Kids are the 'reel' winners at Rodeo: Free fishing rods are just one of the ways AJ's gives back

Tina Harbuck
Isabella Stanley, 5 ½, of Tennessee came walking up with a fish in a bucket to weigh in at the Destin Fishing Rodeo. She, like all children who weigh in a fish at the rodeo receive a free rod and reel as well as a certificate recording their catch.

When it comes to the Destin Fishing Rodeo, the children are the big winners.

Each child during the month of October that brings a fish to the Rodeo scales, located on the docks behind AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar, will get a chance to weigh in their catch and receive a free rod and reel and a certificate that records the weight and date of their catch.

"Every year we give away approximately 1,100 fishing rods," said Tracy McCraw, AJ's director of marketing.

And there is nothing like the smile on the face of a youngster when he or she is handed the free rod and reel by Miss Destin or one of the Rodeo volunteers.

"It looks cool," said 9-year-old Luke Jeansonne of Nashville when he looked at his new rod and reel. Wednesday was his first time to go deep sea fishing and he brought in an 8-pound king mackerel.

However, it's not always a big fish that the youngsters bring to the docks.

Five-year-old Isabella Stanley of Tennessee came walking up sporting her "Hello Kitty" shirt with a pinfish in a bucket.

"Good" were the words she used to describe her new rod and reel as a big smile spread across her face Wednesday afternoon.

And giving away the rod and reels is an every day occurrence.

"If a kid comes in and puts a fish on this dock that fish needs to be weighed … and it needs to be a winner and it is," McCraw said.

If the catch doesn’t quite weigh a pound, Rodeo weighmaster Bruce Cheves does whatever it takes to make it work. If that means putting the small pinfish in a cup of water and weighing it or having a volunteer tug on the scales a bit to make it a pound, Cheves makes sure the child gets their moment of fame.

"Getting a kid hooked on fishing has long been a passion of mine because fishing is one of life’s simplest pleasures and there should be an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the experience," said Alan Laird, owner of AJ's. "The rods and reels are just a wonderful way for us to give back to a community that embraces its fishing heritage with such passion." 

"It's the cherry on top of the ice cream soda or the cherry on the sundae," McCraw said of the rod and reel giveaways. In handing them a rod we are saying "wow this is great, keep it up, here’s a reward for being a fisherman. It's just amazing and the kids love it."

Artwalk on the Harbor

Destin Boardwalk’s Artwalk on the Harbor takes place from 1-4 p.m. Oct. 20. The free mini arts district the third Sunday of every month  features the work of local and regional artists, along with individuals who create or produce various forms of art, crafts, photography, clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, or perform/sell music. The event takes place in the area starting right below the zipline all the way to AJ’s.