David Rainer: Large turnout expected for Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo

Officials with the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR) are expecting big numbers for the rodeo’s 90th anniversary celebration July 20-23 at the rodeo site on Dauphin Island.

In what started as basically a tarpon tournament in 1929, long before a bridge allowed easy access to the island, the initial group numbered only 250 anglers. With only a break during World War II, the rodeo has grown exponentially and was designated the world’s largest saltwater fishing tournament by the “Guinness Book of World Records” in 2011.

“For nine decades volunteers in our local communities have come together to offer an event of this magnitude on the island, and it’s really special,” said Kevin Marks, ADSFR president. “When you consider what happens in the background and how the community rallies around it.”

(Billy Pope, ADCNR)

The rodeo is a project of the Mobile Jaycees, and the ADSFR committees spend long hours in preparation for the four-day event that begins with the Captain T-Bone’s Liars Contest on Thursday night, followed by three days of fishing competition.

“This group, the VPs (vice presidents), has been working on this for nine months,” Sims said. “We meet twice a month to work toward our goals and report to the board of directors. When you think why the rodeo is so special, it goes back to the mentality of volunteerism. When you go back to 1929 when this started and you fast forward to today, we’ve gone from 250 anglers at the inaugural event to 4,000 anglers who participate yearly. We have more than 120 sponsors, mostly the local communities in Mobile and Baldwin counties, but a few from outside, like Yamaha outboards and Contender boats.

“It’s really incredible listening to past presidents who put on this event and hearing about where we were 10 or 20 years ago. It hits you as something unique and special to Dauphin Island that has gained the title of the largest saltwater tournament in the world.”

Participants in the 90th rodeo will compete for more than $450,000 in cash and prizes, including a Contender 25 bay boat with a Yamaha 250-horsepower outboard. The winner of the boat-motor package will be selected in a random drawing from all participants who weigh in a legal fish during the tournament. Therefore, if you catch a 12-inch white trout at Cedar Point Pier or haul in a 150-pound yellowfin tuna from the Gulf of Mexico, your chances of winning the top prize packages are the same.

New this year is another random drawing from those who weigh in a legal fish for a generator package from Meadows Electric valued at $10,000.

“We have increased the random drawings among the participants of the jackpots,” Sims said. “If you compare last year to this year, it’s a pretty significant increase in the number of random drawings.”

(Billy Pope, ADCNR)

After bringing a shark category back to the rodeo last year with great success, this year’s shark competition has been changed to include only two shark species – tiger and bull. Those two remaining shark species will also have separate categories. Last year’s category was dominated by the tiger sharks. The Gulf Hauling and Construction Shark Jackpot will also be divided into individual species.

“After last year’s rodeo, we felt like we needed to level the playing field,” Marks said. “We did away with hammerhead and blacktip.”

Right now, the rodeo plans to have a red snapper category and Craneworks Red Snapper Jackpot, but it will depend on the projections of when Alabama’s quota of 591,185 pounds will be met. Alabama Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon said private recreational anglers had harvested 361,314 pounds as of June 26, with an average take of 72,000 per four-day (Friday through Monday) weekend. Bannon is hopeful the season will remain open for the rodeo.

“Traditionally, this time of year the snapper catch starts to decline,” Bannon said. “Typically, the fish seem to turn off and are harder to catch in July. We’ll make that call about a season closure as soon as possible. Anglers need to remember that reporting is mandatory and withholding reports does not translate into more days, it is more complicated than that.”

Sims added, “At this time, we’re planning to have snapper. But we will pivot if that’s what needs to happen.”

This year’s rodeo added a porgy category that includes red, whitebone, knobbed and jolthead.

“We added porgy just to have another offshore species,” Sims said. “We removed African pompano and Warsaw grouper, but we didn’t touch the inshore categories.”

Sims said the South Response Services King Mackerel Jackpot, the CCA of Alabama Live Weigh-In Special Awards, Yamaha Motors Speckled Trout Jackpot and the Meadow Electric Big Game Jackpot are basically unchanged. Regular rodeo categories include 15 inshore species and 18 offshore species. Each category has a minimum size. Go to https://adsfr.com/rodeo-rules/ to find the rodeo species and minimum sizes.

Another aspect of the ADSFR is it makes a perfect venue for marine scientists to collect a great deal of data in a three-day span. Dr. Sean Powers, rodeo judge and head of the University of South Alabama Marine and Environmental Sciences Department, will bring a crew of students and researchers to sample a variety of fish. Dr. Marcus Drymon of Mississippi State University will bring a team to take a variety of samples from the shark species brought to the scales at the rodeo site. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab will also have a crew at the rodeo to assist with the sampling.

As usual, the Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament will be July 15 and is available to anglers 15 years old and younger.

For the first time, Roy Martin tickets can be purchased at www.fishingchaos.com, but what’s special about the Roy Martin tournament is you can purchase the ticket when you get to the rodeo site with your fish.

At the big rodeo, all tickets must be purchased before the start of the competition, which opens with a cannon blast at 5 a.m. July 21. The ADSFR closes with another cannon blast at 5 p.m. on July 23.

“Right now, we are working very diligently on getting everything wrapped up,” Sims said. “It seems like we have a couple of weeks, but the timeline is getting pretty short. We’re pumping on all 14 cylinders right now, myself and the 13 other guys I work with.

“We’re hoping to sink the island with spectators, anglers and anyone who wants to check us out. Right now, we’re on track to have another great rodeo.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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