Lore of the Fishing Rodeo: Celebrating 75 Years!


By Frank Berte

Way back in 1948, the very first Fishing Rodeo was held in Destin! Seventy-five years ago, this bustling international hotbed of the world’s vacationing elite was an entirely different scene. Northwest Florida was still a wild place, full of pine forests, large land animals and a staggering abundance of fish. One of the funniest questions often filed by the uninitiated is, “Do you actually ride the fish?” Once upon a time you most likely could, but the concept is more commonly associated with corralling the fish. Now it’s just a well-accepted facet of the local lexicon, and nationally, word has grown exponentially, especially in recent years.

Destin Fishing Rodeo 1970sOur humble local fishing competition has quietly become the world’s biggest. Longer than any single-day fishing tournament, the Destin Fishing Rodeo is a month-long celebration of fishing. There are awards every day of the month for the largest of multiple species of fish, and multiple classifications of boats, fishing styles and various classes.

From the very beginning, the Rodeo brought folks together to enjoy the comradery of fishing. As we take this walk down memory lane, and relive some of the greatest fishing stories told in the last 75 years, you see these amazing fish at first, but take a closer look in the eyes of the person who caught the fish, full of wonderment and magic. That same feeling returns every year. Each day of the rodeo brings in lucky winners for that day and sometimes they are winners for the whole month. You never know what you’ll see hanging on the docks at AJ’s Seafood in October.

The thrill of reeling in a winner is at the top of everyone’s mind. Bringing in a heavy fish on your line after a long battle is oh-so-satisfying. And finally hooking up the right bait gives one instant gratification. It’s universal. Fishing the Rodeo is equally exciting for everyone, whether you are beach casting into the clear emerald waters or making a 20-mile run to the trench on a twin-engine, turbo diesel 50+ foot yacht.

Destin is known as “The Luckiest Fishing Village in the World“—and for good reason. That trench is a big part of it, bringing in larger fish from the much deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It can be found, on Google Earth, due south of Destin. Big fish equals lots of luck, and luck is a big part of the Destin Fishing Rodeo!

Sharing the excitement and joy of fishing the abundant waters of the Gulf is something everyone can enjoy. Leonard Destin kind of kicked that off when he established his fishing camp here just before the Civil War broke out in the 1850s. By all accounts, Destin was a friendly guy. He invited others to join him in fishing these magical waters. Slowly the little town grew, and word traveled far and wide of the multitude of different fish so plentiful.

This special place has always been something that people seem to want to share together. The rodeo is no exception. Kids have always been a huge part of the rodeo. Often, they learn the ropes from a father, mother, uncle or aunt in the fishing business. Coveted fishing spots, old brass reels and stories of “The one that got away!” have been handed down for generations. To this day, there are so many ways to win the rodeo; there’s age classes, boy and girl classes, etc. and the rodeo is inclusionary. There’s room for everyone to win. That’s the spirit that keeps folks fishing.

The Destin Fishing Rodeo is just as much a celebration as it is a local tradition. It has brought together visitors and locals alike, for a fishing tournament like no other.
As we continue to grow and add new classes of competition, we will never forget what it’s really all about—just getting out on or to the water to reel in the biggest fish around. If you’re looking to be a part of the rodeo in October, now’s the time to lock in a charter boat, get your Florida fishing license and get your plan together. This year the prizes are bigger and better than ever before and there are no plans of stopping! Here’s to the next 75 years! We will see you on the docks for the entire month of October, rain or shine, little fish, big fish, red fish, blue fish. We can’t wait to see what everyone catches this year! See you at the Rodeo!