If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Destin come October, there’s probably one thing and one thing only on your mind. It’s time for the Destin Fishing Rodeo! Each fall, this vibrant community fully transforms itself into the go-to place for fishing aficionados nationwide.
It doesn’t matter if you love stalking the flats for Reds, targeting Cobia around reefs, or fighting Billfish offshore, because the Destin Fishing Rodeo has something for every type of angler. And you don’t need to be an expert to win a prize, either. The are plenty of divisions to choose from, so there’s something suitable for rookie anglers and experienced fishers alike.
The rodeo is a month-long affair packed with competitions, special events, and local activities, which means knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Below, we’ve covered everything a beginner needs to know. This includes when the rodeo takes place, the types of fish you can target, and, of course, the prizes on offer. Let’s dive in…
When is the Destin Fishing Rodeo?
The Destin Fishing Rodeo runs from October 1 to October 31 each year, so here’s plenty of time to explore it. It’s free and open to the public, so you can visit for one day, or stay for the entire run. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the key dates and events.
- October 16: Bruce Cheves Day. Bruce has been the rodeo weighmaster for years. His fishing tales are legendary among Destin folk – and all of Florida! Get your kids and come hear Bruce tell you a story to remember.
- October 18 – Rootin Tootin Rodeo Roundup. Kids aged 12 and under are welcome on the Okaloosa Island Pier for some fun pier fishing. Your little ones will get their own rods and gear to target local species such as Redfish, Flounder, Sheepshead, Black Drum, Snook, and more.
- October 31: Rodeo Halloween Party. Put on your scariest costume and join fellow anglers, judges, and captains at the largest Halloween party in Destin. It’s an excellent way to celebrate the end of the rodeo!
- November 1: Award ceremony at AJ’s. This is the time for anglers to get together, grab a drink, and talk to their fellow fishing enthusiasts. It’s the perfect ending to all the fishing action that takes place each October.
What can I target during the Destin Fishing Rodeo?
The Destin Fishing Rodeo boasts a whole host of categories, known as “divisions,” that cover a variety of species, techniques, fishing grounds, and skill levels. You can find the exhaustive list here. Additionally, we’ve highlighted some of our favorites below.
It’s possible to slightly overlook the fun of inshore fishing when the option to target tough-fighting Billfish is on the table. Take our word for it, though: inshore fishing in Destin is seriously exciting, especially if you’re new to the sport or want to get your kids involved. Experience calm waters, grassy flats, and tasty fish, all without venturing far from shore.
You can catch Redfish, Speckled Trout, Flounder, Spanish Mackerel, and Sheepshead. Their peak season is in full swing by the time the rodeo comes around, so fighting them is plenty of fun.
The Destin Fishing Rodeo isn’t all about competition, you know. If you’re just as excited about spending a day on the water as potentially hooking a trophy fish, then this is the perfect category for you. The Oddball Division was introduced to the rodeo in 2017 as a way to recognize all the other (potentially weird and wonderful) sea critters that anglers pull up while targeting their chosen fish!
This means that you can weigh in any legal fish that’s not in the rodeo books, and you might even get a prize for it. Anything from Trumpet Fish and African Pompano to Cubera Snapper are fair game, so long as you catch these fish legally.
If you want a taste of speed and strength, this division is for you! You’ll head at least 10 miles offshore, often further, to battle big predators. This is where you’ll find tough big game fish such as Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, and Mahi Mahi. Be ready to fight with Barracuda, Bonito, and Tripletail, too.
All of these fish are feisty and fight hard, which means you’ll need solid fishing skills to wear them out. This makes for an exciting time out on the water, but bear in mind that the ocean may be choppy. This can be a problem for new or less experienced anglers, so make sure to take the necessary precautions and bring along some good seasickness medication!
Deep Drop Division
Read to give your arms an intense workout? Opt for the Deep Drop Division! You’ll head to waters measuring at least 300 feet in depth to try and pull up a variety of bottom dwellers. You can catch Barrelfish, Tilefish, and a variety of Groupers including Snowy, Warsaw, and Yellowedge species.
These fishing trips can involve quite a bit of waiting around, but the pounds of flakey meat on offer if you hook something sure makes up for it. The fish live deep down on the seafloor, so there are no acrobatic displays when they bite, but don’t let this fool you into thinking they’re easy opponents. They tend to be large and in charge, so you’ll need to put in a lot of effort to bring them up.