The T-shirt trailer is in place, the leader board is filling up and legendary Rodeo Weighmaster Bruce Cheves has assumed his position on the barge behind AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar.
That can only mean one thing — the 69th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo is in full swing.
The Rodeo kicked off in grand fashion Sunday, with hundreds of spectators gathering on the Destin harbor to watch the boats start to roll in.
“We are so excited. Sunday was such a busy day,” said Ann White, who has been volunteering with the Rodeo for several years and runs the merchandise trailer. “44 fish made the board (Sunday). It was a great first day.”
Choppy waters and cool weather kept most of the boats from going out Monday, but people fishing on smaller boats and off the piers and jetties brought in fish to be weighed.
Gail Jaroniewski, a Fort Walton Beach angler who brought in the first fish of the rodeo Sunday, came back Monday to weigh a 1-pound black snapper she caught fishing off the Destin jetties. She said she saved up all her work vacation time for the month of October so she could fish in the Rodeo.
“I’m always out fishing on the weekends, so I decided why not?” she said. “I probably won’t win anything except first fish of the Rodeo, but it’s a fun Destin thing and I really enjoy it.”
Cheves, who has been the Rodeo weighmaster for 33 years, said he was looking forward to the remaining days of the tournament after weather slowed fishing during the beginning of the week.
“You never know. Just when you think it’s going to be slow, they come at you from out of the woodwork,” Cheves said. “That’s why they call it fishing.”
The largest fish of the tournament after two days was a 14.6 pound King Mackerel, brought in by the charter boat Huntress. In addition to classic fish divisions such as Shark Saturday and paddleboard, tournament officials added an “oddball” division this year for the less-than-routine catches brought in.
Miss Destin 2017 Rachel McMullen, who will spend every day on the docks posing with anglers and their fish and helping fill out certificates, said the Rodeo was off to a great start.
“My cheeks are kind of sore today from smiling so much, which is kind of strange,” she said. “I’m sure my smiling muscles will get stronger as the Rodeo goes on.”
McMullen said she was looking forward to the Destin Seafood Festival, which will take place on the Destin harbor Oct. 6, 7 and 8.
Cheves added there is something for everyone in the Destin Fishing Rodeo — and if there’s not, there are other options.
“We’re going to weigh a lot of fish and have a lot of fun,” Cheves said. “And if you’re not having any fun and another drink doesn’t help, go away.”