Captain Krista Miller runs a successful charter business, Island Charters, off St. George Island in the Florida panhandle. The quiet area is a highlight of the state’s “Forgotten Coast” and a peaceful retreat for many families year-round. Krista stays busy booking up to two charters a day for over 10 captains (including herself). Her path to success was not easy, but the lessons she learned along the way gave her the motivation she has today.
“I always say failure is what made me succeed,” explained Krista. “If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. You must learn how not to do something before you can really acquire a skill. To build this business from scratch, I had to become ok with failure – a word that was not previously a part of my vocabulary.” A fifth-generation native of a family from nearby Apalachicola, Krista’s childhood was split between their family’s saltwater island cottage and freshwater river camp, but she didn’t do a lot of saltwater fishing as a child. Her great-great grandfather was a shrimp boat captain, while her great grandfather was a commercial fisherman, as her brother is today. Her grandfather worked at a seafood house, and her father is in commercial refrigeration, servicing much of the local seafood industry. When Krista’s family wanted to fish for fun, they took to the freshwater rivers nearby to get away from the grind of daily work.
Krista attended Florida State University, then moved on to law school before taking a job with LexisNexis®
in Miami, where she earned many accolades for her impressive sales records. When her grandmother became ill, she returned home to take care of her. This five-year, life-changing journey became an epiphany of sorts, and when her grandmother passed away in 2012, Krista bought her first boat at age 40. She set her sights on a charter business – an undertaking that was completely foreign to her.
“Most of the local charter captains around here just laughed at me, but I was determined to learn,” she said. “When young girls ask me today what really made me want to become a charter captain, I tell them ‘a bully told me I couldn’t do it – so I had to prove him wrong.
’”The learning curve was steep. Krista didn’t know how to tie a leader, didn’t know the basic parts of a boat and didn’t know any of the vocabulary or lingo. She spent the entire first year learning everything she could from her brother - through a lot of trial and error. To learn how to handle storms in the bay and on the gulf, Krista took the boat out during bad weather every time she got the chance to practice, ensuring she would know what to do when she had passengers on the boat during rough weather situations.
“Some of best advice I was ever given was to become one with your boat,” she explained. “That year, I really got to know my boat, and I asked a million dumb questions. There were not many who were willing to help me, and many tried to run me out of business, but I was driven by a passion I didn’t know I even had. You don’t stick with a career like this unless you really love it, and I feel like this is what I was supposed to be doing my whole life – just took me a while to get here. I can’t help but think of how many boats I could’ve bought with all that tuition money.”
“So many people used to ask me ‘Is this your daddy’s boat? Or your husband’s boat?’” she laughed. “I would just have to say, ‘No – it’s mine,’ then watch as they tried to get their head around the concept of a female charter captain.”
Ironically, about 25 years prior, Krista recalls giving that same bewildered response to a local islander, Jeanne McMillan, when Jeanne shared stories of traveling the world alone, relocating to unfamiliar places and the gamble of starting her new business from scratch.
“I come from a long line of brave, confident, independent women, but this was a new level -- a single woman traveling abroad and doing things completely on her own.”
Jeanne’s passion for the outdoors inspired her to launch “Jeanne’s Journey’s,” the outfitter where Krista began her journey as a captain decades later. Krista still carries this life-long inspiration as a reminder that we never know who we may be influencing throughout our lives.
After that first year of learning and trials, Krista was added to the charter captain roster at the very same outfitter that Jeanne, her teenage inspiration, began more than 30 years prior. Her initial charters were only for trips that involved sightseeing, boat cruises, dolphin watching and shelling. She would have to prove her abilities more than any other captain if she wanted to run fishing charters.
Once she mastered her boat, Krista focused on her fishing. Again, with little help, she developed her techniques through trial and error, practicing and making mistakes as often as possible to learn the trade. Krista finally booked her first fishing charter in 2013.
“I was on the beach gathering sandfleas for bait and this group of guys was watching me, because it’s kind of a strange task, I guess,” she laughed. “We started talking and they said they had never done any fishing like this but would like to go out and fish with me. I had them call the outfitter who immediately said, ‘you don’t want to go with her, we will put you with one of our better guys.’ Well, the group insisted on going with me and we ended up limiting out on reds that afternoon. Funny enough, the owner of the outfitter was fishing next to us and finally realized what I could do. It was a milestone day for me.”
Quickly realizing she could make more money as an independent captain, Krista started her own charter business about a year later and never looked back. “I had to take a leap. I was the first full-time female captain on the island. It’s a decision I will never regret because my business has done nothing but grow,” said Krista. “I now have regular customers who return every year to book with me. It’s great to reconnect with these families, to watch their kids grow and change over the years – it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Krista’s initial investment in that 22-foot ProKat BayKat in 2012 (which she repowered with a Yamaha F200 in 2017) paid off in spades. She now has two additional boats in her fleet – a Sportsman®
Masters Platinum 247 Bay Boat with an F300 and an Angler 2200 with an F150 – and books upwards of 1000 charter trips per year. Now that her charter business is growing exponentially, Captain Krista plans to focus her attention on getting more women involved in fishing and boating.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a husband call and book a charter, asking me to please help his wife fall in love with fishing so that she can go with him,” she said. “Nine times out of ten, the women take to it immediately and even sometimes outfish their husbands. I want women to know they can do this, and it’s ok to fail in order to learn.
I’ve made so many errors during my career I can’t even count them. I cried under my Costas®
a million times, but I got back up and kept at it because giving up wasn’t an option. I felt that I owed it to all the young girls on the sidelines who would either be motivated by my success or discouraged by my failure in this male-dominated industry, so I had to keep pushing. Besides, there was also a group who preferred the women NOT join their ranks. They were eagerly waiting for me to throw in the towel, but I swabbed the deck with it and stayed the course. When you check your ego at the door, you open your mind to learning something new,” she continued. “I also want to create positive experiences on the water for kids. I don’t yell at them, we don’t curse on my boat, and it’s a hands-on, do-it-by-yourself experience. I teach them – and I enjoy having them tell me what they learned at the end of each trip. It’s very satisfying to watch a father light up when he sees his daughter learn how to cast. And the kids, especially the girls, gain a ton of confidence once they learn that they can do it, too! Then they are hooked!”
When asked what she wants the next generation to know about her story, Krista replied, “I hope that young girls can look at me and understand failure, gumption, determination and passion will make things happen in their lives. I would not be here without those things. I am forever grateful for my failures and the opportunity to learn through them. This is a sport for everyone – I am living proof -- and hope more women will find that it’s a sport for them, too.”