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.
From record-breaking fish, the millionth angler, Hurricane Opal and new beginnings, all left a mark on the fifth decade of the Destin Fishing Rodeo from 1988-1998.
In just a matter of weeks, fishermen will be pouring into Destin to leave their mark and be part of one of the area’s longest traditions, the October Destin Fishing Rodeo.
The tournament begins Oct. 1 and goes for 31 days. And for some, catching that big fish on the first day is something they like to try and do. One such angler was Randy Broome.
“We always went out on the first day … just a bunch of guys having a good time,” Broome said.
He along with former Okaloosa County Commissioner James Campbell and others would charter with Capt. Brant Kelly on the Lady K.
In 1988, on day one, Broome hauled in a yellowfin grouper. The grouper weighed in 30 pounds and 2 ounces. Although there wasn’t a category in the Rodeo for that particular type of grouper, the fish was still written up in the official Rodeo ledger with a notation that it could be a possible world record.
The paper work was filled out and six months later it was certified as a world record by the International Game Fish Association.
“I had the fish mounted and it’s still on the wall,” Broome said.
In the late '80s, the Rodeo got a new home. The official site moved from the old Rodeo docks located near the foot of the Destin bridge a little east to Marina Point, where it was held from 1986 until 1993.
During that time span the Rodeo continued to grow and a new addition was berthed – the Larry Hatchett Fishing Fund. Hatchett was an avid fisherman who loved to fish the Rodeo and when he died in 1990, some of his friends decided to form the Larry Hatchett Fishing Fund as a way to provide a day of fishing for foster children in the Rodeo and continues to this day.
Although the Rodeo was growing in the late '80s to early '90s, those that worked it were still a small-nit group.
“It was so wonderful,” said Marcia Green, who served as the Rodeo secretary for seven years. “You knew all the judges and all the volunteers. It was such a sense of family … like a family reunion.
“Everybody took care of everybody … it was family fun,” she said, noting her kids couldn’t wait for school to get out so they could come down to the Rodeo. “Everybody wanted to be a part of it and people wanted to come down and see the fish. The Rodeo was the heartbeat of Destin.”
Even though Green has warm memories of the Rodeo, she said it was a lot of work.
“It took the whole year to get it together,” she said.
And once Oct. 1 rolled around it was 24/7.
“But it was a labor of love,” she said.
For Capt. John Holley of the Invicta and the Reel Doc, he worked at finding a way to get on the leaderboard on a regular basis.
“For me it was a fun way to wind down the season,” Holley said.
But he did take Rodeo fishing serious.
“Every day we’d try to catch the big ones,” he said.
Holley says he and Capt. Kelly Windes of the Sunrise had a “friendly rivalry” during the Rodeo going after the big ones and trying to be the last ones in at the scales.
“We didn’t have GPS to tell you when you’d get in,” Holley said.
They had to estimate with Loran readings, their watch and tide tables.
“Sometimes you’d get in with just minutes to spare,” he said.
But big fish for Holley was no problem.
In 1989, he and his angler Les Evenchick caught the largest blue marlin, 277 pounds 4 ounces.
He also had a couple of winning Warsaw over the years.
One of his biggest fish was a 106.9 pound amberjack caught in 1997.
By the mid-'90s the Rodeo weigh-in had moved to Fishing Fleet Marina, located behind what is now Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer.
And in 1995, the Rodeo was paid a visit on Oct. 4 by Hurricane Opal, which came ashore just to the west of Destin as a category 3 storm. The hurricane wreaked havoc on Destin.
“It was just horrendous,” said Helen Wren, who served as Rodeo secretary during the mid-'90s.
“I just started crying,” she said when she came down to the docks and saw all the boats stacked on top of each other and the docks ripped up.
The best to her memory, the Rodeo didn’t miss many days of fishing, less than a week.
“We got back up and running," Wren said. "It was just determination. That Rodeo was going on.”
Although a huge sailboat sat in the parking lot near the scales, fish were still being brought in and weighed, she said.
“The Rodeo was just the greatest time of my life,” said Wren, who now lives in Carrabelle.
By the time 1996 rolled around, the number of fish and anglers were starting to add up and on Oct. 18, 1996, James Greer of Alabama was the 1 millionth angler to weigh a fish in the Rodeo. Greer and his wife were awarded $10,000 in prizes, including an overnight stay, gift certificates, a Rodeo jacket and a bronze sculpture.
What was his fish? A 23-pound king mackerel.