It's a wrap: Destin Fishing Rodeo finishes on Halloween with some 'stellar' fish

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The 74th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo wrapped up in Halloween fashion Monday evening with a few of the crews sporting costumes to entertain the crowd as well as hauling in some big fish. 

The crew aboard the Twilight with Capt. Robert Hill came in decked out as "Team Spoiled Rotten” with the guys all dressed as elderly women, complete with wigs, handbags, gloves and stockings. 

The crew aboard the Twilight, dressed as "Team Spoiled Rotten," unload one of their big tuna at the Destin Fishing Rodeo scales Monday evening.

But they didn’t come in empty handed. They hauled in a 168-pound big eye tuna and a 100-plus pound yellowfin tuna — and those weren't even the biggest. They got on the leaderboard with a 197.2-pound big eye tuna. Richard Kays of Webster Kentucky was the angler that took over first place on the board in the Extended Voyage Division. 

Earlier in the day, the Backdown 2 with Capt. Phillip Blackburn at the helm came in from an extended trip and took over first in the yellowfin tuna division. Angler James Marcath of Michigan got on the board with a 170-pound yellowfin. 

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These are just two of nine fish that made it onto the leaderboard on the final day of the Rodeo. But its has been non-stop all month for the fishing event. 

"It has been a stellar Destin Fishing Rodeo,” said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Rodeo.

Richard Kays of Kentucky, right, shows off his 197.2-pound big eye tuna he caught aboard the Twilight with Capt. Robert Hill. The fish landed him in first place on the leaderboard of the Destin Fishing Rodeo. Also pictured is Miss Destin Ella Kathryn Campbell.

“The weather couldn’t have been any better for October. Usually, we call it rocktober because of the rocky waves. But we’ve only had a couple of days in my opinion too bad to get out — but not the fishermen. 

“We’ve had charter boats weigh in every single day … even when I didn’t think they could get out of the pass, and they did,” Donaldson said. 

When it was all said and done Monday evening, with the last fish hitting the scales at 7:14 p.m., 1,121 fish entries had been written up.  

William Eversole of Indiana hauled in this 105.4-pound amberjack to get on the leaderboard in the charter boat division. He was fishing aboard the Un Reel with Capt. Justin Destin. Wishing him well is Miss Destin Ella Kathryn Campbell.

Last year the Rodeo had 1,093 fish entries. The most entries were in 2013 with 1,504, followed by 1,314 in 2016. 

For the past six years, the Rodeo has hit the 1,000 fish entry mark. 

“What we’ve weighed, it’s a very successful Rodeo,” said weighmaster Bruce Cheves. 

“Breaking a 1,000 in a row the last few years is very cool,” he said. 

Tony Dover, also known as Eeyore, weighed in a mingo during the final day of the Rodeo. He was fishing aboard the Muscle Memories. Also pictured is Miss Destin Ella Kathryn Campbell.

'Wooden ships and iron men'

Not only has the Rodeo had a lot of fish, but big fish as well. 

“It’s been rough a lot of times getting them," Cheves said. "You’ve heard of wooden ship and iron men. They might be fiberglass, but it’s still the same … wooden ships and iron men.” 

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Some of those big fish during the month include a 333.8-pound Warsaw grouper on the Special K, a 101-pound wahoo on the Muscle Memories that broke the 12-year-old Rodeo record of 98.2 pounds, and a 108.8-pound amberjack on the Bow’d Up. 

The boat Muscle Memories weighed in a 252.2-pound swordfish on Oct. 22 and then a week later, the Sea Fix came in on Oct. 28 with a swordfish that weighed exactly the same. 

Jesica West of Destin pulled in a 16.8-pound dolphin to take over first in the Offshore Division. She was fishing aboard the 100 Proof with Capt. Allen Staples. Also pictured is Miss Destin Ella Kathryn Campbell.

The Rodeo has had 301 vessels participate, compared with the 289 last year. 

And the top fish brought in during the month was the amberjack, with 137 entries written up. Second was the mingo with 107 entries and king mackerel came in third with 98 entries. 

“It’s been wonderful,” Donaldson said. 

“The temperatures haven’t been too hot. It’s been pleasant, which has added to our spectator presence,” she said, noting the bleachers have been full to overflowing every night. 

Todd Wolf of Destin took over first place in the triggerfish division of the Under-25 Charter Boats with this 6.6-pounder caught aboard the On The Bite with Capt. Scott Whitehurst. Also pictured is Miss Destin Ella Kathryn Campbell.

“People are scattered along the harbor, but as soon as you hang something big up on that hook, it’s like there are 500 people standing in front of that barge. They come out of the woodwork,” she said.

'We couldn't do it without them'

And manning the barge where the weigh station is located is a group of volunteers. 

“We’ve had great volunteers all month long, from the barge workers to the merchandise trailer … it’s just been great,” she said. 

Just to man the barge for the month, which includes judges and people to keep the boards updated, Donaldson said it takes about 2,790-volunteer hours, “and that doesn’t count the office or the trailer.” 

The crew aboard the Twilight hoisted three of their tuna on the scales for a total of 502.6-pounds of fish and a group photo of Team Spoiled Rotten.

“It takes over 4,000-volunteer hours to make this Rodeo happen. We couldn’t do it without them,” she said. 

One volunteer who has been at the Rodeo every day is Miss Destin Ella Kathryn Campbell. 

“It’s been everything I thought it would be and more,” Campbell said. 

“My favorite part is seeing all the cool fish come in. There are so many species out in the Gulf, it’s insane. And I love when the little kids come in and weigh their fish and get a certificate. 

Capt. Mike Eller and crew aboard the Lady Em were the last boat to back in at the 74th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“It’s been awesome … I’m sad to see it go,” Campbell said. 

The Rodeo has one more bit of business, the Rodeo awards ceremony at 4 p.m., Nov. 6 at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar.