The Destin Fishing Rodeo is here! If you want an adrenaline kick, now’s the right time to come down to Florida’s Emerald Coast. During the Rodeo, which runs from 1 to 31 October, you will have a chance to fish for Sharks each Saturday. To get you up to speed, we’ve prepared this guide so that you can smash Destin Rodeo Shark Saturdays and go home with a $250 prize!
Let’s first have a look at the key rules that you need to follow at the Destin Rodeo.
Playing by the Book: Destin Rodeo Shark Saturdays Rules
When it comes to Shark fishing, the Rodeo applies federal regulations, regardless of whether you fish in Florida state or federal waters.
To be eligible to weigh sharks in the Destin Rodeo, you’ll need to have an HMS (highly migratory species) permit. You can purchase this permit online (it costs $20).
However, that’s not all. You’ll need one more document added to your HMS Permit before you can fish both in Florida state waters and in federal waters. That’s a shark endorsement. So, how do you add this to your permit?
Watch this 3-minute video by NOAA, complete the short quiz, and purchase the endorsement online.
Now that you’re licensed to chase Sharks, make sure to follow these regulations:
- You can only bring a Shark to the weigh-in station if the fish is in line with the federal regulations. You can’t bring in fish that don’t align with the minimum length regulations.
- The minimum length on Hammerheads is 78’’, on Shortfin Mako it’s 83”, and on all other legal Shark species it’s 54”.
- Only fish for legal species. This means you can catch: Atlantic Sharpnose, Blacktip, Blacknose, Blue, Bull, Bonnethead, Finetooth, Nurse, Spinner, Oceanic Whitetip, Porbeagle, Shortfin Mako, and Common Thresher Shark, as well as all species of Dogfish and Smoothhounds.
- You can only keep two Sharks in total per vessel, regardless of how many anglers are on the boat.
- You will also need to fish using non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks. Another option is to use artificial lures or fly.
Although your charter captain should be well aware of the current rules and regulations, you should also know these rules yourself. Not only will you feel more confident, but you will help keep the Shark fisheries healthy when you go fishing on your own.
How to Tell Sharks Apart
To make sure you’ve caught the right fish, below you’ll find an easy to follow, step-by-step guide on recognizing Sharks by the FWC.
As we’ve said earlier, when you’re competing at the Rodeo you are allowed to harvest and land federally permitted Shark species. This means you can catch some species that are otherwise prohibited in Florida state waters (eg. Scalloped Hammerhead, Smooth Hammerhead).
However, we encourage you to be mindful of these species’ declining population and not to bring them back to the weigh-in. There is an abundance of other Shark species around Destin, and you can still win a prize. We recommend you only keep the Sharks in blue circles (see figure below).
Besides these regulations, you should also know that the weighmaster at the Rodeo will weigh and record your fish whole. If you want to compete for a prize, the Rodeo officials will gut your fish to determine it’s legal.
Let’s now have a look at the most common Shark species you will encounter in Destin.
Destin Rodeo Shark Saturdays: Common Catches
The Destin waters are teeming with Sharks. Whether it’s inshore, nearshore reefs, or far offshore, you can find these sharp-toothed brutes year-round. It’s a pretty long list, with Blacktip, Bonnethead, Bull, Mako, and Thresher being the most popular. But don’t forget Blacknose, Finetooth, Porbeagle, and Spinner Shark. Here is a closer look at the two most popular Shark species you’re likely to catch during the Destin Rodeo:
Blacktip Sharks live near the shore, which makes them the most commonly spotted and fought fish in these waters. You can find these fish almost anywhere around Destin. They live in relatively shallow waters (up to about 100 ft), and won’t say no to any habitat, be it mangroves, inshore lagoons, brackish waters, or muddy bays. They are most often found in the surf, often moving around other pelagics, especially Spanish Mackerel.
There is a special appeal to fighting a Blacktip Shark. They are light tackle masters, leaping out of the water when hooked, spinning in the air a couple of times, only to dive down and make a run.
Blacktip Sharks are voracious eaters, gulping down anything from other fish to crustaceans. However, they hunt for other fish the most. You can use menhaden, croaker, Mackerel, Jacks, or Grunts and you should see a lot of success. Chum the waters with either live and dead bait, then switch to light tackle.
Bull Sharks are no easy catch, no matter how experienced you are. They are unpredictable and strong, so you need to pay extra attention when handling them. When Bull Sharks are frightened, they can decide to attack in a split second, and they are known to attack boat engines as well.
Bull Sharks live in the surf, occasionally swimming down to depths of up to 100 ft, but almost never lower than that. They weigh between 100 and 300 lbs on average and mostly grow up to 8 ft. Most Bull Sharks caught in the history of the Destin Rodeo weighed 220+ lbs. The next one could be yours!
When it comes to eating, there’s very little these fish won’t try. Bull Sharks feed on small Sharks, birds, turtles, bony fish, and Stingrays. If you decide to take part in the Rodeo Shark Saturday, you should stock on live Mullet or use cut fish, such as Bonito, Barracuda, and Herring.
Shark with a Human Face Tattoo
Shark Saturdays are among the most popular days during the Destin Rodeo. Fishing enthusiasts line up at the weigh-in spot, behind AJ’s (a seafood and oyster bar in Destin) and cheer as the boats arrive with their catch.
Sharks put up a good fight, so it’s always interesting to see what kind of Shark the angler managed to wear out. Battling a 300+ lbs angry beast is no easy feat. But it’s not just the sheer might that Sharks show. Often, Shark Saturdays feature a sight you really don’t see every day.
A couple of years ago, an angler brought in a Mako Shark that weighed a whopping 800+ lbs and smashed the then current record. The crowd went wild as they watched the boat crew pull the fish out of the boat.
Last year, a pair of anglers came back with what seemed to be a regular Hammerhead. As they flung the fish onto the floor, there was a sigh of wonder as the crowd quickly reached for their phones and cameras. The anglers put a tattoo on the Shark’s belly to commemorate their buddy who was killed by a Shark just a couple of months before. You gotta admit, it’s a once in a lifetime chance.
The 2018 Destin Fishing Rodeo is upon us. Who knows, maybe you get to see something even more spectacular. Whatever else you do, don’t miss Shark Saturdays – they’re on October 6, 13, 20, and 27.
So, let’s turn it over to you now. If you’ve been to the Rodeo before, what fish did you catch? How big was it? Did you take part in the Shark Saturdays? Let us know in the comments below!