EDITOR’S NOTE: For the next few weeks leading up to the October Destin Fishing Rodeo, The Destin Log will be taking a look back at the Rodeo over the last seven decades — from how it got started, to some of the big catches and prizes, to changes and even some of the personalities that bolstered it to one of the longest traditions in Destin.
By the time the Destin Fishing Rodeo rolled into the third decade of existence, word had gotten out and it began to grow in the number of boats participating and the number of fish weighed in.
In 1970, weather played a little bit of a factor, as it always does, in fishing.
The first day started off with a bang with 26 fish brought to the scales. Notations in the official Rodeo record books said on Day 1 there was “no wind and bright sunshine.”
By Day 6, the weather took a turn for the worse and by Day 7, notes in the book read “High winds – torrential rains - rough seas – no boats out.” Nevertheless, one fish was brought in, a 1 pound 2 ounce sea trout caught in Choctawhatchee Bay.
Throughout the month there were seven days where five or less fish were entered in the books.
But by the end of the month, 314 fish had been recorded.
In 1971 the number of entries grew, according to the books. The 23rd Rodeo had 382 fish listed in the books. Noted at the end of the month was the poundage for the whole month — 10,149 pounds of fish. Helping to reach that mark was a 216-pound Warsaw caught by an Alabama angler on the Miss Donna; a 61-pound wahoo on the Sea Bird; 9-pound, 8-ounce triggerfish on the Her Majesty II; a 34-pound and a 32-pound, 8-ounce red snapper on the New Florida Girl; a 42-pound, 8-ounce king mackerel on the Blue Mac’s; a 41-pound, 8-ounce king on the Shooting Star; a 73-pound, 8-ounce amberjack on the Bimini; a 45-pound dolphin on the Three L’s; a 290-pound blue marlin on the Sailfisher; and a 51-pound, 8-ounce black grouper on the New Florida Girl.
By the time the 24th Rodeo rolled around, 71 boats had entered the month-long event.
For Brant Kelly, who fished on the Got-cha from 1972 to 1977, the Rodeo was special.
“To me it was a really big deal because the Rodeo used to be at the foot of the bridge where the (Emerald) Grande is now,” said the 64-year-old Kelly, who lived right on the top of the hill where the Rodeo docks were located.
The Rodeo dock, where the fish were weighed in, was located on the east end of Destin bridge, right at the entrance to the harbor.
“We always looked forward to it. It was a big deal in the early '70s,” he said.
Not only did Kelly get on the leaderboard, which had only 24 spots available, but he later went on to serve on various Rodeo committees. The Rodeo in the early days was run by Destin Community Center board.
In 1973, the Rodeo celebrated its Silver Anniversary. One of the things noted in the 25th Rodeo booklet, which lists all the awards, rules and various divisions, was a new division called the “Biggest Fish Story.” The rule stated that a $100 U.S. Bond and trophy went to the person telling the “biggest lie” in the Rodeo. To be eligible for this prize, a contestant must attach to his written entry a sales receipt from a participating business showing proof of purchase.
The story had to be turned in by the last day and the story or “lie” was printed in the booklet the next year. This went on for a couple of years.
It may sound like a lie or fish story, but Capt. Harold Staples, who came to this area in 1973 to fish, caught seven white marlin and released two of them on Day 28th of the 25th Rodeo.
“We had a great day,” said the now 68-year-old Staples, who runs the Al-Lin and still fishes in the Rodeo.
Staples said the Rodeo was a determining factor for him to stay in Destin. His first summer in Destin he ran 18 trips aboard the Striker and was going to head back to fish with his dad out of Biloxi. But his dad encouraged him to stay in Destin since he had already put up his $50 to fish the October Rodeo.
“I think I gained a little respect from some of the fishermen and that’s what spurred me to come back the next year and the next year … it’s been a great life. I’ve been blessed,” he said.
In 1974, the number of fish entries had grown to 575 and by the end of the third decade of Rodeo fishing the number of entries increased to 638.