A new reef and recognition at the Rodeo

Tina Harbuck
Carey Ricks, whose namesake reef has become a home to schools of fish, is seen in this photo doing what he loved to do, fish.

Sunday will be a day of remembering and recognition at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar for those who have enhanced our local fishery.

The Emerald Coast Reef Association will recognize four local divers Sunday for their efforts to help eliminate lionfish from local waters.

Rob Dietz, Mark Konz, Scott Bartel and Clint Retherford recently won an ECRA contest that challenged participants to kill at least 100 lionfish, which are an invasive species that threatens the survivability of the native fishery.

At 5:30 p.m. Sunday at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar during the weigh-in for the Destin Fishing Rodeo, Sen. Don Gaetz is scheduled to present the four men with the first-ever Champion of the Fishery Award.

Later that evening at 7, immediately following the rodeo’s final weigh-ins behind AJ’s, there will be a brief memorial to commemorate the life and times of departed friend and fellow fisherman Carey Ricks and the release of the location of the AJ's/Carey Ricks Memorial Reef.

On Sept. 22, 2011, to mark AJ's 10-year milestone hosting the Destin Fishing Rodeo, Alan Laird took the former water vessel and restaurant Baby J's, stripped it down and with the help of the Emerald Coast Reef Association, created a reef that is now the home to a large variety of fish 100 feet below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s the most beautiful manmade reef in existence,” said Shawn Rogers who’s been diving for more than 25 years, and got a close up look of the reef Thursday.

“There are more than 100,000 fish on it,” including an 800-pound mako shark and a bunch of bull shark, he added.

Rogers said he and his diving buddy Jesse Wimberly saw every type of snapper, grouper and amberjack on the reef. “It’s loaded with triggerfish,” Wimberly said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rogers said, noting there were baitfish everywhere.

This reef was dedicated to Carey Ricks, a former deckhand and friend who passed away 10 years ago on Oct. 22, 2002.

As a 10-year memorial of Carey’s death, Alan and AJ's will release the coordinates at this service Sunday to honor the memory of a friend who enjoyed life and the simple and basic pleasures of fishing.

“Fishing is a resource and pleasure that I have enjoyed most of my life and in many ways I have profited from this experience,” Laird said. “This wonderful source for fishing life is the greatest gift that I can give back to a community that I am so proud to call my home."

As an annual rodeo tradition, Weighmaster Bruce Cheves will also “ring the bell” at 4 p.m. and honor those in the fishing community we’ve lost in the last year.

The rodeo and memorial services are free to the public and all are welcomed to attend.