Sparks: Serving as Miss Destin is more hands-on than anticipated

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

She’s not fond of fish guts, but Kaylie Sparks is settling into the role of Miss Destin 2021 nicely at the 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo. 

Sparks was crowned Miss Destin in May during the annual pageant. As Miss Destin, her main duty is to serve at the Destin Fishing Rodeo, plus to serve as an ambassador of sorts for Destin throughout the year. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks puts a tail rope around an amberjack at the weigh in scales at the Destin Fishing Rodeo on Tuesday afternoon.

However, in October, when the month-long fishing Rodeo takes place, she and fish take center stage at the weigh-in scales. 

“It’s been good,” Sparks said after almost two weeks under her belt. 

“I didn’t expect to be hauling the fish as much … but I like it. I think it’s more fun, I really do,” she said. 

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“I thought I would just be taking pictures. But Lauren has taught me to be more hands on with it all,” she said. 

Lauren Adams, Miss Destin 2020, came down the first weekend of the Rodeo to help Sparks get her footing and assist with the weigh ins. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks tosses the rope to deckhand Jan Michael Garcia on the Bow'd Up Tuesday afternoon at the Rodeo barge behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar.

“I like it a lot … it’s been fun,” Sparks said. “I didn’t know how hands on it would be. I didn’t know what I was walking into to be honest.”

Nevertheless, Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo, said "Kaylie is doing a beautiful job as Miss Destin. 

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“She’s really flourishing out there on the barge,” Donaldson said. 

Donaldson explained that with the new camera system, she can watch from her office the comings and goings on the weigh-in barge. 

“I can see her out there and she looks like she is really enjoying herself. We are very pleased with her,” Donaldson said. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks presents a young angler with a certificate of his catch along with a rod and reel at the Destin Fishing Rodeo on Tuesday afternoon.

Serving as Miss Destin of the Rodeo is more than just posing for photos with the anglers and their catches. 

Over the years, Miss Destin has helped to haul fish from the boats to the scales, hoisting the fish up on the ropes as well as even a gutting a fish or two. 

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“It’s not even out of my comfort zone, it’s just that I’ve never done it before,” she said about weighing and handling fish. 

And “gutting” is her least favorite. 

“Bruce has tried to make me gut a fish,” she said. 

Long-time Rodeo weighmaster Bruce Cheves usually tries to coax the girls into gutting a fish during the Rodeo. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks has learn how handle fish at the Destin Fishing Rodeo. Pictured here she holds up a speckled trout.

“I don’t mind touching a fish, but whenever they are alive or getting gutted, that’s when I’m like,” she said as she threw up her hands. 

“I’m not a fan. It’s a little gross,” Sparks said. 

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On the first day of the Rodeo, Sparks got baptized by fire so to speak when an angler brought a flounder to the scales that he had planned to release, so the fish was still alive. As they hooked the flounder up and put it on the scales, it flopped around a bit when Sparks went to stand beside it for the photo. She flinched around as well. 

But she’s learning to love all that the Rodeo entails. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks and Capt. Mike Eller of the Lady Em have a little fun posing for photos with a yellow fin tuna brought in on the Lady Em during the first three days of the Rodeo.

“I really like it,” she said, noting she is excited to take a half-day Rodeo fishing trip with family, Adams and others aboard the Huntress with Capt. Mike Graef on Oct. 19. 

In the meantime, she is enjoying meeting the many people that make it down to AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar to watch the weigh-ins each day. 

“I like just meeting the different people and talking to them from all over. I had a long talk with this couple from Oklahoma and they were saying how nice it was here, not having to wear mask … and that it just feels normal here,” she said. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks grabs hold of a blackfin tuna one of the anglers brought in on Tuesday at the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Sparks is taking in the whole experience from meeting different people to listening to weighmaster Bruce Cheves weave his fish tales. 

“Bruce stories are hilarious … I’ve never heard them,” she said. 

Sparks is surprised at Cheves' knowledge of fish as well as movies about fish. She explained that Cheves recently talked about the movie, "The Shallows," which is about surviving a white shark attack. 

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks writes up a certificate for a junior angler at the Destin Fishing Rodeo. Each youth that brings in a fish to weigh gets a certificate of their catch as well as a free rod and reel.

“He is saying every part of the movie … it went on for 30 minutes,” she said. “It was so funny how many people were listening.” 

Not only is Miss Destin loving it at the Rodeo, but her family is as well. 

“They all come down here,” she said.

Opening weekend of the Rodeo, Dr. Houston Sparks, her dad, assisted with hoisting the fish on the ropes, while her younger brother, Grayson, hooked and hauled fish from the boats to the scales.  

Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks, who has handled a lot of slimy fish, said she finds herself using a washcloth very often.

“My sister Morgan has brought her friends down,” Sparks said, noting her mother and grandmother have made it to the Rodeo as well. 

“They all love it,” she said. 

If Sparks had a word to pass on to the next Miss Destin of 2022, it would be “no dresses.” 

“I did it one day … but it was a little difficult,” she said. Skorts, shorts and Rodeo T-shirts is the way to go, Sparks said.