Destin Fishing Rodeo getting ready in COVID conditions

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Just like everything else in 2020, the 72nd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo, which begins Oct. 1, will take on a few new looks this year due to the pandemic that has swept across the country.

But not to fear, the part that will not change is there will be plenty of fishing going on throughout the month of October.

As a matter of fact, "it was a busy day yesterday," said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo.

Donaldson said she registered 20 boats on Monday alone, bringing the total as of earlier this week to 41 private boats and 74 charter boats.

"We're down a little bit, but I'm excited we have that ... we're just happy to have them," she said, noting the week leading up to the Rodeo is when the majority of the private boats register.

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"And we have a lot of people from out of town bringing their boats," she said.

The Rodeo is known to draw anglers from all over the United States as well as crowds daily at AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar to watch the weigh-ins.

So what kind of precautions is the Rodeo taking during this pandemic?

People allowed on the Rodeo barge, where the weigh ins take place, will be limited.

In addition to weighmaster Bruce Cheves, Miss Destin Lauren Adams, and the judges, "The only people allowed on the barge are the angler and the captain," Donaldson said.

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And to cut back on contact between the anglers and the judges, the anglers will fill out the forms. Usually the volunteer judge would fill out the forms that list the anglers name, address, boat fished on, etc. 

Donaldson said she had a few volunteer judges express concerns about getting too close to the anglers to gather the information.

Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Destin Fishing Rodeo, displays the new t-shirt design for the 72nd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo.Ê The month-long rodeo kicks off Oct. 1.

With noise from the crowd and boats, "anglers are right there in their face giving them the information, so why not just hand it to the angler to fill out," Donaldson said.

The judges will still make sure everything is legible, but the judges will put the weight and time on the forms.

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And to cut back on having a person run back and forth through the crowd to turn in the forms, the Rodeo is going to have a wireless scanner on the barge to forward the forms right up to Donaldson in her office at AJ's.

As far as the big leaderboard, it most likely will only be updated once a day, Donaldson said. However she is looking to have a leaderboard, on a much smaller scale on the barge, that Cheves and the judges can keep updated.

"We can only do what we can do," Donaldson said. "But we're doing everything we can," she said to stay safe.

Among the new items that will be available at the t-shirt trailer during this year's annual Destin Fishing Rodeo is a face mask with the new rodeo logo.

As a matter of fact, the merchandise trailer will have plexiglass over the windows to protect the volunteer sales clerks as well as the Rodeo goers.

And in addition to the coveted Rodeo T-shirts, caps and visors, the Rodeo, keeping with the theme of staying safe, will have Rodeo masks for sale that bear the new Rodeo logo. The captains will have a Hoo-rag in their buckets, that work as face coverings as well with the Rodeo logo.

Tina Harbuck, Destin Log reporter and Destin Fishing Rodeo board member, displays one of the new items for sale in the 72nd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo. The T-shirt trailer will be selling these neck gaiters and face masks with the new Destin Fishing Rodeo design.

"A lot of captains wear them anyway ... so it was a useful product but also for the situation we're in with COVID," she said.

As for rod and reels normally given to the youngsters who bring in a fish, that will not happen this year "for safety sake," Donaldson said.

Usually when a child catches a fish, they have to be accompanied by a parent, sometimes a sibling and others.

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"We just can't have that this year, unfortunately," Donaldson said. "Hopefully, next year we'll be able to get back to normal."

As a matter of fact, only one fish and angler will be allowed on the barge at a time.

"It may take longer, but people are going to have to understand," she said. 

And the first two or three days is going to be hectic. 

"We're going to do it to the best of our ability ... and that's all we can do. We're just happy we can have a Rodeo," Donaldson said.

As far as spectators go, AJ's has posted signage that encourages folks to stay 6-feet, or a dolphin length, apart.

The Rodeo kicks off Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. on the docks behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar. The scales will be open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.