Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo makes major format changes, adds cash-prize divisions

By Jeff Dute |
The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo is adding cash-prize divisions and categories this year in a concerted effort to recapture fishermen lost to impacts of federal fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Everything happened so late in 2012, especially with red snapper, that I think people didn’t understand what was what,” said 2013 rodeo President Chris Hankins. “We know we’re going to be dealing with those fishery issues for reef fish again this year.

“We felt like we had to do something to increase ticket sales and draw more anglers back to the tournament.”

Last year, federal regulations resulted in red snapper, amberjack and triggerfish being off limits to fishermen during the rodeo’s annual three-day run during the third full weekend in July.

Red snapper season is scheduled for only 27 days this year, running from June 1-27. Efforts by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to have amberjack and triggerfish reopen on July 1 to compensate for the short red snapper season have so far been unsuccessful.

After being declared the World’s Largest Fishing Tournament based on participation by Guinness World Records in 2011, rodeo officials with the Mobile Jaycees saw sales decrease about 500 tickets in 2012.

It was the first Rodeo held with the three popular reef-fish species absent from the leader board.

The Rodeo was able to issue 200 fishing exempt permits for scientific-research purposes last year that were awarded through a random drawing among all ticketholders. The permit allowed each angler receiving one to keep only the first red snapper caught.

That was yet another late development that Hankins said did not convince fishermen to buy a ticket.

The cash-prize division for big game, king mackerel and speckled trout basically create tournaments within the main rodeo, Hankins said.

Fishermen can buy into the cash-prize division only after also buying a $40 individual rodeo tickets and tickets in the big game, king mackerel or speckled trout jackpots.

The big game jackpot ticket costs $250 per boat and it’s $100 per boat to enter the king mackerel jackpot.

Besides traditional big game jackpot species tuna, dolphin, wahoo and swordfish, the big game jackpot adds a points-based, catch-and-release category for 2013, Hankins said.

Each video-verified blue marlin catch-and-release is worth 500 points. White marlin, sailfish and spearfish are worth 200 points each. There are no line-class bonuses.

The speckled trout jackpot entry has changed from a per-boat to a per-angler format for 2013, Hankins said in order to accommodate the growing number of kayak fishermen competing in the rodeo.

As a per-boat jackpot in years past, Rodeo rules mandated that at least two fishermen be on the boat to qualify. That rule effectively eliminated solo-paddling kayak fishermen from competing in the jackpot.

This year, anglers pay $25 each to enter the speckled trout jackpot and every angler on the boat must be entered in the jackpot to be able to fish together. Anglers on motorized boats can now compete in the jackpot while fishing solo, too.

Once entered into the jackpots, anglers then have the option to pay an additional $250 or $100 per boat to enter the big game or king mackerel cash-prize categories respectively or $25 per angler to enter the speckled trout cash-prize category.

Once entered into the cash prize category of their choice, boatmates and/or anglers have the choice of competing at price levels that include $100, $250, $500, $1,000 and $2,500.

Boats and anglers are competing for cash prizes against only those boats or anglers entered at the same price level, Hankins said.

A total purse is amassed among entrants at each price level. The Rodeo retains 10 percent of the purse. The remaining 90 percent is paid out with 50 percent to the winner, 30 percent for second and 20 percent for third place.

So for example, a fisherman, who ultimately competes at the $100 level in the speckled trout cash-prize division, will have invested $190 for the necessary tickets — $40 for the regular Rodeo ticket, $25 for the speckled trout jackpot, $25 for the speckled trout cash prize division and $100 to compete for a share of that level’s total purse.

If 50 boats were to enter at the $100 level, it would create a total purse of $5,000. Minus the Rodeo’s 10 percent, the top three fish would split $4,500 with $2,250 for first, $1,350 for second and $900 for third.

If only two fish are entered at a price level, the remaining 90 percent of the purse will be split 60/40, Hankins said. There must be at least two boats competing at a given price level for there to be a legitimate competition.

Hankins said it’s possible that winning fish in any of the cash-prize entry levels would not make the top three in the respective jackpot or even make the overall leaderboard in the regular Rodeo.

“We set it up so the fisherman who’s enjoyed fishing the big Rodeo for years can keep on doing what they’ve always loved doing while also giving other fishermen the choice of competing with the potential for a higher level of return on their chosen level of investment,” Hankins said.

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