It’s a wrap: 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo is in the books

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

After rough seas all week, the boats finally had a good weather on the final day of the 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo to get out and fish, and they did. 

“It was a great way to end it,” said Capt. Mike Graef of the Huntress. “Everybody got to go where they wanted to and some nice fish were caught today.”

The crowd gathered on the docks behind AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar got a great look at the 145-pound yellowfin tuna brought in on the Twilight as it went up on the scales on the final day of the 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo.

The Huntress had one of those nice fish, a 29-pound king mackerel caught by 70-year-old Jackson White of Freeport for a first-place spot in the Senior Division. 

When it was all said and done at the end of the evening, weighmaster Bruce Cheves called his last “Time is” at 6:55 p.m. on a 4.6-pound mingo caught aboard the Sweet Jody with Capt. Cliff Cox for a daily and the final fish entry of the 73rd annual Rodeo, fish No. 1,093. 

Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo, came on the weigh-in barge at the end of the night and thanked everyone for coming down day after day.  

"Under the Sea" was the theme for the crew aboard the Twilight charter boat on Halloween. The crew backed in at the Destin Fishing Rodeo with two whopper yellowfin tuna that placed on the leaderboard.

She thanked the volunteers that have put in more than 2,500 hours throughout the month serving in the merchandise trailer to working on the barge throwing ropes to serving as judges. 

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“We had almost 300 boats that participated in the Rodeo this year, and those boats brought in about 35,000 anglers to the Rodeo,” Donaldson said. "And thanks to our community that supports this event and thank you to all our spectators. ... We have truly become a spectator event.”

But before the final time was called Sunday, 15 changes were made on the overall leaderboard. 

Capt. Scott Whitehurst of On the Bite and angler Omar Breiz show off the 9-pound black snapper Breiz caught for a first place spot on the Destin Fishing Rodeo leaderboard.

Capt. Andrew Dover on the Muscle Memories came in by noon with a 6.6-pound black snapper for a first place in the Private Boat Division. 

Throughout the day, the daily board was constantly changing with boats bringing in grouper, mingo and more. 

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About 3:30 p.m., Playing Catch came in with a 13.4-pound grouper for a second-place spot on the leaderboard in the 25-foot and Under Charter Boat Division. Avery Cawthon, an 8-year-old from Crestview, pulled in the fish. 

30A Light Tackle came in with a 4-pound sheepshead caught by Thomas Jaeger of Destin for a second-place spot in the Inshore Division. 

It was a busy Sunday afternoon on the final day of the 73rd annual Destin Fishing Rodeo with boats coming and going.

Capt. Allen Staples of the 100 Proof came in with a few dailies and said it was “slick calm” on the Gulf.

Capt. Tony Davis of the Anastasia had a 76.8-pound amberjack for a daily and bragged on how “beautiful” it was on the Gulf.

“It was a good day,” Davis said. 

Capt. Brady Bowman of the Bow’d Up came in just before 5 p.m. with a few fish to weigh. They had a 46.2-pound grouper caught by Bill McKissick of Destin for a second place in the Senior Division.  

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“We had 6-footers yesterday and today it was slick calm and beautiful,” Bowman said. 

The Huntress was next with its senior king mackerel. 

Then the Kitchen Pass with Capt. Travis Ream got on the board with a 26.8-pound almaco jack caught by Zack Whitetree of Mary Esther. 

People came and stayed Sunday until the final time was called on the last fish of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Capt. Scott Whitehurst aboard the On The Bite got on the leaderboard in a big way on the final day by taking over three spots. Toff Wolf of Destin weighed in an 18.6-pound almaco jack for first, Rick Pope of Destin weighed in an 8-pound black snapper for second and Omar Breiz of Mary Esther weighed in a 9-pound black snapper for first. Those were all in the 25-foot and Under Charter Boat Division. 

“We had a great month,” Whitehurst said. “I had a lot of great customers that would go when I wanted to go. 

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“And three fish on the board … I’d call that a good day,” he added. 

Not long after, Pete Lisi of Alpharetta, Georgia, weighed in a 6.6-pound black snapper for a first in the Private Boat Division. 

Richard Kays of Kentucky shows off his 145-pound yellowfin tuna he caught aboard the Twilight with Capt. Robert Hill. His catch took over first in the Extended Voyage Division of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Wayne Garcia of Niceville walked up with redfish to weigh that he caught aboard his paddleboard. His catch weighed 2.8 pounds and took second on the board. 

At 6:15 p.m. Tunnel Vision pulled in with a whopper of a wahoo. Shannon Carmichael of Fort Walton Beach weighed in a 73.6-pounder for a first in the Private Boat Division. 

As the sun started to go down, Capt. Capt. Robert Hill and his crew on the Twilight didn’t disappoint the crowd that had been hanging out at the docks most of the day. With anglers and crew dressed in Halloween costumes ranging from a turtle and octopus to a shark following an “Under the Sea” theme, they came in with some massive fish from the sea. 

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James Richardson weighed in a 144.4-pound yellowfin tuna for second in the Extended Voyage Division, while Richard Kays weighed in a 145-pound yellowfin tuna for first. 

The crew had been out for three days.

The Championship weighed in a daily catch as did the Sweet Jody. 

Destin Fishing Rodeo Executive Director Helen Donaldson thanked the volunteers and spectators for supporting the Rodeo. Also pictured is longtime weighmaster Bruce Cheves.

Capt. Cliff Cox of the party boat Sweet Jody said they fished 21 days of the 31-day tournament. 

“And we got some nice fish,” Cox said. 

Rodeo anglers and captains will be awarded for their catches at the Rodeo Awards at 4 p.m. Friday at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar.