Destin Fishing Rodeo names top captains for the 72nd annual event
More than 150 fishermen, family and friends gathered outside at AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar on Friday evening for the 72nd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo awards.
The 2020 Rodeo, like so many other things this year, experienced a few changes because of the threat of two hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and a pandemic.
But one thing that didn't change — the boats went out and they brought back fish for 31 days in October.
And during those 31 days, five captains — Cliff Cox, Robert Hill, Mark Hotze, Billy Sexton and Andrew Dover — went after it hard and strong, enough to warrant the honor of the Captains Award.
Each year, at the end of the month-long fishing Rodeo, the points are accumulated and five captains are recipients of the Captains Award in their various divisions. Each captain receives 20 points for a first-place finish on the leaderboard, 10 for second place, seven points for a bonus or weekly award and one point for a daily award.
Capt. Cox of the Sweet Jody won the Party Boat Division Captain Award with 185 points. This marks the 11th time Cox has won the award in the past 13 years.
Out of 20 slots on the leaderboard in the Party Boat Division, the Sweet Jody finished with fish in 10 of the slots.
"But it's because of these guys," Cox said as he looked around his table of anglers and deckhands.
"These guys, they come and support me and fish their ass off. I couldn't do it without them," Cox said.
The Sweet Jody fished about 20 to 22 days in October, which Cox said is not as many as usual.
"We got weathered out," he said.
Although the Sweet Jody targets all fish and weighed in many throughout the month, one particular fish stuck out to Cox.
"I'm probably most proud of the grouper Bob (Mawson) caught, because he's missed the last two Rodeos because of deaths in his family. We were all pulling for him this year and he got the first-place grouper,"
Mawson of Destin took first with a 30.2-pound grouper caught on Day 14 of the Rodeo.
Capt. Robert Hill of the Twilight won the Charter Boat Captain Award with 236 points.
This marks the fourth time Hill has won the award, the third in a row with deckhand Jordan Colson. They fished 22 days and lost seven days.
He and his anglers were spattered all over the leaderboard, from first- and second-place mingo to first in yellowfin tuna with a 151.6-pounder and big eye tuna, 156.2 pounds. They also placed in the Ladies Division with an 82.4-pound amberjack caught by local angler Jonelle Bell and in the Senior Division with a 63.4-pound almaco jack caught by Michael Mathis of Indiana. Altogether, the Twilight finished with 14 spots on the board.
However, the fish Hill was most proud of were the tunas.
"The big tunas, they are the hardest fish in the Gulf to catch and we won both of them. That's what we're proud of, and the marlins," he said.
The Twilight also won the tag and release division, with three releases.
"We always try as hard as we can every day and this captain award is just a byproduct of that. We go every day ... wide open," he said.
But Hill was quick to give credit to his crew.
"The crew is what makes it work. ... I'm just the bus driver," Hill said.
Winner of the 25-foot-and-under Charter Boat Captain Award was newcomer Capt. Mark Hotze of 30A Light Tackle with 122 points.
Hotze, who has been chartering out of Destin for only a little more than a year, secured seven spots on the leaderboard, three which lasted the entire month. Angler Evan Norris on Day 1 fished with Hotze and pulled in a 3.2-pound mingo, 3.8-pound and 2.4-pound scamp that lasted 31 days on the board.
"All I really wanted to do was participate and weigh in a fish," Hotze said.
"It's supposed to be fun ... all I want is for people to leave my boat and want to go fishing again," he said.
Hotze and 30A Light Tackle fished about 10 to 15 days during the Rodeo.
Winning the Private Boat Captain Award was Capt. Billy Sexton aboard the SS Mullet with 66 points.
Sexton, who has won the award in years past, finished this year with four spots on the board.
"We only fished five days, but they were really good days," Sexton said.
Sexton said they like to target king mackerel and grouper. As a matter of fact, they won the King Mackerel Daily award three times during the month and finished on the overall board in second place with a 43.2-pound king mackerel.
The SS Mullet also took first in grouper with a 42.6-pounder, first in wahoo with a 48-pounder and second in the Junior Angler Division with a 35.6-pound king mackerel caught by William Sexton.
"We love it," Sexton said.
"We go to make memories," his son William chimed in.
In the 25-foot-and-under Private Boat Division, Capt. Andrew Dover of Muscle Memories won the Captains Award with 114 points.
This is Dover's second time to win the award and his fourth year to fish the event.
"We fished six days. Four were quality trips," Dover said.
They finished the month with seven spots on the leaderboard. They had the first-place grouper for their division, 45.4 pounds; first-place amberjack, 51.6 pounds; first-place mingo, 3.8 pounds; first-place scamp, 7.8 pounds; second-place blackfin tuna, 24.6 pounds; second-place mingo, 3.6 pounds; and second-place scamp, 3 pounds.
"It feels good to go out and win the awards," Dover said.
Other big award winners were:
Capt. Doug Lambert of Lambert Electric with a 57.8-pound king mackerel to take first place in the Chubby Destin Memorial King Mackerel Jackpot. Capt. Brady Bowman on the Bow'd Up took second and third with a 48.4-pounder and a 43.8-pounder.
Capt. Allen Staples of the 100 Proof with a 58-pound wahoo for first in the Tony's Marine Phasor Wahoo Generator Jackpot.
John Mattioli of Alabama with an 84-pound amberjack caught aboard the ChampionShip for first place in the AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar AJ's Bonus Awards Division worth $3,000. Jim Chakour of Illinois with an 83.6-pound amberjack on the Fluid Mechanics took second worth $2,000; and Jonelle Bell with an 82.4-pounder on the Twilight finished third for $1,000.
Randy Copley and Jason Audet, mates on the Sweet Jody, won the Party Boat Mates of the Year.
Jordon Colson of the Twilight won the Charter Boat Mate of the Year.