By Cali Hlavac
The year was 1835, where undiscovered land was plentiful and settlers from overseas were moving in and building communities. The Destin family, whalers from Connecticut, sailed south to Key West, Fla., in search of off season work and big money. Tragedy struck before they arrived when Leonard Destin lost his father and brother in a shipwreck. He survived, beached in the area now known as beautiful Destin, Fla.
Leonard saw immediate potential in this undeveloped area. The crystal clear waters showed massive schools of fish close to shore, a prominent source of food and income at the time. He set up a fish camp, casting nets into the water at first to catch as many fish as possible. Pensacola was the nearest developed area and is where they took the fish by boat to barter for food and supplies needed, starting Destin’s commercial fishing industry.
As the seafood markets in Pensacola saw the massive amounts of fish being brought over from Destin, more and more families migrated this way. As time went on, roads were constructed and, in 1936, the Destin bridge was built connecting Destin to Okaloosa Island. WWII shut down the fishing industry temporarily, and in 1945 post war, Destin’s first large deep sea fishing fleet began, along with the start of recreational and private fishing charters. This was the first time captains were required to be licensed and the rules and regulations for the fishing industry began.
Flash forward to 1948 when churches were the only gathering spot for the town’s people, Destin wanted more. One citizen donated land for a community center, while another loaned the city $7,000 to build it. As a way to raise money to pay it back, the Destin Fishing Rodeo was born. It originally began as a spring tournament, but was moved to October after the first few years to extend the fishing season well into the fall. The rodeo garnered its name from fisherman having to corral the fish into pens around docks to keep them alive longer before selling to market, long before live wells existed. 2018 will be the 70th year for the Destin Fishing Rodeo, a huge milestone to be celebrated.
There are a few reasons Destin is known as the World’s Luckiest Little Fishing Village, beginning with Destin being the closest point on land to the deepest water in the Gulf, allowing boats to reach deep water quicker than out of other ports like Pensacola or Panama City. Just a mere 70 miles offshore, the Gulf of Mexico reaches depths of 2,500 ft. and includes a larger variety of fish. Another reason is because Destin is a peninsula, it can offer both Bay fishing and Gulf fishing, increasing the variety of fish even more. The Bay also acts as an estuary where some species of fish can repopulate safely before migrating back into the Gulf.
As Destin has evolved into the community it is today, fishing is truly where its roots started. Anglers of all ages have enjoyed fishing the Destin waters over the years, and with proper regulations and care, will enjoy for many more years to come.