Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo this weekend

Published 3:45 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fortunately for the 78th annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo the red snapper season will still be open during the event, scheduled July 15-17 at the rodeo site on Dauphin Island. Red snapper is just one of 30 fish categories in the rodeo, which expects to attract more than 3,000 anglers.|Photo by David Ranier

The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo has claimed for many years that it is the largest fishing tournament in the nation and the world. With a year of pent-up demand from the cancellation of last year’s event because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, rodeo officials anticipate a possible record turnout.

At this year’s 78th annual event July 15-17 at the rodeo site on Dauphin Island, rodeo officials hope to prove it is indeed the largest around with help from the tournament’s approximately 3,000 anglers.

Representatives from Guinness World Records will be on hand to verify the participation and sanction the event as the world’s largest if it passes the record of 2,206 anglers, a mark set earlier this year in Brownsville, Texas.

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However, the Guinness folks won’t go by tickets sold. There must be proof that the anglers actually participated in the event by turning in each ticket at the rodeo site.

“We’re going to make it official this year,” said Todd Bishop, 2011 rodeo president. “We’re going to have Guinness World Records there to verify us as the largest fishing tournament in the world. They’ll be there on Sunday to get the numbers from Friday and Saturday and then when we tally up Sunday’s numbers, we hope they’ll announce we’re the largest on Sunday afternoon. We’ve been claiming it for a long time. This year, we decided to make it official.

“But the big thing is they don’t count tickets sold. They count people who come to the weigh station. So if you don’t catch a fish or weigh a fish, we still need those people to come to Dauphin Island to turn in their ticket stub so the Guinness people will know they participated but just didn’t have quite the luck of everybody else. The Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce is going to pitch in and do a random drawing for those unlucky anglers, so they’ll have a chance to win something, as well. That’s a big part of this record attempt. We’ve got to make sure everybody who participates comes down to the rodeo site at Dauphin Island and be counted. Even if their fish doesn’t make the board, we want them there.”

The rodeo also caught a lucky break in the setting of the 2011 red snapper season. The 48-day season ends at midnight on the Monday after the rodeo.

“This will be the last weekend of the red snapper season, so we should have people chomping at the bit to get out there one last time to catch snapper before the season ends,” Bishop said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is excited and they can’t wait to get out in the Gulf and fish. With snapper season open, we’re expecting a record turnout.”

The rodeo record participation occurred in 2007 when 3,308 tickets were distributed.

Because of the recent changes to the fishing rules and regulations in the Gulf, the rodeo has had to adjust its lineup of 30 categories to comply with regulations.

“We had to drop amberjack because the season is closed and we replaced that with swordfish,” Bishop said. “In addition, we’ll fish for only red grouper, because the gag grouper season is closed.”

Bishop said swordfish had been a rodeo category until the early ‘80s when the species suffered a significant decline. However, swordfish has made a remarkable comeback, and rodeo officials checked with Dr. Bob Shipp (longtime rodeo judge) and Dr. Sean Powers at the University of South Alabama to get feedback about adding the deepwater species back to the lineup. There will be a 47-inch minimum on swordfish, measured from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail.

“Both of them said the swordfish stocks were recovered, the stocks were strong, and they felt more than comfortable bringing that species back to the rodeo,” Bishop said. “In addition, they wanted to do some research on the species, so they thought it was a great idea to bring it back.

“We’ve had at least one swordfish brought to the dock each year from 2007 to 2009. People get excited when they see them. They’re fun to see. They’re neat-looking fish. And now there’s a TV series on the Discovery Channel called ‘Swords – Life on the Line’ so people know what they look like.”

Tarpon anglers who participate in the catch-and-release division will catch a little break under this year’s rules. There will again be two scoring systems – fish at least 78 inches long weighed in with a point awarded per pound, as well as catch-and-release with video verification. Each verified catch-and-release fish will be worth 125 points. The change made in the tarpon category makes it a little easier on the angler to provide video verification.

“We used to make the angler hold the rod, the designator and the leader showing the fish,” said Ricky Brooks, 2007 rodeo president. “Now, we’re going to allow a crew member to hold the leader. It’s a little difficult to do all three things when you’ve got a 78-inch-plus tarpon slapping against the side of the boat. This will make it easier to release the fish unharmed, as well.”

The rodeo will again participate in the redfish (red drum) stock assessment that is currently being done by the University of South Alabama. Anglers are encouraged to bring one bull redfish (more than 26 inches in total length) to the rodeo site for the study. Only one redfish per angler is allowed for the entire tournament.

The big game jackpot will consist of tuna, dolphin, wahoo and swordfish, while the king mackerel jackpot open division will pay out a $10,000 first prize if at least 50 boats enter.

In the speckled trout jackpot, the payout for first will be $5,000 if at least 175 tickets are sold. The rodeo is also making an allowance for the kayak anglers who wish to enter the jackpot. The rule that required at least two people per boat has been eliminated and replaced with a requirement that the catch must be witnessed by another rodeo participant.

Rodeo officials weren’t sure how rodeo supporters would react after a year without an event, but there turned out to be no need for concern.

“We were pleasantly surprised, considering the state of the economy, that so many people were willing to hang in there with us,” Bishop said. “We lost less than five sponsors and we added close to 20 new sponsors. That allows us to do more in the way of prizes and awards. The prize package will be somewhere in the $350,000 range. Anyone who enters a legal fish in the rodeo will be entered in a drawing for a 21-foot Contender boat with a 200-horsepower Yamaha.”

Plus, there’s a good chance you could help put the rodeo in the Guinness record books. Visit for ticket outlets and other information.