Everything You Need to Know About the Destin Fishing Rodeo

September 29, 2022

You don’t have to be a fishing aficionado to take advantage of all the fun at the annual Destin Fishing Rodeo. Anglers of all kinds have been coming to the area for decades to this once sleepy community affectionately coined the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” This year, over 30,000 participants will vie for their share of over $100,000 in cash and prizes. Competing in over 200 categories, novices, rookies, and experienced fishers alike will have the entire month of October to reel in their catch in one of the liveliest saltwater fishing tournaments around.

Whether you want to try your hand in your first tournament or you’re a serious competitor ready to win big, it’s a good time all around. The rodeo also features festive events throughout the entire month in this time-honored tradition, sure to delight young and old.

The History

Leonard Destin, the town’s namesake and one of the area’s first long-term settlers, arrived here in the mid-1800s. Captivated by the white sugar sands, emerald waters, and bountiful fishing, he established the first fishing camp in Destin. Word quickly spread, and anglers gradually arrived, then in droves. New fishing camps appeared, tourism developed, and Destin expanded, offering some of the best and most diverse fishing in the Southeast. Summer was a flurry of activity, but the town got quiet after Labor Day.

The first rodeo was designed to attract visitors to the area in the off-season. The common fishing practice at the time involved corralling fish in pens to keep them alive, and it was called a rodeo. The name stuck, and although the first event held in 1948 saw only a few participants, all enjoyed the beautiful October weather, excellent fishing, and creative prizes (land and beer, to name a few.)

One of the longest-running fishing tournaments in the U.S., the rodeo has grown exponentially through the years. Today, the multi-species tournament sees thousands of saltwater anglers, lively participants, and excited spectators from all over the world for the month-long celebration.

Rodeo Details

The rodeo is free to those fishing on a registered private or charter boat, and you’ll find dozens available. Surf and shoreline fishing is permissible, and you can also fish from a kayak, paddle board, pier, bridge, or jetty. Bask in the warm sunshine, test your skill (maybe luck is a better word), and try for a chance to win significant earnings. At the very least, you’ll finish the day with a nice tan and fond memories. We can’t think of a better way to enjoy the gorgeous October weather!

From flounder, trout, and redfish to mackerel, triggerfish, and wahoo, you’ll find nearly every species recognized, and it’s all fair game. Fish in the shallows, along the reefs, or in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico for a chance to break a rodeo record, win a cash prize, and earn bragging rights until next year’s tourney. Your whole crew can participate, too, with Junior, Teen, Ladies, and Senior Divisions. Prizes are awarded daily and weekly, along with Grand Prize winners announced at the end of the tournament.  For details, reference the website for awards and rules and a full schedule of events.

Rodeo Activities

The Destin Fishing Rodeo features a lineup of family-friendly activities that begin in September. If you happen to be here on the last day of September, swing by AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar for the Annual Kid’s Wagon Boat Parade. It’s a free event, and the whole family will enjoy watching creative ways elementary-aged kids deck out their wagons to mirror the many boats floating in the harbor. AJ’s is also the host of the Rodeo Kick-Off party the same night, so come out for the cookout and watch the sun sink over the harbor!

Challenge yourself at the Rodeo Run 5K, a beautiful course meandering through quiet Destin neighborhoods, followed by free beer and refreshments. Catch the daily weigh-ins the entire month on AJ’s docks from 10 am to 7 pm. The tournament leaderboard is updated daily, with categories displayed and plenty of fish stories each evening. Even if you don’t participate, it’s fun to stroll along the harbor, browse the shops, and check out the day’s catch and current leaders. Take your pick from several waterfront restaurants afterward, and top off the day with a breathtaking October sunset. Be sure to come dressed in costume and ready to celebrate at the Halloween party on the harbor, the final event marking the end of the rodeo on the last day in October.

Where to Stay

Since you’ll want to be close to the action, where you stay matters. With proximity to the rodeo, SunDestin Beach Resort is worth consideration. Featuring 1, 2, and 3-bedroom condos, this beachfront resort has something for everyone. Indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center with cardio equipment and weight machines, and an indoor spa and sauna are just a few of the available amenities. Everyone can spread out and relax in comfortable rooms with a full kitchen and a private balcony, many with ocean views. SunDestin is centrally located, too, near family-friendly attractions, excellent restaurants, and fantastic shopping.

Beyond the Rodeo

Aside from the Destin Fishing Rodeo, you’ll find many ways to welcome fall along the Emerald Coast. Whether you’re here for a quick weekend, a fun-filled week, or an entire month, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in the area. With lower humidity, fewer crowds, and warm temperatures, it’s the perfect time to visit the beaches, explore local restaurants, and spend an afternoon around the town. Take the opportunity to check out the many fall events guaranteed to make the trip even more memorable. 

In short, we can’t think of just one reason to visit Destin and 30A in the fall; there are just too many!

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