By Cali Hlavac
With the 70th anniversary of the Destin Fishing Rodeo rapidly approaching, captains and anglers alike are preparing for what appears to be a monumental year in rodeo history. In the first of our two-part series, you’ll learn more Rodeo details, how to participate, what you can win and some upcoming Rodeo events. In part two, we’ll highlight the changes coming in 2018 for the 70th year and show you some of the most memorable catches over the 70-year history.
The Destin Fishing Rodeo was started in 1948 as a way to repay the loan given for the then new community center. What began as just a few anglers and charter boats has now expanded into one of the largest fishing tournaments along the Emerald Coast. The rodeo is a month-long event spanning October 1 through 31st, and approximately 30,000 anglers compete each year.
Anglers catch and then weigh in. The weigh-ins happen on the docks behind AJs Seafood and Oyster bar located on the Destin Harbor. They are free to the public and are open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. To participate, charter boats and private boats must be registered at least 24 hours prior to weighing in a fish. There is no fee for an angler fishing on a registered vessel (private or charter) and shore fisherman can participate by simply bringing their catch to the scales. Fish by kayak, paddle board, pier, bridge, jetty, shoreline and surf – whichever you prefer. Another fun note: every child who enters a fish in the Destin Rodeo that weighs 1 lb. or more will receive a rod and reel, along with a participation certificate.
A few notable Rodeo events include Shark Saturdays, where the largest shark brought in every Saturday is awarded a cash prize. Fall Fest for the Kids is happening Oct. 9 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the docks behind AJs, with activities such as face painting, arts and crafts and pumpkin decorating. The Rodeo culminates with Halloween on the Harbor, happening October 31st where captains, anglers, judges, Miss Destin and volunteers will dress the part. The public is encouraged to wear their costumes and come down for the Halloween bash, followed by a fireworks finale.
If you’re planning to make a trip down to the docks, expect to see a broad spectrum of fish being weighed in. From Sharks to Amberjacks, Grouper to King Mackerel, Tunas to Marlin, the Rodeo has it all. According to the Destin Rodeo website, “virtually every gamefish is recognized with awards during the Rodeo.” Rodeo anglers are competing for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes, awarded for both daily and overall catches.
Even if you’re not a fisherman, the energy level and excitement that comes from being at the docks for weigh ins is like nothing else. Boats back into the scales, pull the fish from their boat while the announcer hypes up the crowd. Fish are strung up on the scale while the crowds cheer and applaud the boat and their team. For the best seat in the house, get there early, grab a few beers or drinks and snag a seat on the bleachers by the leaderboard or above on AJs upper deck.
We look forward to seeing a big crowd next month! Check back next month for part two of our Rodeo series, where we will highlight some of the best catches over the past 70 years and tell you more about the changes happening for 2018.