The 65th annual will always be a rodeo to remember for me and my family.
It began on Oct. 5 in the usual way: with my daughters’ annual photo opp with Miss Destin. They are quite aware that Miss Destin is the next best thing to a Disney princess.
For us, rodeoing has always been a spectator sport, but this year was to be different. Unbeknownst to me, rodeo chairman John Brashears loaned my daughters Ani and Eden a pair of fishing rods. Every kid’s a winner at the rodeo, but usually you need to have a 1-pound fish before you win a rod, generously provided by AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar.
Brashears' article of faith was well placed. My girls needed to fish NOW! We began the hunt for a hook, lure and leader. After what amounted to a scavenger hunt by landlubbers, we were tackled and ready to go. My 7-year-old daughter dropped her line in the water off the docks, and within minutes she had her first strike, with a pellet from a fish food dispenser as bait.
After reeling in this puny pinfish, Ani warily crossed the threshold to the Rodeo judge’s barge. Weighmaster Bruce Cheves acknowledged her and took the fish off the hook, taking its measure in his weathered hands.
“Are you a local, sweetie?” he asked in his baritone voice. My daughter nodded her head and Bruce dropped the fish to the ground.
Bruce then knelt on one knee and explained that her catch wasn’t big enough to be weighed in, but that this fish could lead her to the big one.
He looked her in the eye and pointed to the tiny fish flopping around on the docks. “You know we need to send this to fish heaven right, princess?”
Ani again nodded nervously. In a flash, Bruce reached behind him and BAM! He slammed a big block of wood on it. As the fish splattered, the scrunched look on my daughter’s face was priceless. He then taught her how to slice it into bait.
My wannabe scientist daughter ate it up – not literally, of course! But she was determined and we went right back at it, walking down one of the long finger piers to drop another line into the water.
We caught four more that afternoon, with the last one being the biggest. It still didn’t reach a pound, but when Ani weighed it in, Bruce had her apply some downward pressure on the rod. 1.2 pounds! My daughter got a rodeo certificate for her first rodeo pinfish.
When we got home, we framed that sheet of paper and it now hangs in her room.
It was her first fish, but it won’t be her last. Thanks to Bruce and the gang of volunteers at the Destin Fishing Rodeo, she asks every other day when we can go fishing. Her sister asks when we can see the block go BAM again.
It seems fitting to end this column in the same way Log fishing expert Tina Harbuck has ended her column for years. “See you at the docks!”
William Hatfield is editor of The Destin Log. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org