'Can't get any better': Big fish, big crowds mark first week of 74th Destin Fishing Rodeo

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

From a 108.8-pound amberjack to a 305.4-pound shark, the 74th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo has had some big fish hit the scales during the first week of the monthlong tournament.

"It's been amazing," said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the rodeo. "Between the boat registrations, the weather, the big fish coming in … it just can't get any better."

The rodeo has 281 vessels registered with 162 of those being private recreational boats.

"Every time I check my email, there's another boat that wants to register," she said.

People line the docks most afternoons at the Destin Fishing Rodeo waiting on that next catch to hit the scales. The docks were full Friday evening.

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Out of the 281 registered boats, 41 have thrown their name into the Big Mac Classic. Usually the Big Mac Classic, which features the king mackerel, is held the last weekend of September with proceeds from the event benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida.

This year, registrations have doubled for the king mackerel event.

The king mackerel caught thus far are not that big, so there is still plenty of time to get in on the classic action and win that $10,000 for the first-place king. 

First week of Destin Fishing Rodeo sees massive fish

However, the rodeo has seen some big fish hit the scales during the first week. 

On Day 1, Capt. Allen Staples and his anglers on the 100 Proof came in with a 96.2- and an 83.6-pound amberjack for first and second on the leaderboard. 

On Day 2, they were knocked down to second and third when Capt. Brady Bowman on the Bow'd Up brought in a 108.8-pounder. 

"We thought we had a record breaker," Donaldson said.

During the first week of the Destin Fishing Rodeo 412 fish were written up as official entries.

The rodeo record for amberjack is held by Mark Underhahl of Pensacola. He pulled in a 111.6-pound amberjack while fishing aboard the Strange Brew with Capt. Ken Nettles in 2012. 

The ladies have been bringing in some big amberjack as well. Katlyn Selph hauled in a 68.8-pounder while fishing with Capt. Trey Windes on the Outta Line on the first day. Deanna Williams weighed in a 67.4-pounder on day seven that she caught aboard the Twilight with Capt. Robert Hill.

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On Day 3, junior angler Brody Williams of Tennessee came in with a 71.4-pound amberjack.

Also on Day 3, Capt. Phillip Blackburn on the Backdown 2 came in with a 159.6-pound yellowfin tuna.

"We've had some big tuna," Donaldson said. "We've even had a big eye tuna, which we didn't even have one caught last year."

Capt. Chip Godwin on the Sea Fix came in with the big eye tuna that tilted the scales at 122.8 pounds.

The Bow'd Up came in with this 305.4-pound bull shark on the fourth day of the Destin Fishing Rodeo. This was the largest fish for week one.

The biggest fish to hit the scales during the first week was a 305.4-pound bull shark caught on the Bow'd Up on Oct. 4. 

And nothing draws a crowd like a shark. 

"We didn't have a lot of people … but when they hung that shark up it was crazy," she said. 

'Rodeo on'

On Day 6, another shark hit the scales. Capt. Judah Barbee on the Stelluna came in with a 198.4-pound bull shark. 

On Day 7, the last day of the first full week of the rodeo, the Warhorse came in with two big groupers for first and second place on the board in the Private Boat Division. They pulled in a 50.4-pounder and a 45.8-pounder. 

Greg Pettit, of Ohio, gets Destin Fishing Rodeo Weighmaster Bruce Cheves to autograph a rodeo poster on Friday.

But before the day was finished, Derrick Dover on Muscle Memories brought in a 101-pound wahoo to set a rodeo record. The record was a 98.2-pounder caught in 2010 by Omar Breiz of Mary Esther on the Don't Hate with Capt. Scott Whitehurst. 

The final number on Day 7 was 412 fish entries. 

"It's been busy, and the last two days have been steady," said weighmaster Bruce Cheves late Friday afternoon. "It's going good … and it's only the first week."

Donaldson had high hopes for the remainder of the rodeo.

"We've had some good fish, but maybe the best is yet to come. Rodeo on," she said.