There is still time to register for month-long Destin Fishing Rodeo set for October

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The countdown is on.

The 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo is just over a month away. 

“It’s coming fast and furious,” said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo. 

The Rodeo, Destin’s longest-running tradition, is held the entire month of October on the docks behind AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, with more than 34,000 anglers from all over the United States expected to participate. There are more than 200 slots on the leaderboard for the fishermen to fill up with the many species in the Gulf of Mexico and bay. 

Boat captains continue to register for the 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo. Capt. Bryan Kelley of the Screamn Drag stopped by Tuesday afternoon to pay his registration fee to Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo.

In three weeks, the Rodeo merchandise trailer will be making the move to the harbor next to AJ’s, loaded with T-shirts, hats, posters and more. 

“AJ’s just goes over and above for us every year,” Donaldson said. “Those guys work very hard for us. Moving and grooving for us … moving everything, and we really appreciate it.”

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But for now, “We’re registering boats left and right,” Donaldson said as Capt. Bryan Kelley of the charter boat Screamn Drag stopped by to register. 

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“The private boats are just now gearing up and getting in here” to register, she said. 

Many of the charter fishing fleet usually register early so they can be listed in the Rodeo book, which went to print in July. 

However, this year the number of charters listed in the book is down. 

This is the design for the traditional Destin Fishing Rodeo T-shirt.

The book has 66 boats listed, where in the past the number of early registered boats was 75.  

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“It’s been a weird year … but we’ll end up with 108 boats,” Donaldson said. “I don’t know why it’s down. Maybe they are all so busy they don’t have to time to register. But they need to get registered to fish the first day.

Here is just one of the five T-shirt designs for this year's 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“And it’s going to be a crazy first day,” she added. 

The first day of the Rodeo this year coincides with the opening of the Destin Seafood Festival on the harbor, which brings in people by the thousands. 

“It’s going to be nuts, but we’ve done it before,” Donaldson said. 

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But before that first day, a few days to mark on your calendar to get Rodeo ready include the Meet Miss Destin event on Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. at Harbor Docks. That is an introduction part for Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks. 

Next up will be the captains and mates meeting on Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. downstairs at AJ’s. Boat captains who have not registered will be able to do so at that event starting at 4 p.m. 

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Then at 6 p.m. on Sept. 29, the Reel Local Rodeo Kick-Off Party begins at AJ’s. This is a family-fun gathering and cookout. 

Then the fishing begins on Oct. 1 and goes for 31 days. 

And if fishing is not your thing, there are other ways to participate in the Rodeo. 

"You can just come watch, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s a sight to see,” Donaldson said. 

Weighmaster Bruce Cheves will be down on the Rodeo barge spinning tales while spectators wait for the boats to back in with their bounty. 

The Destin Fishing Rodeo is for young and old alike. Miss Destin 2020 Lauren Adams helps this young angler celebrate his catch at last year's Rodeo.

“We’ve got spectators that come the entire month, from Missouri, Indiana or Illinois, wherever they are from and they just stay the whole month. They are down there every day,” Donaldson said. 

The scales are open daily throughout the month from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Plus, the Rodeo uses many volunteers. 

Meet one of the volunteers:Felipe Gutierrez fits right in at Destin Fishing Rodeo

More:Miss Destin Lauren Adams juggles school, work and fish, and loves every minute of it

“We’ve got great volunteers,” Donaldson said, from the judges that record the catch information to the crew on the barge to the folks that work in the merchandise trailer. 

"We have about 400 volunteers and they put in about 2,000 hours (throughout the month),” she said. 

As for COVID-19 concerns, the Rodeo is an entirely outdoor event. 

Nothing draws a crowd like a shark. The cellphone cameras came out as the Lady Em weighed in a 218.6-pound mako during last year's Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“It’s outdoors, spectators are outdoors, fishing is outdoors. It’s an outdoor family event,” said Donaldson, who noted that she didn’t hear of any spread of COVID during last year's Rodeo. 

And the event is for all ages. 

“We’ve got a lot of new people in the area. They need to know this is what Destin is all about: the world-famous Fishing Rodeo. If you’re new in town, you need to at least come check it out. It’s a sight to see and it’s free,” Donaldson said.