Bruce Cheves has been 'face' of Destin Fishing Rodeo for 38 years — and counting
For nearly four decades, Bruce Cheves has been weighing fish and making people smile at the Destin Fishing Rodeo.
"It's fun. It's fun making a lot of people famous and kids smile," said Cheves, who has been the weighmaster for the rodeo since 1984. "There are times I'd rather be somewhere else, but 99.9 percent of the time, it's here we go again."
Cheves, who has been calling "time is" on fish for 38 years, will be back on the barge behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar for the 74th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo which gets underway Oct. 1.
"Bruce … he is the face of the rodeo," said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the rodeo.
"Cindy Crawford may be the face of Rooms to Go, but we have Bruce. And he's a very integral part of the rodeo.
"The boats that come in and the fish we see are awesome, but 65 percent of the spectators are there to see Bruce and listen to his stories," Donaldson said.
A love for sharing his stories
Cheves loves to share his stories.
"I like informing the crowd of what they are looking at and then bring up other stories and things like that … scientific data as much as I can keep up with that," Cheves said.
"I found out some time ago that what I have is a classroom and what they are learning is stuff they didn't know. And now they know," he said.
Cheves shared how his informative stories have paid off over the years.
He's had kids over the years, who have been in and out of trouble, ask him how he knows so much about fish.
"I say I read a lot and I have 40 years of experience of being on the water," he says.
Years later, the mother or grandmother of the youth, comes back and says, "my son graduated from high school and graduated from college and now they are a marine biologist for the state of Florida.
"So, it's paid off me being down there," on the barge, Cheves said.
"I don't know everything, but I know more than most that are sitting there," he said.
Looking back at the weigh scales
Cheves loves being in the moment at the weigh scales.
"I like the crowd, the kids, the reaction to when all of sudden I tell them they are in first place or second place or you did good today. We don't have it on the board, but you did good today ... little stuff like that," Cheves said.
The Destin Fishing Rodeo has a huge leaderboard with more than 200 slots for anglers to get on the board with their catch, whether they are fishing on a charter boat, private boat, off the pier or jetties, on a kayak or even a paddleboard.
The biggest fish Cheves has weighed in the past 38 years was an 844.4-pound Mako shark brought in on the Twilight in 2007 with Capt. Robert Hill at the helm. The second largest was a 528-pound blue marlin.
"When they started the tag and release that was good," Cheves said.
The rodeo still has a Billfish Division with slots for first place in blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and swordfish.
The smallest fish Cheves has weighed over the years didn't really register on the scales.
Cheves said he had a guy walk onto the barge with a baby in diapers and said he'd like to weigh this fish.
"The baby's hand was in a fist and he reached it out really slowly, and it was a Goldfish cracker. I held it up and the crowd went nuts," Cheves said.
Like always, Cheves put the fish on the hook and it didn't register.
"I had John (the photographer) go over and steady it and tug on it a bit," Cheves said to make it weigh a pound.
Every kid that brings in a fish that weighs a pound receives a free rod and reel plus a certificate of their catch.
"I gave him a certificate and his rod and reel," Cheves said.
"I was running around photo bombing with the dad next to the fish and kid. People were laughing … that's the key word, everybody was laughing and having a good time," Cheves said.
After a few fun games, the young child wanted his fish back.
"He reached out real slow and opened his hand and I put it in his hand. He drew back his hand and slammed it in his mouth," Cheves said.
"That was the first person to weigh a fish and eat it raw," he said.
Over the years, Cheves has weighed not only fish, but dogs in harnesses, dead snakes, gators, and kids in a bassinet.
"I tell them I'll weigh anything," he said.
"Anything to make people laugh and have a good time. More importantly after laughing is to learn something. Laugh and learn," Cheves said.
The birth of 'Bruce Cheves Day'
In 2010, the city of Destin, recognizing Cheves importance to the Rodeo declared Oct. 16, as "Bruce Cheves Day."
Since then, the rodeo celebrates his special day on the rodeo docks. Cheves does not get the day off, but he has been known to tell some of his best stories on that day.
Also on the 16th, the rodeo continues a long-lived tradition known as the Ringing of the Bell. Each year at 5 p.m. on the 16th, the rodeo takes a moment or two to celebrate the lives and legends of those lost in the community and others of importance.
"My first bell ringing is going to be for Queen Elizabeth this year. She was quite the lady," Cheves said.
He already has others on his list as well, and welcomes the names of others.
Cheves, 71, is not looking to retire as weighmaster any time soon.
"I plan to do it until I drop dead on the barge. Time is … done!" he said. "But we're a long time from that."
"Whether you're fishing from bathtubs to battleships, for guppies to Godzilla, bring me a fish and I'll make you famous." -- Bruce Cheves