In the era of Covid 19, safely hosting grass roots tournaments with hundreds of participants is a tall order, especially if it’s the world’s largest fly fishing only tournament. Cheeky Fishing has done it again though. Modeled after the 2020 event, which took place in September last year rather than May, as the whole country was shut down in May, the 2021 Cheeky Schoolie Tournament was a huge success, not just for striped bass conservation (the whole purpose of the tournament), but for myself and my fishing partner as well.
The rules were adjusted for this year’s 10th anniversary tournament. The fish had to be a minimum of 20 inches to be measured this year, as opposed to 15 inches in years prior. And, there was a new measuring device, which turned out to be much better, even if it was harder to carry due to its larger size. The tournament has gone from using a measuring tape and photo puck, which was very cumbersome, to a ruler last year. The tournament is held to benefit the striped bass population, which is suffering. These new measuring devices were much better for the fish and made it much easier to keep the fish wet while measuring and releasing them safely. The rest of the rules remained the same, most inches combined for your team’s largest 4 fish took the top place, catch, photo and release, wade fishing only, no boats, two feet on the ground anywhere East of the Cape Cod canal.
This year, Mike and I took 2nd place out of 269 teams of 2 with 99.25 inches of fish! The 1st place team had 100.5 inches. It was a surprise for sure, only being our 4th tournament and not being locals, the odds were definitely not in our favor, but needless to say, we were very pleased.
This tournament started off with a little disappointment. The weather was not cooperating and the spot we initially picked to start off the tournament day turned out to be unproductive. We found ourselves second guessing our game plan. The whole day is obviously planned around tides so timing was very important. We quickly adjusted and headed to Mark 2, which, likewise, was unproductive, with the exception of one unmeasurable fish I caught. So, another adjustment and back to the first spot to try and catch the last bit of the outgoing tide.
We were initially having difficulty, the wind had really picked up and we were trying to cast directly into it. After a little while, however, the bite was on! Mike got into a good 6 fish in a matter of 30 minutes. It seemed like virtually every cast he had one on. I, on the other hand, was having a much more difficult time with the wind and hadn’t caught a thing. But Mike’s catches put us on the board with 4 measurable fish, and actually added up to the most inches we had caught in a tournament to date. After another half hour without a take, Mike headed back take a quick break, but as soon as he got near the shore, a good 50 yards away from me, I had one on. It was a feisty one too, taking a bit more line on its initial run than I expected. It took off a couple more times before I could get it to hand, but that gave Mike time to get to me with the measuring device. It turned out to be almost 25 inches, which wiped the smaller 20.5 inch fish off the board and put us up to our final 99.25 inches. We spent the rest of the day in search of that biggest fish prize, but nothing panned out.
We were hopeful that we would be in the top 5 at the end of the day, but didn’t expect to be on the podium. As they were announcing the leaderboard at the virtual after party, it became clear that we had done better than expected, and after announcing the teams through 4th place, we were still waiting to hear our name. We had heard rumors throughout the day that the fishing was tough for a lot of people, but you hear that every year. It turned out to be true. Typically the top prize goes to the team that can top the century mark in inches of fish, and this year was no different, but just barely.
We feel very fortunate to have won 2nd place. The prize package was amazing, worth about $5000 in fly fishing gear (2 of everything)! And, to top it off, the tournament raised nearly $21,000 for striped bass conservation. It’s going to be hard to top this accomplishment, but you bet we are going to try! So, thank you to Cheeky Fishing for throwing yet another successful and fun tournament. We will see you again in 2022!