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A brief history of the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo from its beginning to today.
The Rodeo is held annually during the 4th of July events on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
This year the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo was held in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo History
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The 61st annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo will be held July 2nd thru July 5th 2009.

This page was last updated on May 12th 2009.
A Brief History of the Rodeo

How did it all begin?

Conceived in thought by Captain Horace Towell, and adopted in resolution by American Legion Joe Graham Post 119 in Gulfport, the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo came into being in the year of 1947 with the first Rodeo presented in 1948. From a meager beginning, with competitive contestants being mostly local sport fishermen and women, the Rodeo has enjoyed great popularity and progressive growth through the years since.

The American Legion in Gulfport staged the Rodeo prior to 1958 exclusively, as a service to the Community. The Legion's building was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969, and was rebuilt at its present location, just North of the Sand Beach on Courthouse Road.


     While the Rodeo was successful in popularity, it's financial history shows that the Legion Post spent some $16,000 suffering a loss each year due to the cost of staging the annual sporting event exceeding the revenue received. The American Legion Post felt that these funds were well spent as a contribution to further the ancient art of Sport Fishing and for the welfare of the beautiful Mississippi Gulf coastal area.

     In 1958, the Gulfport American Legion Post incorporated the Fishing Rodeo as a Non-Profit Civic Improvement Corporation and dedicated it's future development to the Civic Leaders of the Communities of the Coast. This was done by resolution at a regular meeting of the Post, in order to be relieved of further financial strain from it's treasury as the Rodeo's financial underwriting agency, and to widen the scope of promotional activities with greater Civic interest. The active Members of the Post were divided in their thoughts for the Rodeo's future. Some were in favor of discontinuing it's program, some desired to continue it's program as a Legion affair, some advocated turning over it's promotion to some other organization...but the heavy majority vote was for adopting of the present schedule which has proved to be extraordinarily successful.

     Since the reorganization of the Rodeo in 1958, the Sport Fishing Festival has been staged annually by Civic Leaders from the Communities of the Coastal area, and has grown in acclimation by Outdoor Writers of the Press, Television, Radio, Magazines and other periodicals...as one of the largest and foremost Sport Fishing annual attractions in the World.

Who were the Rodeo's leaders?

   Robert L. Rice (pictured) became the new organization President, and with his leadership the Rodeo became successful.

   Rice created a Board of Directors of outstanding Gulf Coast Businessman including: Pete Casano, Tom George, Doctor Bill Starr, Carl Alfonso, J. E. Minners, Lamar Switzer, Billy Meadows, Laz Quave, R. E. Dedeaux, J. I. Dedeaux, Doctor R. E. L. Stewart, Dick Lightsey, James Shorg, S. S. Lucket, Lionel Keel, Jimmy Mitchell, Lawrence Mensi, Bob Gorsline, Walter Helveston, Sam Williams, John Cook, George Bone, Doctor Burman, and Clyde Hurlbert.

   Each of the Directors had there own job, Finance, Security, Prizes, Fish Bins, Booth Rentals, and many, many more jobs.

What kind of building was the Rodeo held in?

During the early years, the Rodeo was held in the Jessup Brothers Tent, which then was the largest tent in the World.

As the years passed, the Rodeo moved       
into the Ringling Brothers Circus Tent.       
   

   In 1966, because of the massive crowds and a bulky tent, the Rodeo worked with the then Mayor of Gulfport Billy Meadows, and with the Rodeo organization built a permanent pavilion called the Rice Pavilion in honor of Robert L. Rice.

   The Rodeo paid for the materials, and the United States Navy Seabee Base in
Gulfport erected it.

      In 1984 the Federal Government gave the City of Gulfport a great honor by building the new Coast Guard Station in it's Small Craft Harbor. Unfortunately, for the Fishing Rodeo, the new Coast Guard Station was to be built on the site of the Rice Pavilion.

     The Rodeo meet with the then Mayor of Gulfport Jack Barnett, and he informed the Rodeo Committee that the Government had given the City finances to rebuild the pavilion. and the Rodeo would be "grand-fathered" in on the new building.


   By the 1985 Rodeo, the new Rice Pavilion was finished...one-third the size of the old pavilion. By the next Rodeo, realizing that there was not enough room, the Rodeo added 30 feet along the south end of the Pavilion to be used for the Fish Bin displays, Prize Bin, and a Stage.


   That same year, the Rodeo built on the north side of the Pavilion, with City approval, an Office for the Rodeo and City and Public Bathrooms. The Fishing Rodeo paid for all the material, and for a class project, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College did the construction.

   These 2 pictures show the Carnival & Large Parking Areas (top), and the entrance to the Pavilion as it appears today (bottom).

When did the Rodeo become Mississippi's official fishing event?
     In 1953, before the sixth Rodeo, the then Governor of the Great State of Mississippi, Hugh L. White, proclaimed the Rodeo as the "State's Official Fishing Event.” With this, the Rodeo became the State's Official Fishing Tournament, and the Rodeo's Fishing Records become the beginning of the State's official Fishing Records. Each Governor thereafter has made the proclamation...“The first week of July will be Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo Days."

Who were the Rodeo's entertainers?

   Entertainment was under Doctor Bill Starr’s leadership. During his first year, Jacqueline Hines of the Gulfport Recreation Center danced and performed gymnastics on the Rodeo Stage for 4 days. The 2nd year, Mrs. June Jones, shown in the picture, brought her Dance School, and with Mrs. Hines they were the entertainment for the first few Rodeos.

   As the years passed, different local Bands donated their time and many local entertainers followed. The Gulfport High School Band preformed many times, as well as the Kessler Air Force Base Band, the Air National Guard Band and even the main Air Force Band.

     Many National performers came to the Rodeo such as Dizzy Dean, Paul Harvey, Jane Mansfield, Percy Sledge and many more. In the later years Billy Joe Royal, Doctor Hook, Cool & The Gang, Black Oak Arkansas, and many others performed on the Rodeo stage.

Who sponsors the 4th of July fireworks?

Fireworks

     Our Giant 4th of July Fireworks Display has been held annually since the first Rodeo when it was sponsored by the American Legion, which was the main sponsor for the first ten years. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company co-sponsored with the Legion for several years.

     The Fireworks display is a major event and draws large crowds from all over the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The latest Fireworks Displays were sponsored only by the Rodeo organization with no support from the City of Gulfport. The City of Gulfport also charged Rodeo organization for all Police overtime due to the event.

How important is the Rodeo to the Mississippi Gulf Coast?

       

       

Shown in the pictures above: Left picture, Senator Thad Cochran.  Right picture, Representative Gene Taylor.
Center picture from left to right: Roy Dedeaux, Pete Casano, Senator Trent Lott, Cary Starr and Tom George.
     Over the past 55 years, many distinguished visitors have honored the Rodeo by their presents, including all the Governors of our great State. Other visitors have been United States Senator Trent Lott, shown holding a Rodeo Photographs Book, United States Senator Thad Cochran (left), U.S. House Representative Gene Taylor (right) and many more. Paul Harvey came and talked about the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo on his Radio Show.

Also visiting the Rodeo (left seated) was our
own United States Senator John Stennis.

Dizzy Dean, (right center) came to South
Mississippi to help give out Fishing Awards.

     During preparation for the 1966 Rodeo, Robert Rice, City of Gulfport Civic Leaders and members of the State Port Authority worked together to locate what is now known as Dole Fresh Fruit today. A group of businessmen from South America were invited to Gulfport during the Rodeo event. The Rodeo volunteered to pay for room and board and honor them at the Rodeo. The Rodeo, expecting 4 or 5 people, were surprised when over 30 people showed up to honor them. The Rodeo's hospitality was one of the
leading factors in convincing them to come to the State Port in Gulfport. When the City of Gulfport decided to acquire and restore the Old Courthouse on Courthouse Road, the Rodeo volunteered to help with this project.

What is the biggest part of the Rodeo?

     Besides promoting the Mississippi Gulf Coast, fishing is the biggest part of the Rodeo. The Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo is an annual salt and fresh water competition for all ages. Since the beginning of the Rodeo, the competition has been FREE to all fishermen and fisherwomen. Each year, the registration exceeds 3,000 entries. The Fishing Rodeo has 28 categories and present daily prizes on each and a first and second place on the final prizes including a King and Queen Fisherman Trophy. Giant crowds pack in to the Rice Pavilion to see the catch each year.

     For the realy Competitive Fisherman, we have added Shootouts where the contestant contributes a small entry fee...with the winners receiving a cash prize. There is a 100% cash payback plus a Rodeo contribution. The categories for these Shootouts are: Cobia, Redfish, Bass, and a new category in 2004 Speckled Trout.

What happens to the fish caught at the Rodeo?

   Director Jim Franks and Marine Biologist D.M.R. Buck Bucanon of the Research Lab, come to work as our Rule Judges. The number one question of what happens to all the fish that enter the Fish Bins can be answered by starting with donation of fish to Universities on a tri-state level for their Marine Biology research.

   The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, a division of the National Marine Fisheries, comes in force, attacking each fish that is entered and saving all their "innards" for their laboratories in Jackson County.

     The excess fish produced from the Fish Bins are donated to Church groups, the Battered Women Association, the Gulf Coast
Conservation Club, the Gulfport Police Department, the Harrison County Sheriff's Department, the Gulfport American Legion, and many donations to needy people only to name a few. In the last 12 years the Rodeo has avoided stockpiling fish in the Fish Bins.
All eatable fish are used or donated. Past Director and Weigh Master, Ken Ernst, developed this, decreasing spoilage and fish odor.

Who backs the Rodeo through their publicity?
     The Rodeo has backing from the News media, WLOX-TV, WXXV-TV, Radio, Sun Herald Newspaper, National Wide Sports Magazine, Mississippi Outdoors, National Geographic, and the Department of Wildlife Fisheries & Parks to name a few. For
National recognition, the South Eastern Tourist Administration has awarded us as one of the Top 10 Events of the southeast section of our Country for 10 consecutive years. This is a great honor, because Disney World is another recipient of this award. In the June 2004 edition of National Geographic, the Rodeo was honored by being chosen as one of the two greatest annual events in Mississippi.

The Kids Fishing Rodeo

   The Kids Fishing Rodeo is a recent addition to our Rodeo. Over 300 kids participated last year. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, the tournament is free to all kids 4 to 12 years old. A parent or guardian must accompany the contestants.

   Prizes are given for the top five fish in each category and a "King Fisherman" and Queen Fisherette is determined on a point basis. Five points for 1st, four points for 2nd, three points for 3rd, two points for 4th and one point for 5th.

The Military Division

A Military Division was added to the Rodeo to give our Military Servicemen an even chance to compete in unfamiliar waters.

Rodeo Queens and Shrimp?

   Each year, the Rodeo puts on a Queen’s Pageant, where Girls from a four County area compete for this Honor. Each girl receives a College Scholarship.

   Before each Rodeo begins, a "Kickoff Banquet" is held. The Kickoff Banquet begins with an introduction of the Rodeo Queen Contestants.

   As many as 500 supporters come to the American Legion in Gulfport, enjoy the fellowship, and cook approximately 1,000 pounds of shrimp for the Kickoff Banquet.

Would you like to know more?

This has been only a short history of the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.

If you want to know more about our Rodeo, write us at Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, Inc.
P.O. Box 1289  Gulfport, Mississippi 39502-1289. Also, you can call us 1-228-863-2713.
If you prefer, you can email us at  msdfr1947@yahoo.com  or just come to the Rodeo and ask us.

We are all proud of the Rodeo, and we can tell you more Rodeo history than you may want to know.

In conclusion...

  We are now in our 61st year. Your Fishing Rodeo Committee is modestly proud of all of the Rodeo’s outstanding achievements and it's all-around success, but we fully realize that much of the crowned successful glory goes to the hundreds of Civic Leaders, Civic Workers, Political Leaders, the public's interest, and the gentlemen of the Press, Television, Radio and other News mediums whose columns and contributions have spotlighted the Rodeo as a National and International Sport Fishing attraction.

We will continue with our efforts to make the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo
an outstanding State, National, and World recognized annual Sport Fishing event.

Thank you for visiting our brief history of the Rodeo.

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