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Field & Stream Online Editors
May 27, 2008
Around 9 a.m., all of the competing boats puttered from Chelsea Piers, on Manhattan's West Side, into the Hudson River and waited for the official start of the tourney. There was five-man crew on our boat, a 26-foot Regulator center console with twin 250-hp outboards: Joe Cermele, associate editor of fieldandstream.com; angler Scott Doty; Captain Chris Kolodziej; Captain Tony Gangone; and me. Once every boat was in the Hudson, tournament director Frank Crescitelli announced the go-ahead over the VHF, and it was full-throttle to the fishing grounds.
To get the crew fired up, Captains Kolodziej and Gangone cranked Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba" on the stereo - which, we learned, is a tradition whenever the two fish in tournaments together. I'm not going to lie: I've never been a huge Kid Rock fan, but the blaring tunes definitely got me pumped. Although, the roar of the outboards, the blistering ride into New York Harbor, and the promise of fights with striped bass and bluefish probably had something to do with my excitement as well.
In the 10 years of the Manhattan Cup, the weather has rarely cooperated. This year was no different. The day began with a drizzle that would only worsen as the day wore on. As we motored past the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island, the ride was wet and bumpy. We huddled behind the windshield to avoid as much of the salt spray as possible, and we kept a tight hold on the handrails to stay surefooted as we barreled through wakes and waves.
Captain Kolodziej killed the motors at a spot near the Romer Shoal Lighthouse, off the Staten Island shore. A look at the fishfinder revealed we were above a promising haunt. Doty, Cermele, and I dropped chunks of menhaden rigged on circle hooks about 17 feet down to the bottom as the boat drifted. When fishing with circle hooks, there's no largemouth bass-style hooksets. You make a 10-second count as the fish pulls drag, then you crank the reel a few times, then you lift the rod. Doty did all of this correctly when his reel was the first to sing. After a quick fight he was rewarded with the first catch of the day: a 30-plus-inch striped bass.
Given the conditions, Kolodziej assured us that we (and the other boats) would mostly be catching bluefish. Cermele nabbed the biggest blue of the day with this 8-pounder, putting Team F&S; on the board. Unfortunately, we lost more bluefish than we landed. Monofilament line doesn't stand up well to the small, sharp teeth like those in a bluefish's mouth. We hooked several blues, only to feel the line suddenly slacken mid-fight after the leaders - frayed from blues' teeth - parted.
I had boated one decent bluefish and lost two others before I got this strike. Big or small, blue or striped, every fish counts in the Manhattan Cup, and Gangone and Kolodziej coached me throughout the fight, making sure I kept enough tension on the fish and gained back line whenever possible. Early in the fight, the fish splashed at the surface, a telltale sign of a bluefish. "That's what we call a New Jersey tarpon," Kolodziej joked.
But it didn't really fight like a bluefish. Whatever it was, it felt big. As I got the fish closer to the boat, it was too far beneath the surface for us to get a good look. With one last lift on the rod, I positioned the fish within net range and Gangone scooped it and brought it onto the boat deck. And just like that, I had my first striped bass of the tournament.
My bass measured 36 inches and had a girth just shy of 19 inches. Cheers and high-fives went all around the boat. Nearby crews must've thought we had a new world record on board. The striper was our biggest fish so far, and, given the poor conditions, one we thought might put us in contention to win the biggest-fish prize of the tournament. At the very least, Cermele and I knew the fish all but sealed a victory in our bout with
Manhattan Cup rules allowed each boat to keep one fish alive in the live well for the dockside weigh-in back at the end of the tournament. After the fish's weight was recorded, it then had to be successfully released. If the fish didn't survive, it didn't count. So we held onto my bass and released Doty's. My fish would later pin the scale at 18.85 pounds - slightly less than we imagined, but still a solid catch - and finish as the third largest bass in the tournament. As for our side tournament with
? It wasn't even close. Cermele and I caught two blues and one bass.
caught nothing. That's right, skunked! Oh well, OL. Next year, we might have to give them an extra angler to level the playing field. On second thought, probably not. But as an aside to those guys, if you ever need any fishing advice, we're right down the hall.
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