Some compete with bats and balls, but for 31 days in October each year folks in Destin do it with rod and reels, hooks and baits.
The 70th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo wrapped up last week with the “Captains Awards” being named at the end of the month-long tournament in the five boat divisions, Charter, 25-foot and Under Charter, Private, 25-foot and Under Private and Party Boat. The awards are determined on a point system, where the captain receives 20 points for a first place fish, 10 points for second places and one point for dailies.
For Capt. Cliff Cox of the Sweet Jody, it wasn’t his first time in the winners circle. Sunday night at the awards banquet held at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar marked his ninth time to win the coveted Captains Award.
“It was a tough year, competition wise,” Cox said, noting the Swoop party boats were nipping at his heels all month long.
However, his group of fishermen got enough on the board and dailies to put the Sweet Jody on top.
“I’m real competitive,” Cox said.
Over the years he has assembled a team of fishermen that he calls “The Dogs,” each one has his own dog name such as Philly Dog for the transplant from Philadelphia, Kona Dog for the angler from Hawaii, and Chili Dog for the one that likes chili dogs.
The group of Dogs won six of the nine places for the Sweet Jody on the leaderboard, plus add in all the dailies and Cox collected 149 points with 55 total entries.
“We fished hard and some long days. But it’s not just me,” Cox said, giving credit to all his anglers.
The Sweet Jody fished 26 days out of 31.
Cox has three fish he’s pretty proud of for the month, a 6-pound mingo, a 15.4-pound scamp and his 23.8-pound red grouper.
“We’ve been pursuing a 6-pound mingo for a while,” Cox said.
They caught the 6 pounder on the last day of the Rodeo and it was biggest out of all divisions for the event.
“There were a lot of top guns competing,” he said.
One of the big guns to compete and winning the Charter Boat Captains Award was Capt. Robert Hill of the Twilight. This was Hill’s second time to win the title after previously winning in 2014.
“It’s just fun to compete against your buddies,” Hill said, noting they all talk when they’re on the water. “I just happen to come out on top this year. … It’s the way the fish hit the scales.”
His biggest fish to hit the scales came on the last day of the Rodeo, a 143.2-pound yellowfin tuna, earning them a first place spot in the Extended Voyage Division.
“That was the most challenging and gratifying,” Hill said of the tuna.
Other big fish brought in on the Twilight earning him them points were a pair of 5.6- and 5.2-pound mingo to take first and second in the Charter Boat Division, a 16.8-pound scamp for first, a 20.6-pound grouper for first in the Junior Division, a 67-pound amberjack in the Senior Division, a 71.6-pound amberjack for a first in the Ladies Division, and a 50.6-pound grouper in the Extended Voyage Division to name a few.
All in all the Twilight fished 16 days and gleaned 196 points with 32 fish entries.
However, Hill said he couldn’t have done it without his crew of Jordan Colson and Scott Burke, who served as his second captain on the overnight trips.
As for Capt. Josh Calhoon of Destin Inshore Guides he was a one-man crew earning himself the Captains Award for the second year in a row for the 25-and Under Charter Boat.
“I fished every day but three. I was booked up pretty good,” Calhoon said, noting he didn’t fish the three days the Rodeo was shut down due to Hurricane Michael churning things up.
During those three days, Calhoon said he missed six trips.
Calhoon, who got after it hard throughout the month, had two trips most days with his customers making their way to the scales for dailies.
At the end of the month, Calhoon had collected 136 points with his 82 entries.
Calhoon said his favorite fish to go after is the redfish. He managed to put his anglers on that species and reeled in a 7.6- and a 7.4-pounder for first and second place.
“It was fun. … I just try to let the customer experience (the Rodeo and a have chance to weigh something in)," he said.
And with a chance to win the accolades of the Captains Award he said it makes you want to do well.
“It gives you a reason to put in that extra effort,” he said.
For Capt. Allen Staples of the Wynsong, it only took him two half-day trips to collect enough points to win the Private Boat Captains Award.
“It’s tough competition … I’m always shooting for it,” Staples said of the award.
This was his second time to win the Captains Award. His first was in 2011 in the 25-foot and Under Charter Boat Division when he had the Locked Up 2.
The Wynsong tallied 53 points to win the award this year with his prize catch being a 7.2-pound triple tail that he had to net with a 5-gallon bucket. His anglers also placed first in mingo with a 4.4 pounder and second in scamp with a 9.2 pounder.
As for the 25-and Under Private Boat, the Captains Award went to Capt. Charles Gibson of the Destin-ation. The Destin-ation earned 61 points. They took first and second in the red grouper category with an 18.8 and a 16.8-pounder. Gibson also took first the in the Almaco Jack division with a 23-pounder.