The 21st Manhattan Cup blasted off on Friday, June 3 from its base in New York Harbor and was one for the record books. The largest striped bass caught in tournament history topped the leader board, but more on that in a minute. As one of the co-directors, I’d like to let you know why this tournament is so important.
A Higher Purpose
The Manhattan Cup is an all-release charity event created to honor American heroes in need of support. Initially the beneficiaries were first responders suffering from PTSD in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, but after a dozen years the focus switched to members of the U.S. military. Mostly, these are warriors returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq having difficulty re-acclimating to civilian life and at the greatest risk of suicide.
On average, 22 veterans take their own lives each day. In recognition of this sad fact the directors of the Manhattan Cup instituted the “Catch 22” tournament goal. We vowed to host a minimum of 22 warriors to fish with us, knowing that at least these brave men and women will not become a statistic on that day. Fishing in the company of people who appreciate their dedication to duty and their personal sacrifice opened up a new world to many of the veterans who have fished the Cup in the past. In the words of tournament co-director Capt. Frank Crescitelli, “The Manhattan Cup was established to use fishing as a force for good.”
The event boasts Raymarine as the presenting sponsor and Yamaha as the major supporting sponsor. It is based at Liberty Landing Marina and their classy on-site restaurant, the Liberty House, located directly across the Hudson River from the Freedom Tower and a short run to the Raritan Bay complex and nearby ocean waters that are teeming with striped bass this time of year.
Striped Bass on Bait, Lures, or Flies
The tournament has three categories: live bait, artificial lure, and fly. Trophies are presented for notable striped bass and bluefish catches in each division. There are also special warrior and celebrity angler categories with separate trophies. A beautiful striped bass mount is provided by Gray Taxidermy for the top tagging boat. Tags were provided by the tournament’s conservation partner Gray FishTag Research. A portion of the proceeds support the purchase and deploy satellite tracking tags in striped bass to expand our understanding of these remarkable gamefish.
Charter captains and select private boat owners donate their boats and services for the day to take out a mix of area anglers and veterans identified by the official tournament warrior liaison, Sgt. Robert Gil (retired). Gil is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq who credits the Manhattan Cup with turning his life around when he was at his lowest point. A superior officer took him from a VA hospital to the Cup in 2015. Though he had never been fishing before he won the Cup, but more importantly the experience started him on a journey as an angler. This year 32 warriors were in attendance. As they have done the past two years, they stole the show on the fishing grounds.
After a communal breakfast and angler/captain meeting at the Liberty House, each angler received a gourmet box lunch sponsored by Blue Wave Boats and provided by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s epicurean delight ‘WichCraft in Manhattan. After eating, everyone boarded their assigned boats and headed out into the Hudson where they were met by four NYPD Harbor Patrol vessels that escorted the procession to the Statue of Liberty for the shotgun start. Then, the competitors raced south at high speed to the Verrazano Bridge and on to Raritan Bay and beyond in search of stripers and bluefish.
After the shotgun start teams broke off into two main contingents, with the majority of the boats opting to fish the inside waters of Raritan, Sandy Hook and Jamaica bays. The other group headed further south, past Sandy Hook to try for trophy bass in ocean waters. Most of the biggest fish came from the second group, but many fine catches were made inside.
And the Winner is…
The Manhattan Cup is an all-release tournament that encourages tagging during the event so the weights of winning fish are determined using the accepted length/girth algorithm with photographic proof of the measurements.
The winner of the prestigious crystal Manhattan Cup was John Gambardella, fishing aboard Capt. Guy Buono’s donated charter boat Krunch. As is customary, both the angler and the captain receive matching trophies. John had never caught a striper before and his tournament-topping 54.39-pound bass proved to be the fish of a lifetime.
The coveted Master Sargent Christopher J. Raguso Memorial Trophy for the largest bass caught and released by a warrior went to Richie Torres for the 44.28-pound bass he caught aboard Capt. Brian Rice’s Jersey Devil charter boat. Torres won the Manhattan Cup last year with a 52-pound bass and came back to try and defend his championship.
The winning striper in the Sportfishing Division (private boats entered as teams) went to Rob Boyce aboard Dave Glassberg’s Critter Catcher with a 40.05-pound striper. In the Bait Division, the largest striper, a 45.38-pound specimen that ate a live eel, fell to Jim Hutchinson Jr. fishing with Torres and Rice aboard Jersey Devil. The winner of the Flyrod Division was Anthony Davino fishing with Capt. Anthony Grassi aboard Fin Chaser Makaira, and the largest caught in the Artificial Lure Division was a 17.02-pound bass by Ryan Schnupp on the Snubaroo.
All of the proceeds from the Cup go to worthy causes. This year about $15,000 went to Project Healing Waters through Robert Gil, our warrior liaison. Some goes to Gray Fishtag Research to satellite tag stripers, and whatever is leftover is used to fund next year’s event.
The awards dinner at the Liberty House restaurant included oysters provided by Hummock Island Aquaculture, courtesy of saltwater fly-fishing legend Capt. Jeff Northrop of Westport, Connecticut. Jeff also donated a guided shallow water striper trip for the live auctions. Three boats featured on Wicked Tuna (Tuna.com; Fishin’ Frenzy; Doghouse) also donated trips. The private tournament vessel Sushi, which won the White Marlin Open last year, donated a marlin trip for auction. North Island Charters added a fly/light tackle trip and a Great Lakes salmon charter rounded out the trips that were up for bid.
Other items included an original artwork by noted artist and tournament benefactor Savio Mizzi titled “Release,” two complete marine electronics packages by Raymarine, a premium fly outfit by Sage and two Van Staal reel outfits were among the incredible auction items. There were also raffles for thousands of dollars in desirable fishing and boating items.
All 32 warriors in attendance were given a beautiful rod and reel outfit to continue their fishing exploits courtesy of tournament sponsors Tsunami Tackle and Bimini Bay Outfitters. Company president Bob Feldsott was in attendance for the presentation and fished the event.
Thanks to All
Everyone involved in running the Manhattan Cup would like to thank our generous sponsors without whom we could not put on this amazing tribute event. They include Raymarine, Yamaha, Blue Wave Boats, Staten Island Yacht Sales, Valhalla Boat Sales, D&R Boat Sales, Tsunami Tackle, Bimini Bay Outfitters, Sage, The Fisherman, Costa del Mar, Black Rifle Coffee, Liberty Landing Marina and their parent company Suntex Marinas, Princeton Tec, Van Staal Reels, Tony Maja Products, Guides Secret Tackle, Fin Chaser TV, Maui Jim, Run Off Lures, AFW Brands, Manhattan to Montauk Sportfishing Services, Gray Taxidermy, and TCS Reps. And a special thanks to the hardest working group of volunteers to ever put on a charity event.
Our thanks come straight from the heart. See you all next year.