The Destin Fishing Rodeo: Celebrating 73 Years!

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By Frank Berte

57—the number of days, at the time of this printing, until the Destin Fishing Rodeo begins! For us locals, it’s time to begin getting ready for this year’s Fishing Rodeo season—part of what Destin is known for!

The Destin Fishing Rodeo 1948 – 2021

The Rodeo began in May of 1948 to bring people to Destin. It worked! Destin shortly became known as a summer tourist destination and “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”
The Rodeo founders, people such as Howard Marler, Jewel Melvin and Willie Marler, decided that moving the Rodeo to October would lengthen the tourist season another month. Today the 73-year-old Rodeo is held October 1- 31.

Awards
Destin Fishing Rodeo awards are sponsored in good part by area businesses. Other awards are paid for by the Rodeo through entry fees and merchandise sales. Proudly called the “Luckiest Fishing Village,” that phrase could designate the size and amount of fish that can be caught off Destin’s shores, or the prizes that are won—even those won in those first Rodeos. The winning King Mackerel in the first Rodeo won the angler a new kitchen: a refrigerator, stove and even the kitchen sink! In 1950, the Rodeo was still awarding kitchen appliances, but the top prize that year was a lot in Destin, complete with survey, title and insurance! The lot was valued at $500! Hhhhmmmm, wonder what that prize would be worth today?! Of course, not all the prizes could be that grand. For example, the largest Triggerfish in 1951 brought $25.00, one windshield wiper, and 12 cans of beer to the lucky angler.

The Rodeo no longer awards kitchen appliances or beer to the winners. As far as the lot in Destin goes, the Rodeo would be happy to give one away if someone wants to donate it! Today the awards are mostly fine rods and reels, fishing trips, weekend stays and everyone’s favorite—cash.

The Fishing Rodeo committee is kicking around ideas for future prizes, and with new contacts, it hopes to add boats, cars and exotic fishing trips to the list of prizes in the next few years.

Destin Fishing Rodeo BoatThe Rodeo’s Rules Committee governs all activities related to angler and fish eligibility. In the early days of the Rodeo, there were 20 rules listed on one page. They were general rules covering eligibility of contestants and the types of fish that could be entered. 15 species could be entered in the Rodeo.

Today, rules take up five pages in the annually published Rodeo book. There are 75 separate rules covering 33 species in 29 divisions. As future state and federal fishing regulations change, so will the Rodeo rules.

Participation
Private boats and Charter boats must register to enter the Rodeo at least 24 hours prior to weighing a fish. There is no entry fee for anglers on registered vessels. Shore fishermen can participate by just bringing their catch to the scale. Hundreds of people watch the weigh-ins every day. When a shark or a big grouper or tuna is on the scale, the crowd reaches “standing-room-only” status. The Rodeo has truly become a “spectator sport.”

Volunteers
The Rodeo has always depended on volunteers to make it successful. Volunteer help is the only way the Rodeo has succeeded for 73 years, and the only way it will continue to succeed. A volunteer Board of Directors that consists mainly of local business people with an interest in fishing runs the Rodeo. This Board governs all committees and the day-to-day activities of the Rodeo. Volunteers serve as Rodeo judges at the weigh-ins every day in October. Judging requires two to four people per shift for 31 days (two shifts per day). The Rodeo also has a merchandise booth that is manned by three to four volunteers October 1 – 31. Between the two, the Rodeo needs about 620 folks to donate two to five hours in October. The Rodeo has more than 2500 available hours of volunteer service. Call the Rodeo office to volunteer—no experience required.

Record Keeping
Rodeo entries were kept by hand and calculated by hand until 1991. All entries were logged into a book and verified by the Boat captain, the Rodeo judge and the Rodeo director. At the end of each day, all of the entries were calculated by division and a daily winner was determined. The Rodeo director stayed after the weigh station closed every evening to calculate the winners, type a daily report and get it to the newspaper for the next day’s edition.

Today, the Rodeo is as high-tech as any business. All catches are entered into a computer program on-line and are automatically calculated. Anyone with internet access can see who is leading in any category in real-time 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Reports are automatically generated and e-mailed to the press for publication. As technology advances, the Rodeo will as well.

Economic Impact
The Destin Fishing Rodeo has a significant economic impact on Destin. In 2019 an estimated 36,518 anglers from 33 states and two countries (AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, WY, Canada, England). 13,421 locals participated in the Rodeo. Using TDC calculations of $225.00 per person x 23,097 people (based on anglers alone, not including non-fishing companions), there was $5,196,825.00 revenue into the community directly related to the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Anglers provide an estimated $3,831,600 income to the charter boat industry in October.
Fuel sales between the two largest fuel providers on the harbor in October is $486,980 in October compared to $119,807 in November – a 75% decrease.

The Gross Lodging Income in Destin in October was $6,216,018 compared to November at $3,723,790, a 42% decrease from October to November. Let’s go fishing!