There’s more to the Rodeo than what you see

Tina Harbuck

The leaderboard is updated constantly throughout the day with the latest and largest catches. Coolers are frequently refilled with Sparkling Ice drinks and rods and reels are placed in tubs to be handed out to young anglers. Photos are taken, then edited and posted online.

Between these things and so much more, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to make the Destin Fishing Rodeo a memorable event for participants and visitors alike.

“Nobody sees what we do,” said Destin Fishing Rodeo executive Helen Donaldson. “They just see the results of what we do.”


With every fish that comes to the Rodeo barge and is big enough to make the leaderboard, comes paperwork.

Rodeo volunteers, called judges, record the information on paper forms as weighmaster Bruce Cheves calls out the time, weight, and category for the catch. The judges record various information about the angler from age, address to email information.

The paperwork is then handed off to another volunteer who records it on to the leaderboard and then the paper is taken to the office.

“That paper comes up to Marion (Palmgren) or Angela (Kalthoff, both Rodeo volunteers), very rarely Helen,” Donaldson laughed.

They then have to key into the computer the angler information and then the catch information.

“They have to make certain that it’s going in the right (division),” she said, with some examples being junior, ladies, private or charter.

“And the whole world will end if we make a mistake,” Donaldson said.

“It’s a good thing we never made one,” Palmgren said.

“But the world ends every day at least once in this office,” Donaldson said, noting they are not infallible.

As of Thursday, the office crew had keyed in more than 910 fish entries and anglers this month.

“Thank goodness the captains and anglers are aware of what we do. They don’t know how we do it, but they know we do something,” Donaldson said.

And as soon as they check the website and something is wrong, “our phone is ringing off the hook.”

In addition to keying in the fish entries, they are registering boats.

“We registered a boat just yesterday,” Donaldson said Wednesday afternoon.

Plus the office crew keeps up with the finances of the Rodeo and inventory of the merchandise trailer.

“It doesn’t just happen,” Donaldson said. “When you tell someone you work for the Rodeo, they say ’What a fun job you have.’

“We’re not having so much fun right now,” Donaldson laughed as she worked through checking inventory. “It’s fun and I love my job ... but it’s not 24/7 fun here in the office.”


Every day, Miss Destin Brooke O’Keefe shows up at the Rodeo with a big smile, a crown and a pretty white sash that makes her look like a princess.

But with her dragging big fish across the deck and even gutting a few fish here and there, how does everything stay so clean?

In steps the mother of the princess - Amy O’Keefe.

“It’s been phenomenal meeting all the people and being a part of something huge in a different manner,” Amy said.

In years past, Amy has volunteered in the merchandise trailer and loves the ladies involved. But being the mother of Miss Destin has been a new experience.

“We’re always here ... and being behind the scenes is different,” Amy said.

When she’s not at the Rodeo, helping and assisting where she can, she’s coming alongside and making sure her daughter is ready to go.

“I’m washing the blood off her sash everyday ... cleaning shoes ... keeping her fed and making sure she gets to bed. Just doing personal assistant kind of things,” Amy said.

“She likes everything excellent,” she said of her daughter. “But it really has been effortless in so many ways, because there has been so much grace on the time. It seems like we’re down here all day every day, but we still manage to get so much done.”

As for the crown and how she keeps it so straight - the answer is heavy duty clips.

“She likes me for me to clip it in ... so I try to meet here down here,” Amy said.

Amy said she and her daughter will miss it when the Rodeo wraps up at the end of the month.

“I’m going to miss the people. I love it down here ... it feels like everybody is on vacation.”


And who does not like to record their vacation with photographs?

For the past decade, Jake Brashshears along with his dad, John, and Jake Funk have taken a photo of every angler with every fish that has hit the Rodeo barge.

In addition to snapping the photos, the guys can be seen dragging the fish across the deck and onto the scales and even writing the information on the leaderboards.

But their’s more to it than just capturing that candid moment of the angler with their fish and Miss Destin.

“It’s a full 10 hours of being down here on the docks,” said Jake Brashears, who is also a Rodeo board member.

But his day doesn’t end on the barge.

“When I get home there’s a lot more work to do as far as going through the pictures and picking out the best ones, editing them and putting them on the website,” Jake Brashears said, noting that takes a couple of hours.

By the time he eats dinner and does the editing, “it’s at least midnight every night before I wrap it up,” he said.

And he does it 31 days in a row.

But he’s not just a photographer, he checks the leaderboard every morning from a printout from the office.

“I scan every spot for discrepancies ... to make sure we start every day with correct information,” Jake Brashears said.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to it ... a lot of setting up and breaking down,” Jake Brashears said from bring the scales down and all of weighmaster’s Bruce Cheves’ nets and hooks. “(Cheves) doesn’t feel right if he doesn’t have it set up the right way.”

Jake, along with his dad John and others, also help to keep the ice coolers filled with Sparkling Ice and tubs filled with rod and reels for the kids.

“It’s an every minute deal,” John said of keeping the tubs filled and paperwork caught up. “Just when you think you’ve got it under control, four boats pull in, and then you don’t have it under control anymore.

“It’s a labor of love,” he added.