Destin, aptly nicknamed “the world’s luckiest fishing village,” is now luckier with a brand-new network of “Fish Aggregating Devices” or FADs.
While Hawaii and the Virgin Islands also have FAD networks, this one comes with big bragging rights, with it being the first in the continental United States and destined to make Destin-Fort Walton Beach a place where big fish stories are true.
What Do FADs Catch?
FADs are floating objects that create a food chain that ultimately attracts large “pelagic” game fish – those that prefer deeper open water – such as mahi-mahi, wahoo, marlin, and tuna.
Ocean plants, crustaceans, and mollusks attach to FADS. That brings in small fish looking for food and a place to hide. The hiding doesn’t work out so well for some. Large fish zero in to eat the little fish.
In nature, FADs can be floating logs and seaweed. Captains know to navigate toward them for the best catches of the day, but they’re tough to see and hardly stationary among waves and currents.
Where Are These FADs?
The eight FADs off the coast of Destin-Fort Walton Beach are 15-20 foot-tall buoys tethered to a 10-16 ton concrete anchor on the Gulf floor. These large anchors allow the buoy to remain in place even during strong storm events and have specific coordinates.
A project five years in the works, the FADs were deployed in 1,100 to 2,400 feet of water, the first four in August 2020 and the last four in January 2021.
The Captain Kelly Windes FAD Buoy Network is its name, in honor of a former Okaloosa County Commissioner who pioneered this project and saw it come to fruition.
Up until now, anglers had to travel far, far away from the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast to catch pelagic fish, or hundreds of miles away to other Gulf hotspots – such as the oil rigs in Louisiana.
The FAD network here is only 60 to 80 miles offshore, aggregating the "big" fish closer for fledgling and experienced anglers.
Results were immediately after the first FADS were deployed, with multiple pelagic fish caught, including a blue marlin that weighed a whopping 310 pounds.
What’s Next For The Luckiest Fishing Village?
Two buoys have equipment for real-time weather reports – something that was lacking. Deep-sea anglers can check for safety and best conditions before heading out. They’ll also serve as a basis for university studies.
Half of the buoys are basic steel. The others are made from fiberglass and epoxy and were manufactured in Japan, where FADs are common. They are designed to survive strong storms, which they did right off the bat with more than seven direct hits from named tropical systems including Hurricane Sally which produced seas of more than 35ft.
This extra level of excitement complements the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, the area’s man-made reefs, and the Destin, Florida fishing experience overall. Expect more tournaments as word travels.