By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), the largest saltwater tournament in the nation, will revert to its roots for the 87th rodeo, scheduled July 17-19 at the rodeo site on Dauphin Island.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, the ADSFR will concentrate strictly on the great fishing along the Alabama Gulf Coast, which harkens back to the early days of the rodeo when a group of dedicated tarpon anglers assembled on Dauphin Island for the initial events.
As safety precautions, ADSFR 2020 President Cory Quint said the rodeo will not hold the Liars Contest on the Thursday night before the rodeo. Also, the sponsors’ tent and the fish viewing area will not be available for the 2020 rodeo. The music entertainment has also been dropped for this year. However, the Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament set for July 11, 2020, will be held as planned.
“First and foremost, we’re a fishing tournament at heart,” Quint said. “Everything else we do is what we call ‘the show,’ which means we make it family friendly and appealing to other people outside of anglers.”
Many people are not aware of how much work goes into hosting the ADSFR, which attracts more than 3,000 anglers to the small barrier island in south Mobile County. Quint said normal rodeo preparation for the next year’s event starts about a month after the rodeo has fired the cannon to signal the end to the event.
“We always try to improve some aspect of the rodeo each year by making it bigger and better,” Quint said. “In April, our mindset had to shift to how we make sure this rodeo will happen. We had all this social distancing. You had to wear a mask. You could only have groups of so many people. You had all this stuff. We worked with the Town of Dauphin Island, and they told us they were okay with us fishing, having a weigh-in and selling T-shirts. They did not want us to give anybody a reason to congregate. As much as I hate it, we had to cut out the Liars’ Contest. We had big plans to honor Mike Thompson (a multiple Liars’ Contest winner who died unexpectedly several months ago). I’ve known Mike (Captain T-Bone to the rodeo crowd) just about my whole life through my mom and dad (Jimmy and Terri Quint). I really wanted to do that personally. But, we didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t do the music. We couldn’t do the sponsors’ tent, which is about 60 percent of our sponsors.
“We are kind of going back to our roots as a fishing tournament. But I don’t want people to be confused about our rodeo site. It is still open. If you want to come see somebody weigh in, look at the boats or watch a sunset, you can still do that. We just can’t give people a reason to congregate. All we’re asking from the anglers is to be mindful of social distancing and be respectful of the Town of Dauphin Island. They really did do us a favor by allowing us to have the rodeo this year.”
Jeff Collier has been the Mayor of Dauphin Island for the past 22 years and knows what the rodeo means to Dauphin Island in terms of retail sales and rental income. With the exception of a couple of years during World War II, anglers have gathered on the island for fishing festivities.
“We’ve seen a lot of rodeos,” Mayor Collier said. “I was born and raised here, so I’ve seen most of the last 59 or so. That’s a lot of rodeos. This is going to be similar to some of the rodeos in the past. There’s going to be a little less activity, and we’ll be focusing on the fishing aspect of it, which is what the event was originally. Over the years, they added more events, but this year it will be back to that fishing tournament environment. We hate that for them. It would be nice to have the Liars’ Contest and the concerts, which had been well-received. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year.
“The rodeo is such a historic event. This is the 87th rodeo. Any community would be happy to have them as part of the community. But, at the same time, we also commend them, because I think what they’re doing under these circumstances is the right and responsible thing to do.”
During a normal three-day rodeo, more than 75,000 people visit Dauphin Island for the fishing or the show. The absence of that traffic is definitely going to impact the businesses and rental properties.
“With this COVID situation, a lot of our small mom-and-pop businesses need all the help and support they can get,” Mayor Collier said. “The rodeo was one of those times they could benefit when the times were good. With a population of about 1,250 permanent residents on the island, you can see what bringing 75,000 people onto the island would have in terms of economic impact. It’s a big event. It covers as much as four days, so it has a big impact on our small community.
“But I do still think it will be a good event. People who do come down, we want them to act responsibly. We’re encouraging people to wear a face covering. We’re not requiring it, but we’re encouraging it. As we say, we want to be part of the solution not part of the problem.”