The 65th annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo opens Thursday (July 4) at the new Barksdale Pavilion about a half-mile east of the intersection of U.S. Highways 49 and 90.
"We are going home and it feels good," said Rodeo president Michael Casano. "It's been a long time and we are excited. We have overcome Katrina and we fought through the BP oil spill, and we are going home."
Seven weeks after the 2005 Rodeo ended, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast, destroying most of its waterfront and leaving the Gulfport Harbor unrecognizable. The Rice Pavilion, home to the Rodeo for over 20 years, was gone.
But the Rodeo continued, albeit in a nomadic role.
* The 2006-07 Rodeos were held inshore at the Harrison County Fairgrounds in Lyman.
* The 2008-09 Rodeos returned to the shoreline, but were held at Point Cadet in Biloxi.
* The 2010 Rodeo returned to Gulfport in a casino parking structure, and survived despite the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
* The 2011-12 Rodeos were housed at Long Beach, adjacent to the Long Beach Harbor.
But this week, Thursday through Sunday, the long strange trip ends and brings a renewed spirit.
"The new Barksdale Pavilion is extremely nice, a state of the art facility," Casano said. "Its amenities are so much better than we've had, not only for us but for our vendors and for the public. It's plush when compared to what we've had."
The new site is at the opposite end of the harbor from the old one, and it brings an added advantage.
"For the first time ever, we will have the capability of having captains bring their catch to the Rodeo by water," Casano said. "If they want to, they have the option of coming to the dock and enter their fish."
Spotlighting the Mississippi Gulf Coast's sport fishing industry has always been the goal of the Rodeo since its inception, a proud tradition it has remained true to for nearly 5½ decades. It has adapted to change during that time, forced to do so as declining fish populations in the Gulf dictated.
Many species have been deleted from competition, including the always-popular red snapper. The season ended June 28.
The saltwater division has had as many as 23 species in the past but now has just 16: black drum, bluefish, bonito, blackfish (tripletail), flounder, gar, grouper, jack crevalle, king mackerel, cobia, redfish, gray snapper, shark, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout and stingray.
Striped bass have been dropped from the freshwater division, which now includes bluegill, catfish, largemouth bass (green trout), shellcracker (redear) and crappie.
The youth rodeo will be held on Saturday and will include competition for saltwater species speckled trout, redfish, white trout, croaker, ground mullet, flounder, sheepshead and black drum. The fresh water divisions are bass, bream (bluegill, shellcracker) and catfish.
For more information on the 65th annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, visit its online site at mississippideepseafishingrodeo.com.