Emphasis less on offshore, more on shallow water fish
Its title is a bit out of date, but the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo remains one of the state’s biggest attractions.
A staple of the Gulf Coast’s Independence Day celebration, the 67th Rodeo will be held July 2-5 at the Gulfport Harbor’s Jones Park.
The fishing contest continues to emphasize what made it so popular for nearly seven decades, that of being an event for every level of angler including freshwater. Of the 19 saltwater divisions open to competition, only a handful would be considered “deep sea” species — barracuda, gray snapper, cobia and king mackerel.
Over the past two decades, as federal seasons and limits have been reduced and more blue-water anglers turned to catch and release, the Rodeo was forced to adapt. The closely regulated red snapper and amberjack divisions were eliminated, as were all four blue-water divisions, billfish, tuna, wahoo and dolphin.
“More people fish for redfish, speckled trout, flounder and the other near-shore species, so that’s where our emphasis is heading,” weighmaster Mark Wright said at a past Rodeo. “They are the species that more people can relate to, those and the freshwater fish like bass, bream, catfish, crappie and striped bass.”
Prizes are awarded daily for the biggest fish in each division, plus overall points are recorded for each day. At the rodeo’s end, overall division winners will be rewarded as well and the kings and queens of both freshwater and saltwater competition (based solely on daily point totals).
Two one-day “shootouts” are being held during the Rodeo, including speckled trout on Saturday and flounder on Sunday. The purses for the two events will be based on number of entries.
“The Rodeo is always more than the fishing,” said Rodeo president Mike Casano of Diamondhead. “It is a celebration of all things related to the rich tradition of sport fishing on the Gulf Coast, and combined with the holiday weekend there’s a lot to celebrate.”
A popular part of the Rodeo has always been its fish display where the best fish in the event are kept on ice for the public to view.
“A lot of people, even those from the Gulf Coast, would never have seen what these fish look like had it not been for this event,” said Wright, who followed his father George in that role and basically grew up at the Rodeo. “All my life I have watched people walk down in front of the fish bins and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over the fish. It’s educational, for sure, and it’s entertainment.”
Plenty of other entertainment is provided on site, including carnival rides and music. On Saturday night at 8:45, the annual Rodeo Fireworks Show, one of the largest in the state, will commence on the east end of the Harbor.
The scales open daily at noon and close at 6 p.m. everyday except Sunday, when the scales close for good at 4 p.m. There is no cost to enter the Rodeo competition — the shootouts do carry a $115 entry fee per event — but fishermen must register prior to presenting fish to the weighmaster.
For more information, visit mississippideepseafishingrodeo.com.
What: 57th annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo
Where: Jones Park, Gulfport Small Craft Harbor
When: July 2-5, scales open at noon daily and close at 6 p.m. July 2-4 and at 4 p.m. on July 5.
Who: Competition is free in the Rodeo, except for the speckled trout (Saturday) and flounder (Sunday) shootouts. Daily admission to the public is $5.
Freshwater: Bream, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass (green trout to locals) and striped bass.
Saltwater: Barracuda, black drum, blackfish (triple tail), bluefish, bonita, flounder, gar, gray snapper (mangrove), grouper, jack crevalle, king mackerel, lemon fish (cobia), pompano, redfish, shark, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, and stingray.