With a raspy growl to his voice, he says “time is” and people pay attention — at least during the month of October.
For 35 years, Bruce Cheves has been the voice and weighmaster of Destin’s longest running tradition, the Destin Fishing Rodeo, which is currently celebrating its 71st year.
And as Cheves likes to say, “If I say ‘time is’ … you’ve done something good.”
The “something good” is the fish they have just brought to the scales has made the leaderboard.
Cheves, 68, has done something good as well. He has represented the Rodeo and the fishing community in such a way that Sam Seevers, who was mayor of Destin from 2010-2014, declared a Bruce Cheves Day in the city with a proclamation. Since then, the Rodeo takes time to celebrate Cheves each October during the event.
“When they first presented me with the Bruce Cheves plaque I wasn’t expecting it,” Cheves said.
On that particular day, Cheves had stepped inside AJ’s to get a cup of coffee and when he came back out there were at least 100 more people on the docks, noting they really caught him by surprise.
Then Mayor Seevers started reading the proclamation, and the rest is history.
Cheves' first weighmaster/mouthpiece job on the harbor was serving at the annual Shark Tournament about 40 years ago.
He volunteered to talk about the sharks coming in and did such a great job they asked him back the next year, and it turned into a 16-year stint.
As for the Rodeo, Bill Sherman, who had been the longtime weighmaster for the Rodeo, asked Cheves to help out.
In the early days, the weighmaster had to climb a pole to get up to the scales to weigh the fish.
Sherman couldn’t climb the pole anymore, so in 1984 Cheves became the official weighmaster of the Rodeo.
“It was easy for me to do because I had the knowledge,” Cheves said. “I can tell you all about that fish in under a minute … where it lives and how to catch it.”
Cheves learned all he could about fish at an early age.
“When I was 6 years old my dad bought the Encyclopedia Britannica and I started reading that from book to book every night,” he said. “First I read everything that interested me. Then when I got to Z – I’d go back to A and start reading the stuff that didn’t interest me.”
Plus he learned a lot from a book about insects and fishes of the sea.
“It just fascinated me,” he said.
Today he continues to learn from his smart phone and Google.
“It’s a fascinating thing; they keep discovering more things in the ocean," Cheves said. "There’s well over a million species. There’s stuff we don’t know.
“If you could make everything clear out there where you could see … there’d probably be things out there that people haven’t even imagined,” he added.
In addition to learning from books, Cheves has experienced fishing first hand.
He fished with Capt. Bruce Marler, now deceased, Capt. David Rojas, Capt. Jim Cannon, Capt. Jim Evans and helped out on party boats as well.
“When I first came down here I didn’t know one end of a rod and reel from the other,” Cheves said.
He learned a lot from folks like Rip Miller and Matt Ankney.
“The people of this town made me the type of fisherman I am,” Cheves said. “I can go marlin fishing or go Godzilla fishing … whatever you want to do.”
But Cheves is quick to give credit to the fishermen of Destin.
“It’s all the people in this town. I am a fisherman because of what they taught me,” he said.
As weighmaster of the Rodeo he gets to spin his fish stories and keep people informed.
“I’m entertainment and information … that’s what I do,” he said. “When a fish is hanging right there, I have to wow them with it, I don’t care how big it is. I’m entertainment and education.”
And his plans for retirement are no where in sight.
“I want to drop dead going ‘time is — I’ve got to go,'” Cheves said.