STORY: MACKENZIE AMOS
PHOTOGRAPHY: SEAN MURPHY
VIDEO BY: SHANE REYNOLDS
Every October, the small town of Destin hosts one of the biggest fishing rodeos in the state of Florida. For 31 days, fisherman from all walks of life take part in a tradition going back 68 years with hopes of weighing-in the biggest catch and getting their names on the “Big Board.”
Destin was founded in the 1840’s when Leonard Destin sailed to shore after being caught in a storm and decided to stake a claim on the land. Since then, Destin has grown from “the luckiest fishing village” to a well-known town in the panhandle of Florida, due in part to the Destin Fishing Rodeo.
When the name Rodeo comes to mind, most think of bucking broncos and cowboys. However, local historian Kathy Marler explains that the event’s name pays homage to its founding father’s fishing techniques. “In Leonard Destin’s time period, there was no refrigeration,” says Kathy. “Because of that, they would build pins around their docks in the water and corral the fish. So, when they were naming the tournament, they called it a ‘Rodeo.’
Thus, in 1948 the Destin Fishing Rodeo was born. Initially, the Rodeo was only three days long and was founded in hopes of bringing in tourists to generate business. Although prizes used to consist of things such as a six-pack of beer and a windshield wiper, the event has persisted in growth to make it what it is today.
The rodeo is now in its 68th year and has transformed into a month-long tournament and party that both locals and tourists look forward to. With prizes ranging from new rods to destination fishing trips and cash, people travel from all over the Southeast come to enter the tournament.
If you’re not an angler, however, there are multiple events within the Rodeo for people and families to attend. Children line up to fish off the docks every night for a chance to catch something and have it weighed in in front of a crowd or to meet Miss Destin who helps weigh in the fish. With bleachers and sitting areas lining the weigh-in station, many people head down to the docks to watch the boats come in and listen to weigh master, Bruce Cheves’, stories from years past. Whether you’re on a boat, meeting Miss Destin, or watching the weigh-ins, there is something for everyone at the Rodeo.
Although it has grown, the Destin Fishing Rodeo will never out-grow its small-town feel with familiar friendly faces who will recant stories from years passed. “It’s not a fishing tournament in the typical sense where you pay a fee and enter it,” says Miss Destin 1996, Amber Hill. “You charter a boat, and you can be a part of a rodeo memory, and you didn’t plan on that. You just planned on going fishing.”
To learn more about the Destin Fishing Rodeo, please visit: www.destinfishingrodeo.org A special thanks to the Destin History and Fishing Museum and the State Archives of Florida!