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In ancient Greece, to celebrate victory over a foe in battle, soldiers would set a cross into the ground at the point where the enemy’s formation broke. Here, where their adversaries turned and ran in surrender, they removed the armor from a dead enemy soldier and placed the helmet, chest plate, and shield upon the cross as a monument to their triumph. The name they used for this monument? Tropaion – the root of the English word, trophy!

Nowadays we may have evolved beyond showcasing the bloodied garb of our slain nemeses on the battlefield, but we are far from being any more sophisticated when it comes to immortalizing our conquests. Our tropaion, however, are made of cheap shiny plastic molded to form the shape of a golf club, baseball glove, or, if you’re an angler, a sailfish, perhaps. Our trophies have metal plates glued on the front, engraved with a message somewhere along the lines of “Bob is better than his friends at X.”

When it comes to boasting, it really just doesn’t get any better than catching a bigger fish than your buddies. There were probably Neanderthals clunking their mates upside the head with a floppy salmon just to let them know who was the better angler. In modern times, however, we show our angling superiority in a different way, by plopping our catch down on the scales at tournament headquarters.

If you’ve never been in a fishing tournament, I can’t even put into words the excitement. Hundreds of boats and thousands of fishermen, all gearing up to take to the seas in their quest for the tropaion. If you have been, then you know what I am talking about, and you’re probably getting goose bumps just thinking about it.

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So I’ve got you hooked. You’re ready to pack your tackle box, book your flight, and head to Key West. Just hold on a tick and let me finish this article before you run out the door and forget to grab your sunscreen.

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It turns out that you´ve made a good choice in Key West. There are so many different tournaments to choose from and so many different species to fish for, that you are sure to find something that suits your needs. But no matter the destination, picking a tournament is not a decision to be taken lightly. I’ve put together a short guide here to help you choose a fishing tournament that is right for you:

First and foremost you need to think about what kind of angler you are, and what your primary goals are and what you’d like to get out of the tournament experience. Are you the kind of fisherman that spends the entire off-season tying jigs? Or are you the type that finishes half of the beers in the cooler before you haul in the first catch of the day? It’s OK to be either of these guys, it’s just important to realize which you are before choosing a tournament. Some people just want to have a good time and get out on the water, and some people take fishing very seriously and want to be around others who do, too. Then there are even those who enter tournaments as a way to make money. Some purses in Key West can reach $50,000 or more!

How much money do you want to spend?

Monetary restraints are certainly a factor when choosing a tournament. Naturally the events with the bigger prizes cost more to enter. Make sure you know what the entry fee is ahead of time as to avoid any big surprises when you arrive. Check to see what the fee is per boat, and how many fishermen are allowed to enter for that price.

What species do you want to target?

It only makes sense that if you are going to enter a tournament that you at least have some experience fishing for that kind of fish. Don’t just assume that because you’ve trolled for dolphin that you’ll be able to figure out sight-fishing permit on the fly. If you do want to enter a tournament that targets a species that you are not familiar with, plan on rocking up a week earlier and at least head out a couple days ahead of time for practice.

Call ahead and ask questions.

All tournaments will have a tournament manager listed with a phone number so that you can call and ask any questions that you might have. The average fisherman probably only gets to enter one big deep sea tournament a year, so it is worth your time to clear up anything that you need to know ahead of time before booking your flight.

Find your captain well in advance.

Last year’s tournament winning captains will probably already be booked for this year, but any well-seasoned captain with experience and success catching your targeted species can be this year’s winner. Check the local captain’s association to learn who catches what. For example, on the website for Key West’s Charter Boat Row you can get learn about more than 30 charters and captains.

Weight versus length.

Some tournaments hand out cash and prizes based on the weight of your fish, and others by length. Some tournaments only want to see your one big daddy, and others add up your total catch over 2, 3, or even 4 days. How the winners will be judged is certainly something worth considering before signing up.

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One last thing that I’d like to mention is that along with tournament details, you should also research into the area where the tournament is being held. Most likely you’ll be spending a week, but only fishing for 2 or 3 days, so make sure that there are other fun things to do around to fill up the rest of your vacation.

That’s another reason why Key West is such a great place to hold tournaments, there really is something for everyone, even for those who are crazy enough to not want to fish!

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