Destin tradition is off to another great start

Tina Harbuck

It might not be a “family tradition” like the old Hank Williams Jr. song says, but it is a Destin tradition.

The 71st annual Destin Fishing Rodeo kicked off earlier this week with a bang and has been going strong with good fish days, good T-shirt sales and boat registrations still coming in.

“We’re at almost 200 fish and it’s only Day 3,” said Rodeo executive director Helen Donaldson early Thursday afternoon.

And by end of the third day, the number fish entries hit 204.

“The first two or three days have been fabulous. Every day people are coming in and still registering boats. It’s been wonderfully busy … so we’re a little behind but we’re catching up,” she said as she looked at a stack of paper work on her desk.

So far there are 138 private boats and 102 charter vessel competing to bring in the largest fish in Destin’s oldest tradition. And that’s not counting the anglers that have registered just to fish off their paddleboards or kayaks or even those entered in the Pier, Bridge, Jetty and Surf Division.

“The first two or three days are always chaotic … but it’s going to get better,” she said.

The merchandise trailer has been busy as well.

According to Ann White, who is social liaison and head of the Rodeo merchandise trailer, sales are going good on all thing labeled Rodeo.

“It’s really going wonderful and everybody is excited to be back in their Rodeo gear,” White said as she moved around in the trailer packed full of merchandise.

The Rodeo sells everything from T-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, hats, visors and more.

As far as the actual weighins on the docks with weighmaster Bruce Cheves, he said, “Everything is going right … going just like it should.”

On Day 1, Cheves weighed in 92 fish.

“That’s unusual … we don’t usually have that much,” he said, noting the most ever on Day 1 was 139 fish. “But it’s a great start.”

In the first couple of days, Cheves has weighed in some huge amberjack from 77 to 85 pounds and some big wahoo and grouper.

“We’ve got some dangerous people out grouper fishing,” he said with a laugh.

As of Friday morning, the largest grouper on the board was a 44.6 pounder pulled in on the Suzie Q on opening day by a senior angler.

But one thing is for sure when it comes to Rodeo fishing, the leaderboard is going to change.

However, the thing that hasn’t changed and is still a Destin tradition is the gathering on the docks to watch the weighins.

“Towards the end of the day it gets to be a mob scene like always down here … but that’s what we like. Everybody is having a good time,” Cheves said.

The scales located on the docks behind AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar are open daily throughout the month from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.

And as Cheves likes to say, “bring me a fish and I’ll make you famous.”

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