HITTING THE DECK You never know what’s going to show at the Rodeo
Guys and gals with grouper, a man losing a wedding ring, sailfish on a paddleboard, kids bringing in fish from everywhere, and a mako shark — it’s been a busy last few days at the 64th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo.
Nearing the halfway mark of the month-long fishing rodeo held on the docks behind AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, the number of entries is closing in on 600.
Tuesday appeared to be grouper day and they were coming to the scales in threes. Polly Meyer, Lindsey Ingram and Kallie Meyer were the grouper gals. They were fishing on the Daybreak with Capt. Eric Thrasher. Each reeled in a grouper in the 23- to 27-pound range.
“There are plenty out there,” Capt. Thrasher said. “And we ain’t done yet.”
About an hour-and-a-half later, Capt. Steve Haeusler on the First Light came in with three grouper guys. Dustin Howard, Jeff Tomlin and Mason Hudson weighed in grouper between 34- to 38-pounds. Howard’s catch topped the group with a 38.8-pounder.
Wednesday afternoon started with a bang with 13-year-old John Noto of Missouri weighing in a 58.8-pound amberjack. His fish caught on the Backlash with Capt. Jason Mikel was still sitting in second place overall as of close Thursday evening.
A little after 2 p.m., Capt. Scott Whitehurst on the Don’t Hate pulled in with a 25.4-pound king mackerel caught by Dennis Back of Destin. His catch took over first place in the 25-and Under Charter Boat Division — at least for a little while.
About 30 minutes later, Back was knocked back to second when the Locked Up II with Capt. Steve Brown came in with a 29-pounder caught by Joe Geis.
But before Geis weighed in his fish, William Baker who was fishing aboard the private boat Mullet Head had brought in a couple of fish and was busy at the cleaning table getting the guts out of his fish when all of a sudden he realized he was missing his wedding band. Although he was a bit frantic, he kept cleaning his fish. He looked over the side to see if he had accidentally tossed it in the water with the guts – but no ring.
When he was about to weigh in his last fish, his buddy noticed the gold wedding band lying on the dock. “I guess he’ll be married another day,” his buddy said. Baker said he’s been wearing the ring for about 10 years.
Baker did finally get a 19.4-pound king mackerel on the leaderboard in the under 25-foot category.
Just before 4 p.m., the private boat Emerald Grande backed in with two or three fish to weigh. And believe it or not the smallest guy on the boat had the two largest fish.
Ciprian Dragon weighed in a 77.2-pound amberjack and a 20.4-pound blackfin tuna.
Dragon said it took him about 20 minutes to get the jack in.
When asked if it pulled hard, he said, “oh yeh.” Then he lifted his arm and made a muscle and said, “look at this.” He then turned and looked at all the bigger guys in his fishing party and just smiled.
At 5 p.m. the What Doin? came in with a 28-pound king mackerel that took over the top spot in the Senior Division. Patsy Potter, 69, was the proud angler on the rod. “It was a slow bite today,” said Capt. Kent Hardin.
Not long after Potter weighed in her fish, Lance Moss of Niceville came paddling up on paddleboard with a rodeo first — a sailfish that wowed the crowd and earned him a spot on the leaderboard with his 65.8-pounder.
Thursday was kids day or at least it seemed that way. On two or three occasions there were about a dozen youth on the rodeo barge weighing in their fish or as Weighmaster Bruce Cheves likes to call it “stringer-o-fish.” For their efforts, each child receives a free rod and reel and a certificate, courtesy of AJ’s.
Scott Brittain of Kentucky who was fishing with Capt. Jason Hallmark on the Vengeance weighed in 48.2-pound wahoo for a second place in the Offshore Division.
About 35 minutes later, Kari Eisner who was fishing on the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit with Capt. Jim Green came in with a wahoo that weighed the exact same weight to the ounce.
“Oh my god, I need more arms,” Eisner said after tangling with the wahoo.
Although her catch didn’t make it on the board in the Offshore Division, she did claim a daily prize for the largest fish caught by a lady angler.
The Mother Lode with Capt. B.J. Teems made a clean sweep in the scamp category for charter boats. Mark Simmons weighed in a 15-pounder for first and Jonathan Baker took second with a 12-pounder. Capt. Teems said they were fishing about 25 miles out and they didn’t pull the two winning scamp off the same spot.
Before it was all said and done Thursday afternoon, the Perfect Shot with Capt. Brady Bowman and first mate Greg Meyers backed pulled in with a mako shark that tilted the scales 214.2-pounds whole. It took Mark Cooper of Pittsburgh about 45 minutes to reel in the shark. But it about four or five guys to haul it off the boat and onto the rodeo scales.
After the shark was gutted — they pulled a whole snapper and parts of an amberjack out — it weighed 178.6 pounds and took over the top spot in the Mako My Day shark division of the rodeo.
Cooper said he had an amberjack on the line, but when the line went limp they realized they had a shark bite. All that was left was the amberjack head, so they turned around and used the ’jack head for bait and the mako took the bait. “It was like a big dead weight at first,” Cooper said. “But then it ran a couple of times.”
Capt. Brady Bowman said they were fishing about 30 miles out when the shark hit on the 5-ought reel. Bowman got the video camera ready to start filming, hoping it would put on a show, but it didn’t.
“It just stayed down deep,” Bowman said.
After the shark was weighed in, Cheves brought it around to crowd to show off the Mako’s sharp teeth.
Folks will probably get the chance to see more sharks today, Shark Saturday.
The scales are open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. all month on the docks behind AJ’s. And you just never know what’s going to hit the deck.
See you there.