Marine Fisheries takes away, rodeo gives back

TINA HARBUCK

With shorter seasons and closures in the fishing industry this year, the Destin Fishing Rodeo is looking to give back.

Now in its 66th year, the rodeo has added a few new divisions in an effort to help out the fisherman as well as please the thousands of people that flock to the docks throughout October, hoping to catch a glimpse of a big fish.

"The National Marine Fisheries has limited the amount of fish and the types of fish we can catch. And because the rodeo has become such spectators sport we need to have something to hang up on the scales for the people to see," said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the rodeo.

"The charter fishermen need to have something out there they can catch … that they can get a trip for," she said.

The rodeo has added a billfish division, with a $200 gift card and trophy going to the angler with largest blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish.

However, the rodeo is not looking for every billfish to be brought to the docks.

"We have added inches to the federal guidelines for the minimum length and we are asking and going to stress throughout the whole rodeo, that if you do not have something that's going to beat the leader board … release it. You do get points for catch and release," Donaldson said.

"So we are going to encourage them not to kill something and to make sure they know what is up on the board," she said.

And one way the rodeo is assisting the anglers to know what's on the board is with an app.

"We're developing an app right now that will tell them what is on the leader board at all times … it  should be pretty much up to date," she said, noting as soon as paperwork for a fish entry hits the rodeo office, it will be updated.

Another addition is the shark division.

"We've got sharks. There are sharks out there," she said.

Just recently a YouTube video of a hammerhead swimming in the shallows off Destin was viewed by thousands.

"We need to catch a hammerhead," Donaldson said.

"As controversial as that shark is, people are still so enamored by the shark and they love to see one hanging," she said.

"Talk about gathering a crowd, you hang a shark up at that weigh station in front of 30 people and in five minutes that 30 people will be 300 to 500 people. It's a crowd pleaser. People are just curious. It's the biggest curiosity there ever was."

Eligible shark include blacknose shark, blacktip shark, bull shark, great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead, sharpnose, shortfin mako, smooth hammerhead, spinner, thresher and tiger. There will be a first and second place for charter boats in this division as well as a daily award.

Not to worry, the rodeo will still have Shark Saturdays, in addition to the shark division. Shark Saturdays is for the largest species of shark brought to the scales on Saturdays throughout the month.

For the private boats, the rodeo has added amberjack and triggerfish, which are still on the catch list for those fishing in state waters that do not hold a federal reef permit.

But because the charter boats, which the majority hold a federal reef permit, can't catch the amberjack and triggerfish, the rodeo has added a weekly king mackerel category — Holy Mackerel Sunday. For charter or party boat with the largest king mackerel of the week, the angler will win $500, the captain $300 and the mate, $200.

"It's a win, win," she said.

"We're just trying. We understand that conservation has to be done, but we don't want our fall visitors to suffer, we don't want our charter fisherman to suffer, we don't want our private boats to suffer. We're trying to make it fair for everybody."

FROM THE RECORD BOOKS

The rodeo record for blue marlin was set back in 2003 aboard the Why Not? with first mate Tom Stewart and Capt. Andy Lindsey when Amy King of Texas reeled in a 528-pounder.

Stewart told The Log Thursday that it took them about 3 1/2 hours to land the fish. He said they were fishing near the Squiggles when they hooked the monster on 200-pound test.