DESTIN — Despite a couple of hiccups during the month-long event, the 70th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo ended on a strong note Wednesday.
“In the beginning we had red tide, and then the hurricane shut us down for a couple days,” said weighmaster Bruce Cheves. “But we had over 1,000 entries. With everything negative that happened, it’s an extremely positive rodeo.”
On Oct. 10, Hurricane Michael plowed through the Panhandle and shut the rodeo down for about three days. Last year, Hurricane Nate closed the rodeo for a day, the first closure since Opal in 1995.
Wednesday’s finale was a bit slower than previous days, but hundreds of people watched as boats pulled in with some record-breaking fish. Less than two hours before the close of the rodeo, three first-place spots were achieved.
David Miller won first place in the under 25-foot private category with a 45.2-pound amberjack.
Just minutes later, the boat Twilight arrived at the dock from an extended trip with all aboard dressed as vampires. They had buckets of huge yellowfin tuna and grouper, which earned first place in both fish categories.
“It’s been a long month, but it’s a lot of fun,” said rodeo president John Brashears. “To me, the fishing rodeo is truly Destin — it is what Destin is in its core and what it was 35 years ago when I moved here. I like to do what I can to keep that alive. “
The last day of the rodeo always falls on Halloween, so many rodeo members and spectators dressed in creative costumes. That included Brashears, who wore a dress and a floral skeleton mask, inviting lots of laughs.
Todd Womack, the dockmaster, wore a pink sheet with fish and Tide laundry detergent pods glued to it — red tide.
Miss Destin, Ellen Brown, dressed up as a mermaid despite having a boot on her left foot after breaking it on the job Tuesday.
“It’s definitely a lot of work, but I enjoy all of it, which is great,” Brown said. “So it’s not like I’m working, it’s more like I’m hanging out with cool people.”
Jim Stieby from Bellevue, Kentucky, sat among hundreds of onlookers watching the boats dock and their fish get weighed.
He said he has been coming to Destin for the rodeo for at least five years.
“I’m a sun person, so I love sitting out here,” Stieby said. “My favorite part is watching the weigh-ins and seeing the big boats.”
Fans of the fishing rodeo can expect the same traditions next year.
“We’ve been upgrading the (weigh-in) board and making it more efficient for several years,” Cheves said. “We’ve added more divisions. But I think we got it just about perfect.”
When everything was said and done, this year’s rodeo was one of the best, Cheves said.
“As things fall down, we just stand them back up and go back to what we’re doing,” he said. “No matter what is thrown at us, we’re going to make fishing great again.”