COLUMN: Kids will get hooked on Destin in October

Susan Moody, Emerald Coast Insider

The 34th Annual Seafood Festival opens its gates on Friday, Oct. 5 and officially kicks off the Annual Destin Fishing Rodeo. Established in 1948, the Destin Fishing Rodeo was designed to extend the fishing season another month, and keep locals and visitors along the harbor busy. According to many charter boat captains, the strategy has worked, and more than 300,000 participants will compete for $200,000 in cash and prizes throughout the month of October. October has become one of the best and busiest months of the fishing season. Like many kids living along the Emerald Coast, Alex and Harper enjoy fishing. Last time we were out, Harper was pleased to have caught a crab with her rod, and she’ll tell just about anyone she meets about the time a large catfish broke her pink rod and reel. Since both the fishing rodeo and the seafood festival are designed to celebrate the history and the heritage of Destin’s fishing fleet, organizers of both events have created a number of ways to get kids to “take the bait” and get fishing. At the Seafood Festival, there will be a dedicated Kids Zone, complete with bounce houses, carnival inspired games, face painting and arts and crafts. See if you can’t get to the top of the leaderboard during the Mingo Toss, and get some pointers from local fishing experts during the fishing clinic. The Kids Zone is located at Melvin Heritage Park, so be sure to stop over before or after sampling the kid friendly food and beverage options located throughout the festival. We will undertake a very unscientific gumbo tasting to discover the spiciest along the harbor. AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar will again host the Kids Kickoff and Wagon Parade on Sept. 29. Paint (or decorate) your wagon with a nautical theme and parade from AJ’s to HarborWalk Village. Prizes will be given for the best overall wagon, and all contestants will get a special, bonus surprise for participating. This can get quite competitive, so be sure to bring your “A” game. Throughout the Rodeo, kids can compete in the junior division, and fishing from a pier or jetty is free for kids under 14. If you chose to head out on a charter boat, most captains recommend taking the kids out for 4 to 6 hours, making note of weather and wave conditions. Just about every fish that is weighed receives some recognition, and last year, the junior division hauled in some impressive grouper, trigger fish, amberjack, and king mackerel. Whether you are a participant or not, watching the afternoon weigh-in is a must for any family during the month of October. At the midway point of the Rodeo, head to the Okaloosa Island Pier for the Annual Rootin’ Tootin’ Rodeo Round Up. Children 12 and under can enjoy a morning of fishing along the beautiful Okaloosa Island Pier. A great place to fish, the Okaloosa Island Pier extends almost a quarter mile into the Gulf of Mexico, and is home to some of the rodeo’s biggest and most popular fish. Admission to the Rootin’ Tootin’ Rodeo Round Up is $10 (per child and adult), and covers the cost of admission to the pier, a rod and reel (to keep), a T-shirt, lunch and drinks. Families can close out the Fishing Rodeo Festivities with the final weigh-in on Oct. 31. Come in costume and trick or treat among the vendors, shops and restaurants along Destin’s historic harbor and new harbor boardwalk. Celebrate another successful rodeo and fishing season with a dynamic fireworks show and see who and what are the biggest winners this year. The Destin Seafood Festival and Fishing Rodeo is another example of how Destin celebrates its rich history and heritage, and I know we are looking forward to participating in all the community fun. See you along the docks! Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at