Destin Fishing Rodeo shuts down temporarily due to Hurricane Zeta

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

In an effort to stay safe as Hurricane Zeta approached the Gulf Coast, the Destin Fishing Rodeo board of directors decided to close down the scales at 2 p.m. Wednesday and reopen at 2 p.m. Thursday. 

"It's the smart thing to do," said Capt. Eric Thrasher, chairman-elect for next year's Rodeo.

"I don't know who would be out there right now ... but this is a good plan," Thrasher said.

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The board had a quick meeting on the docks Wednesday morning.

"It's for the safety and well-being for all our anglers," board member Tim Broom said.

"The storm will be well north of here by 2 p.m. Thursday and we'll be ready to rock and roll. We should have a great ending," Broom said.

Destin Fishing Rodeo weighmaster Bruce Cheves checks his hooks and wiring for the scales Wednesday morning. The scales were temporarily moved because of Hurricane Zeta.

Wednesday morning, Capt. Mike Eller and his group of anglers on the Lady Em came in from an overnight trip with four fish to weigh. They weighed in a grouper, a couple of scamp and a king mackerel that made it onto the leaderboard in the Extended Voyage Division.

After that, weighmaster Bruce Cheves, along with help from workers from the host site, AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar, moved the scales around to the side of the building out of the wind. And the barge that serves as a weigh station for the tournament was pulled away from the docks about 2 p.m., so it wouldn't beat up against them.

This barge serves as a weigh station for the Destin Fishing Rodeo. Before Hurricane Zeta makes landfall, the staff at AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar moved the barge in the middle of the slip away from the docks.

"Fine by me," Cheves said of the temporary closure.

"If they're not dead ... they'll wish they were dead or hadn't gone," Cheves said.

"But it's the Rodeo and we can do what's necessary," he said.

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Cheves said the only thing he anticipated coming in would be a fish in the pier, bridge, jetty and surf division.

"And they'll be casting to the west," he said

Following the 24-hour closure, Friday and Saturday will be business as usual at the Rodeo, with the barge back in place and scales open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.

"We should have two good days of good fishing," said board member Capt. Chris Schofield.

The Rodeo this year, like everything else, has had to deal with COVID-19 as well as hurricanes.

Destin Fishing Rodeo Executive Director Helen Donaldson was on the docks Wednesday morning talking with Dylan Touchton of AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar about when the barge would be moved. The barge, set up behind AJ's, serves as a weigh station for the Rodeo.

"No one is out there fishing today and there's no reason for us to put at risk our volunteer judges and workers," said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo.

Donaldson said that some of the volunteers drive in from Fort Walton Beach, and Rodeo officials didn't want them to have to travel across the bridges if the wind picks up.

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"We're going to get everybody out safe and out of here by 2 o'clock and be back by 2 o'clock tomorrow and Rodeo on," she said. 

"I'm excited about the weekend. ... It's going to lay down and be good."

Rodeo fishing wraps up Saturday evening, with the Rodeo Awards Party at 4 p.m., Nov. 6 at AJ's.