Destin Fishing Rodeo makes plans for upcoming tournament

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

With Destin's largest fishing tournament less than 50 days away, plans and precautions are being firmed up, at least as much as they can be in a pandemic.

The 72nd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo, Destin's longest running tradition, is still marching forward with plans to hit water on Oct. 1 for a month-long fishing event that in the past has drawn thousands of anglers from all over the United States.

Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Destin Fishing Rodeo, unpacks some of the T-shirts for this year's 72nd annual Rodeo.

"We're going forward, but leaving an open mind if things have to get pushed or canceled or changed ... hopefully we'll be able to roll with that," said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

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Right now there are about 67 boats registered for the event. Last year there were were 107 charter boats and 184 private boats that fished the tournament. During the 31 days of fishing last year, 1,093 fish made the big leaderboard, plus another 1,300 daily awards were given out. 

The 2020 Destin Fishing Rodeo guidebooks are in and loaded with information for the upcoming 72nd annual event.

Although the 67 might look small right now, Donaldson said it's about where they usually are this time of the year.

More:Destin Fishing Rodeo is still on for 2020

"I haven't even put the call out yet to the private boats," she said, noting that's on her list for this week. "People are a little hesitant, but we're very close to where we were last year at this time."

As for Rodeo judges that record information on the fish that are brought to the scales, Donaldson said there will not be a judges meeting prior to the Rodeo.

"If you'd like to be a judge let us know ... let us know the dates you're available. If you're not, we understand," she said, noting they will not be taken off the list for next year.

Donaldson said she's already received positive feedback from those wanting to volunteer to judge.

She explained she had one lady call who still wanted to judge, and wanted to know if it was OK if she wore her mask?

"Of course you can," Donaldson said.

As a matter of fact, the Rodeo will be taking precautions where they can this year due to COVID-19.

"I think we are going to be very deliberate in keeping people off the barge," she said.

The barge, located behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar, serves as kind of the weigh station for the Rodeo.

"We can't control anything beyond the barge," she said, noting AJ's will have people helping and reminding folks to space out and social distance.

"But we can't make them space out anymore than we can make them wear a mask," she said."So we're hoping people will social distance.

"My responsibility is to keep my volunteers safe, and the anglers safe and Miss Destin safe," she said.

For now, the only people on the barge will be weighmaster Bruce Cheves, Rodeo officials, judges and Miss Destin Lauren Adams.

This year, due to the virus, it will be important for captains and anglers to have their paperwork on fish they would like to enter be filled out before they back up to the scales.

The time, weight and signatures from anglers and captains will still have to be added once at the scales.

As for Rodeo merchandise, T-shirts are starting to roll in with the traditional T-shirt design expected any day. The Rodeo is also looking at maybe doing a mask with a Rodeo logo on it, plus a gaiter mask to help for face protection.

The merchandise trailer itself is taking on some precautions as well with Plexiglas being installed in the windows where volunteers serve customers. 

Some Rodeo-related events have already been canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, including the Rodeo Run, which is usually the first Sunday of October.

"We just thought it was the right thing to do," she said.

Also the Rootin Tootin Round-Up, which is usually held on Okaloosa Island Pier, has been canceled.

Everything else is still on the schedule ... but "everything is fluid," Donaldson said.