From speckled trout caught on the flats to yellowfin tuna pulled in from 160 miles offshore, the 65th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo has seen it all in the opening days, including a 300-plus pound gator.
Anglers were chomping at the bit Tuesday morning with three already in line with their catches before the scales opened at 10 a.m. on the docks behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar.
Winston Chou of Freeport, who was fishing aboard his kayak Choumein, was first in line with a 2.8-pound speckled trout. From that point on, it was a steady flow of fishermen bringing in their catches.
By 2 o'clock, 35 fish had already been weighed and by the close of day the number of fish entries was 139 — just 20 fish off the mark of the record set in 2010 when 159 fish were weighed on a weekend opening day.
However, we had a gator brought to the docks about 5 o'clock — that should account for at least 20 or 30 fish! Capt. Paul Dale Wagner and crew on the Backcountry Outfitters said it took about three hours to reel in the gator on a cobia rod. They got the gator back in Choctawhatchee Bay fishing from a 16-foot aluminum boat.
"I'm getting to old for this," Paul Dale said as they were trying to hoist the gator out of the boat onto the Rodeo docks.
The gator, which was only there long enough to weigh in, drew a quick crowd with folks snapping photos with their phones, iPads and cameras.
There were also some big fish on Day 1. Andrew Skaggs pulled in a 16-pound scamp on the Special K for a top spot on the leaderboard.
"It was pretty sloppy out, but not bad," said Capt. Andy Vaughn of the Special K. They were fishing in 300 to 400 feet of water on an eight hour trip.
Kerry Thornton of Georgia came in just minutes later with an 18.6-pound red grouper for a top spot on the board. He was fishing on the Just B Cause with Capt. Ken Bolden.
"I took just a minute to get it in," Thornton said. "You know it don't take these boys from Georgia long."
A little after 4 p.m., the party boat Swoop II came in with a pair of big amberjack.
Jim Ropes of Destin pulled in a 75.2-pound amberjack and Perry Williams reeled in a 57.2-pounder.
"It about spooled a 6/0," Ropes said. "I thought it was a shark at first. It hit bottom and then it ran."
Capt. Wheeler of the Swoop II said they caught them both on the same spot. "I think they were boyfriend and girlfriend," he said with a smile on his face.
Bill Davis on the Twilight with Capt. Robert Hill also had a big amberjack. Davis reeled in a 43.6-pounder.
Red snapper were brought in throughout the day and got bigger with every hour with the biggest of the day brought in on the Big John with Capt. Todd Allen. Gary Hamilton of Crestview pulled in a 22-pounder. He got bumped to second on Day 2, when Robert Webster of Tennessee reeled in a 23-pounder while fishing with Capt. Kelly Windes on the Sunrise.
The largest wahoo of the day and still holding after three days was a 44.8-pounder caught by Taylor Cruise of Foley, Ala., aboard the Al-Lin with Capt. Allen Staples.
When the clock struck 7 on Day 1, there were still five boats in line waiting to weigh fish. The last fish went on the scales at 7:48 p.m.
On Day 2 we saw a lot of rain, but it didn't slow anybody down. Kyong Gordon of Georgia pulled in a 45.8-pound amberjack on the Backlash with Capt. Jason Mikel.
George Edwards III came in with a 16.4-pound king mackerel for a first place spot in the private boat division. He was fishing with Capt. Kent Hardin on the What Doin?
The party boat Destin Princess came in with a pair of big triggerfish. Terry Walsh had a 7.8-pounder and Karen Cox a 7.2-pounder.
Steve Mills of Georgia came walking up with a pompano he caught in the surf for a first place spot in the Pier, Bridge, Jetty and Surf Division. His pompano that he caught near the NCO club weighed 3.8 pounds.
Capt. Jim Green and the crew aboard the New Florida Girl's American Spirit weighed in a pair of red snapper, a 12.4-pounder caught by 76-year-old Robert Scott and a 17.2-pounder pulled in by Steve Dewitt.
Nathan Powell had a 48.4-pound amberjack for a top spot on the board in the charter division. He was fishing aboard the Un Reel.
Day 3 was just as busy with tuna, amberjack, dophin and a huge triggerfish getting on the board.
Celestina Hillock of Texas did it up in a big way with a 56.2-pound amberjack on the Huntress with Capt. Mike Graef. Her catch is in first place in the ladies division.
Late in the day, the private boat Hooker came in with an 18.6-pound king mackerel for a top spot and one of the final catches of the day was a 40.8-pound warsaw pulled in on the Perfect Shot with Capt. Brady Bowman. Ed Greene of Miramar Beach was the angler on the rod.
When the clock struck 7 on Day 3, the count was at 254.
The scales are open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on the docks behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar throughout the month of October.
See you on the docks.