RODEO READY: All systems go for 65th Destin Fishing Rodeo

Tina Harbuck

The barge is in place and the leaderboard is up, all that is needed is a fish on the scales and the words from weighmaster Bruce Cheves — "time is."

The 65th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo is set to roll on the docks behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar with the scales opening up at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

"I'd love for that first fish to be a big old snapper," said Rodeo Executive Director Helen Donaldson.



For almost five years now, The Destin Log has offered a daily look at what’s biting during the Destin Fishing Rodeo. The Rodeo Rap, sponsored by AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, goes live on Oct. 1. Log one each day to see what’s biting all October long. Click here to see what's biting.


For the first time, since 2010 the red snapper will be an eligible species for the rodeo.

With a recent ruling from the National Marine Fisheries Services, federal permitted boats will be able to land red snapper Oct. 1-14 in federal waters and recreational vessels will be able to catch red snapper in state waters, out to 9 miles, through Oct. 21.

"I'm looking for the first and second place snapper to be in the 30s," said weighmaster Bruce Cheves.

Earlier in the summer, red snapper weighing 20-pounds or better hit the docks during the shortened season.

But when it's rodeo time, the captains go after the biggest and best in hopes of landing a spot on the leaderboard.

"In the last several years we've never had less than a 1,000 fish or more weighed in — oil spill and all," Cheves said

"Everything is going to be open this year," Cheves said. "Amberjack, grouper, triggerfish … we're going to start out with all of it."

So with all the fish seasons open and eligible for entry, all systems are go.

As of noon Thursday more than 70 charter boats had been registered along with about 60 private. However, Donaldson expects more in the next couple of days running up to the start of the Rodeo on Tuesday.

"We're up and running and really excited," Donaldson said.

Prizes range from $200 tackle gift cards to Rodeo trophies. Anglers will get four chances to take home $250 for the largest shark weighed in on Shark Saturday's.

Another chance for some big bucks is in the AJ's AJ Bonus Award. The angler hauling in the largest amberjack of the tournament takes home $3,000. Second place is $2,000 and third $1,000.

And the children are always big winners. Each child who enters a fish will receive a free rod and reel as well a certificate recording the species and weight of the fish they caught.

The Rodeo has expanded on the ground at AJ's with the merchandise trailer and Rodeo office getting upgrades. The rodeo HQ now sports a big deck out back. In front of the merchandise trailer is a touch tank where folks will be able to get an up-close look at fish.

"We've got lots of stuff going on in the plaza," Donaldson said.

The scales will be open daily on the docks behind AJ's from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. through October.

"I'm ready; let's go," Cheves said.