CONCH KEY -- Crusty commercial fishing captain Gary Nichols Jr. was upset when his wife Beth told him their second child was going to be a girl, just like their first kid.
With a Kelly and a Katie, but no Gary III, who was going to continue Nichols Seafood, which he started from scratch at age 16 with the help of Beth, then his girlfriend?
But now, more than two decades later, Gary said he could retire tomorrow and know that the family business would be in good hands with Capt. Kelly at the helm.
She has gone from the cute blond in a pink dress in an aging picture — one that shows her steering dad's big boat while standing on a bucket — to a confident 29-year-old giving orders to her crew while serving as captain of Life Force, a 50-foot Dorado that can hold more than 300 traps.
While women have made great inroads in many traditional male professions, including combat positions in the military, it's still rare to see a commercial fishing vessel with a female captain. Kelly is the only one in the Keys, where 90 percent of the spiny Florida lobsters are caught.
It's such a male bastion, Gary conceded, that "I didn't think she could do it."
But at the dock, after Kelly and her crew brought in about 500 pounds of lobsters, he put his arm around his daughter and said: "I couldn't be more proud of you."
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