Sharks seem to be constantly in the news, which means dolphin are getting short shrift. Not for long, though. This weekend kicks off the eighth annual Original Florida Keys Ladies Dolphin Tournament, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Key Largo to benefit youth and educational programs. More than 150 women from all over Florida and as far away as Ohio and California will jump on chartered or private boats and hit the waters off the Keys, attempting to reel in the biggest catch (55.8 pounds is the record so far).
Environmentally enlightened types need not stage protests. The breed the women will pursue is not the cute-but-endangered bottlenose dolphin seen on the former TV show Flipper. With their blunt snouts and big foreheads (think a deep-sea version of Orson Welles), these are dolphin fish, known as mahi-mahi and dorado. They make great eating, and there are plenty of them in the sea. "They're prolific breeders," assures tournament weigh-master Norman Whitla.
Don't fish? Don't worry. Aside from the sporting aspect, the event promises entertainment for those indifferent to the lure of the ocean. Parties are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and a brunch closes the festivities on Sunday. "I like to look at the thing as a fun weekend with a little bit of fishing thrown in," says Whitla, who as weigh-master may be a bit bored compared to the women. He'll spend Saturday hanging out with a scale at Snappers Waterfront Saloon & Raw Bar to decide the winner.
And make no mistake, the women anglers are serious. The top prize is $2000. A $1000 bonus goes to the record-breaker. Rules are the same as any other competition. No matter the weather, the boats will go out. A hurricane is the only reason for cancellation. Whitla reports that one year a vessel sank, leaving its passengers clinging to a cooler in the middle of the ocean for nearly ten hours. A scary prospect, for lovers of the sea know the one place they don't want to be is swimming with the fishes.