Although the Destin Fishing Rodeo is still about six-months away, plans and changes are already in the works to make the 70th annual event the best ever.
Every year more than 35,000 anglers from all over the United States come to Destin in October to compete in Destin’s longest running tradition, the Destin Fishing Rodeo.
During a recent meeting, the board of directors made a few changes to the leaderboard as well as rules.
For starters, the Rodeo board has put amberjack back on the leaderboard.
“It’s such a crowd pleaser,” said board member Jake Brashears, who is also chairman of the awards committee.
Amberjack will be added across the board, in the charter, private, party boat as well as for women, juniors and seniors.
The amberjack, known as a reef donkey because of how hard it pulls, hasn’t been a part of the Rodeo since 2013 because regulators closed the fishery down due to overfishing.
Amberjack will also be the “bonus” fish for the AJ’s Bonus Award. Last year it was the wahoo.
The board also looked at ways to reduce the number of entry spots on the monthly leaderboard without taking away from the tournament.
“It’s grown a little bit and a little bit every year. We’re looking for a happy medium … a way to dial it down and still have a good tournament,” Brashears said.
Last year there were 225 spots available on the leaderboard for anglers to enter a fish. King mackerel and mingo topped the count with 237 mackerel being weighed in and 104 mingo. However, there were a few fish that the Rodeo didn’t see many of, such as the bearded brotula, black drum, dolphin and wahoo.
With that in the mind the board moved a few fish around on the leaderboard.
The four main fish on the board that will go all the way from charter boats down to the senior division are king mackerel, grouper, amberjack and blackfin tuna.
This year there will be a first and second place for the senior angler as well as the ladies and juniors for those four main fish.
The Almaco Jack, mingo, scamp, red grouper and black snapper will be available to catch in the charter boat, under-25 charter boat, party boat, private boat, and under-25 private boat.
Capt. Jim Green, who is on the Rodeo's board of directors, was a fan of the Almaco Jack and black snapper.
“The black snapper show up in October,” Green said.
Last year 40 black snapper were weighed in.
“Also when you start amberjack fishing, you’re going to catch Almaco’s too,” Green said. “To me it would be important to have both of them there.”
The board also moved wahoo from the main species over to the Offshore Division. Last year, 18 wahoo were weighed and 17 made the board.
Another change the board of directors made was to remove shark from the daily board as well as the main board.
But not to worry, there are still spots for the shark to go on the leaderboard. The Rodeo will still have Shark Saturday’s and the Mako My Day shark division.
A couple of other changes on the leaderboard included dropping black drum from the Kayak Division and replacing bonito with blackfin tuna in the Pier, Bridge, Jetty and Surf Division.
As for the Odd Ball Division that was added last year to take in some of those strange fish you just don’t see that often, has been renamed the Bruce Cheves Odd Ball Division. Long-time weighmaster Cheves will have the discretion on eligibility and place in the division.
“This is suppose to be for that crazy sea monster that you might bring in,” said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo, whether it be a 2-pound stargazer fish or 200-pound head fish.
The Rodeo has added a Deep Drop Division with first place spots only for the largest barrelfish, tilefish, Kitty Mitchell, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper and Warsaw.
In the Reef Division, there will only be two fish, cobia and lane snapper. The black snapper and Almaco Jack have been moved to the main division.
The Extended Voyage Division will have 11 species available to catch for a first and second place spot on the board. They are amberjack, scamp, yellowfin tuna, dolphin, big eye tuna, grouper, snowy grouper, Warsaw, wahoo, king mackerel and red grouper.
The Extended Voyage will also have a little extra time to catch those fish. They will have a maximum of 96 hours.
There were also a few rule changes made.
Rule No. 1.7 has been tweaked a bit to say, “All boats must enter the Gulf through Destin’s East Pass with the exception of weather related condition trips which have called and 'notified' the Rodeo office prior to departure at 850-837-6734.”
There was also some clarification to rule 1.19 that speaks to the eligibility of fish entries. Section C now says “No fish caught on a recreational Rodeo trip may be sold, bartered or traded.”
Last year there were some questions as to whether some boats were selling Rodeo fish entries for commercial profit.
There was also some wording added to the rules as to how to handle protest in a timely manner.
The Destin Fishing Rodeo begins Oct. 1 and goes throughout the month with the scales open daily behind AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar.