — The Henry Hinkel Memorial Award for the first and second place king mackerel in the Charter Boat Division.
“He was a good fisherman and a good man,” Browning said.