Rodeo kicks off 68th year with big party

Annie Blanks | 315-4450 | @DestinLogAnnie |
People gathered for barbecue and live music at AJ's on the harbor Wednesday night for the annual Rock the Dock party, which kicks off the Destin Fishing Rodeo. ANNIE BLANKS/Destin Log

The 68th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo started off with a bang at the Rock the Dock kickoff party, hosted by AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar Wednesday night.

Just two days before the rodeo officially kicked off and boats head out to sea to reel in the big ones, captains and crews gathered at AJ’s for rules, registration and the unveiling of owner Alan Laird’s new big catch tribute to fishermen.

“It’s the official kickoff to the annual fishing rodeo,” said executive director Helen Donaldson. “We probably had 175 boats registered today … and now they’re having a big party.”

The band Modern Eldorados was playing on the big stage, and hundreds of people were out enjoying barbecue and fun under the setting September sun.

Capt. Eric Anderson, who will be competing in the ocean kayaker division, was there with his family and said he was looking forward to simply catching fish.

“I like the spirit and the whole atmosphere of the rodeo,” Anderson said. “We may not be big like Pensacola, but we have heritage. It’s about pride.”

Rodeo Weighmaster Bruce Cheves, who will be emceeing the rodeo for the 27th year, was excited about the possibility of new fish coming in to the docks.

“You never know what’s going to happen on a daily basis. Might be a fish comes in that I’ve never seen before,” Cheves said. “I know a lot about fish, but every once in a while they bring one in and you’ve got to look at the books.”

The Destin Fishing Rodeo kicks off Saturday and lasts till Monday, Oct. 31. The public is invited down to the docks every day during the rodeo from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. to see the boats come in and catches be weighed.