Outdoors

Plan to fish this year's Deep Sea Rodeo? It just got more interesting.

Two Coast businesses have donated $50,000 in prize money for the anglers who reel in a tiger shark or Southern stingray that breaks state records at this year’s Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.

Rodeo officials announced the prize money and a change in rules on Thursday.

To win the top prizes, anglers must beat the state record of 390 pounds for a tiger shark and 158 pounds, 1.6 ounces for a Southern stingray, said Donnie Armes, fishing rodeo director.

The prize money allots $25,000 for a possible winner in each category.

The 71st annual rodeo is June 29 through July 4.

Prize sponsors Ronnie McKenna, owner of Ronnie’s Automotive & Towing, and Chris Fore, vice president of Design Precast & Pipe, met with rodeo officials for the announcement.

"The two guys got together and decided they want to up the stakes," rodeo president Richard Valdez said.

McKenna and Fore, son of Design Precast president Pat Fore, said they decided to jointly sponsor prizes of $25,000 each for the winners of this year’s stingray and tiger shark categories.

“Both are longtime supporters of the fishing rodeo," Valdez said. "We can’t thank them enough."

McKenna said he's glad to partner with the Fores on the prize money.

"We're doing this for the fishermen, for the community and to bring the kids in," McKenna said.

Fore agreed.

"We're all from here, raised here and it's a Fourth of July staple on the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Fore said. "We're glad it's coming back and we are able to make it a little bit more exciting this year."

The 71st annual rodeo is June 29 through July 4. The kids' rodeo will be June 30. It's free to fish and register a fish at the scales. The entry fee to the grounds is $5.

Anglers who want to compete for the tiger shark and stingray prizes must pre-register by 11:59 p.m. June 28. You can register online at the fishing rodeo's website or you can meet rodeo staff at the Barksdale Pavilion all day until 10 p.m. The website also shows rules and other information.

Anglers who compete for the shark record must have what's called a highly migratory species permit and a state saltwater fishing license.

A new regulation on the permit includes a shark endorsement, a simple test to make sure anglers know which kind of shark can be caught, Armes said.

"Some sharks you can't possess, such as ridgeback sharks," Armes said. "The only one you can keep is the tiger."

The stingray competition also requires a saltwater license.

Also, the shark or stingray must be brought in by boat to the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor.

Gates open at noon and close at midnight June 29 through July 3; gates close at 10:30 p.m. on July 4. Carnival rides will be available only as a pay-one-price ticket.

Scales open at noon each day. Weighing stops at 6 p.m. all days except July 4, when the scales close at 4 p.m.

Last, year, Brett Rutledge of Mobile, Alabama, took home $20,000 for entering a state record bull shark during the 2017 Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. His catch weighed 354 pounds, 4 ounces.

This year's rodeo does not include a prize for beating the state bull shark record, but does include a certificate from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, as do any state records broken.

Robin Fitzgerald can be reached at 228-896-2340 or @robincrimenews
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