EDITOR’S NOTE: They say a photo is worth a 1,000 words. For the last few weeks leading up to the October Destin Fishing Rodeo, The Destin Log has been taking a look back at some iconic Rodeo photos found in the “Fifty Years of Fishing the Destin Fishing Rodeo” book and relay the story behind the photo. This is the last in the series of fish tales … for now.
For a 7-year-old boy, getting checked out of school early to go fishing is almost as big as actually catching a big fish.
In October of 1990, Pete Wright Jr. got to experience both. Not only did his dad check him out of school early to fish the Destin Fishing Rodeo, but he got on the leaderboard with a 46 pound 4 ounce sailfish to place second overall in the Offshore Division.
“Look at that guy,” Wright said as he looked at the photo of the small blonde-headed kid standing barefoot by his sailfish at Marina Point.
“I remember I was 7 years old and I’m pretty positive that Dad checked me out of school that day,” Wright said sitting at The Ships Chandler. “It wasn’t just that it was my first billfish … (I) got thrown in the water and all that type stuff. The coolest thing about it, that I remember, was being checked out of school to fish the Destin Fishing Rodeo.”
Wright admitted he has neglected to take his own kids out fishing in the Rodeo, but said he’s planning on doing it this year.
“I’ll never forget that opportunity,” he said. “Going fishing any day is great, but the chance to get checked out of school a little early and go out there and fish … was a pretty cool experience all together. It was a good time spent with Dad, that’s for sure.”
Wright said he was fishing with his dad, Pete Wright Sr., on a Mako 19 boat and they were fishing just outside the Pass right offshore of the sea buoy.
The two were mackerel fishing with live bait with a rod in the downrigger.
“I remember Dad looking at the rod and that rod was just bump, bump … and I remember him saying that looks like a sailfish bite,” Wright said. “And sure enough, it pops out of the downrigger and the rod bends over, and here comes a sailfish jumping.
“The funniest thing about it, I was 7 … and I’m a pretty good little fisherman for my age, but I’m still a little kid,” he added. “In all the pictures Dad had of me fighting that sailfish, that rod never bent over one time.”
Wright said the fish was so far away and had taken out so much line, he was just reeling fast to get the slack out of the line.
About 15 minutes later he got the fish to the boat and they were able to get a gaff in it.
Wright said there was another boat nearby and they took pictures of them holding up the fish.
“It was a big deal … a huge deal,” he said.
Past putting the fish in the boat, Wright doesn’t remember much after the fact.
“I just remember being on cloud nine weighing in this big sailfish that was twice my size … it was a pretty good show," he said. "And to be a kid, feeling like you’re competing with the big dogs, the adults and charter boats … and here’s this little kid with a nice big sailfish in the offshore division. That was a fun time.”
And as tradition has it, Wright got tossed in the water at Marina Point for landing his first sailfish.
Wright said he later got tossed in again when he caught his first white marlin.
“I got tossed in twice … I’m still mad about it,” he said with a smile on his face.
“Nobody likes getting thrown in, even if it’s the biggest fish, nobody likes getting thrown in the water, especially in Destin harbor in front of all your friends and stuff. But I survived.”
For his sailfish he got a big plaque and an engraved silver plate.
“I probably wasn’t as proud of the big plate, but I put my big plaque up there on the wall of fame,” he said.
Wright said he went on to win many dailies over the years in the Rodeo.
“Back then it wasn’t T-shirts … it was a plaque for every single daily … I had stacks. I still have them somewhere,” he said, noting they are probably collecting dust somewhere.
But as for that first sailfish and getting an early out at school, that was the best, he said.
“Whether I caught something or not … it was going to be fun. And that (sailfish) was just the icing on the cake,” Wright said.