EDITOR’S NOTE: For the next few weeks leading up to the Destin Fishing Rodeo in October, The Destin Log will take 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 become one of the longest traditions in Destin.
DESTIN — By the time the fourth decade of the Destin Fishing Rodeo rolled around — 1978-1988 — it was well on its way to being one of the biggest events around and one fishermen couldn’t wait for.
“We were booked years in advance. It was that important to the customer,” said retired Capt. Kelly Windes, who ran the charter boat Sunrise.
Windes said the Rodeo brought many benefits to the fishing fleet.
“First, it was much fun,” he said. “Second, it was good business. We promoted the Rodeo all year to try to get our people to come back to fish for the bigger fish. ... Go for broke, sort of speak.
“Economically it was good,” added Windes, who noted that most years he would run all 31 days of the Rodeo.
Windes said he might run 100 miles just for one or two fish.
“Sometimes we got them and sometimes we didn’t. It was the chase we were selling. People love that chance to catch a big one,” he said.
Back in the '80s all fish were open game, from grouper, amberjack, and blue marlin to red snapper.
With the competition heating up, the number of Rodeo entries grew. In the 32nd Rodeo in 1980, 36 fish were weighed on day one and by the finish the count was at 598.
In 1982, Destin Fishing Rodeo Inc. was formed and the event no longer was run by the Destin Community Center Board.
Chairman of the board for the Rodeo that first year was Melvin Laird. Darlene Raim served as secretary.
“We had to do everything by hand,” said Raim, who still serves as a Rodeo volunteer today.
As secretary, it was her job to write down the names of the fishermen, weights of fish and what boat they fished on.
Raim said Bill Sherman was the weighmaster at the time.
“He would climb up and down that post and weigh the fish. It was priceless. ... I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun,” Raim said. “Now it’s all computerized. It’s a great thing what they do now, but it’s so big."
Today, the Rodeo has more than 200 spots for anglers to win a prize. In the '80s, there were fewer than 50 spots on the leader board.In addition to writing down the catches in the Rodeo ledger books, which can now be found at the Destin History and Fishing Museum, Raim would call the radio station in Fort Walton Beach every day and report on who was leading in the Rodeo and who caught the biggest fish.
One of those big catches was recorded in the Rodeo ledger on Day 8 of the 36th annual event. Dr. Earl Brandon of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, hauled in a 343-pound, 8-ounce Warsaw. According to the ledger, it was a Rodeo record breaker.
That same year, Capt. Tommy Klosterman on the Melanie Dawn and his Alabama angler pulled in a 59-pound, 10-ounce grouper for another Rodeo record, according to the ledger.
“In 1985, we caught probably the biggest snapper that had ever been weighed in the Rodeo, a 46-pound, 8-ounce snapper,” Windes said. “It was like a freak of nature.”
Windes said they caught the snapper on an octopus in 50 fathoms of water on a reef made from a car body that was put there to draw snapper.
The red snapper caught by Lane Nicholes of Clearwater held the All Tackle World Record for more than 10 years, Windes said. Today, red snapper is not even an eligible to be weighed in the Rodeo because of fishing regulations.
But there’s still plenty of fish to chase.