There wasn’t another spot in the world I’d rather have been.
The striper bite had been a solid one in the weeks leading up to the 2021 Manhattan Cup. The witching hour approached to calculate how long the run back to Liberty Landing Marina would take to meet the 4 p.m. cutoff to submit score sheets. Our team had caught, released, and tagged a pretty good number of stripers and blues but still needed a cow to have a shot at taking a trophy home (not the fish). I don’t fish in many tournaments, but I fish a lot. I’m always excited for a day on the water, but this day is always an intense one.
I take a lot of pride in being part of the team working with the Recreational Fishing Alliance and tournament founder, Frank Crescitelli, to make the first Friday in June the best day of fishing all year, regardless of coming home with a trophy or not. I’ve witnessed lives of brave warriors change because of the day and there’s very few things in this world that can beat that. A close but distant second is to fish with and against the best captains, guides, and anglers in the tri- state area. Guys that are on the water just about every day, legends of our fishing community that donate their time and boat to showcase what our waters are capable of.
Dozens upon dozens of bass and blues had been caught, measured, and released throughout the day. Many of those fish were also released with tags provide by Gray Fish tagging program to provide vital data about our local fishery.
A brilliant blue sky above wouldn’t last as a nasty squall was moving in from the south. The catch clock ticked down and quite a few teams went into their 2-minute drill mode. One more entry on the score sheet could be the difference, and aboard The Jersey Devil with Captain Brian Rice at the wheel, it would be.
Their score sheet already had some impressive entries with fish over 40 pounds. One of those fish would take the celebrity division for Cincinnati Bengals long snapper and former Rutgers star Clark Harris. A 48-pound bass would have most likely have bestowed the Chris Raguso Memorial award onto USAF veteran Rich Torres. It was also his personal best as Captain Rice said it was time to bring the lines in for the run home.
“You guys ever catch one as you bring the lines in?” Former Staff Sergeant Torres started to reel in the last of the lines—he felt something. Not a stranger to fishing, but new to trophy bass fishing, his question was answered moments later. At 52 pounds, he would break his previous personal best from a few hours earlier and win the warrior division.
That storm passed, and soon enough all the boats were tied up. Over drinks and a real impressive spread of food, fish tales of the day bounced around the crowd. One of the more impressive ones were that of Montauk fly guide Captain Tim O’Rourke. His pure hustle of getting to Jersey City to fish was noteworthy as he trailered his 22-Parker from Montauk to Liberty Landing to fish waters he had never casted a line into. He ended up taking home the awards for most fish caught on a fly and the largest bass on a fly made quite a few heads spin. Vastly different from his waters, Tim stuck to his gospel of fishing and found the structure and rips that typically hold fish. He said “even a blind squirrel gets a nut” during the rounds of back slaps and handshakes, but we all knew this experienced guide was just adjusting to his new surroundings.
Word of Jersey Devil’s catch with seconds left on the clock made its way around the room, adding to so many recaps of memorable fishing that took place. For the 29 veterans in attendance, they’re many memories that didn’t tip the scale past 40 pounds or necessarily secure a trophy. A long-time mantra of The Manhattan Cup is to use fishing as a force for good. The day had given refuge, instilled hope, and started a healing for some and continued healing for others that put everything on the line for our freedom. For Rich Torres and many veterans, it wouldn’t be just the day of the tournament but the journey afterwards. I recently caught up with Staff Sergeant Torres.
“Fishing, especially after the Manhattan Cup keeps me occupied. It keeps me thinking about fishing and not the other stuff that gets in my head.” It’s that “other stuff”, not visible in many cases, that makes for the struggle so many veterans face when returning home after their service. One day of fishing may be a respite, but to start a new journey to conquer the struggles of so many warriors is how lives change. One of the many sponsors in particular, Folsom Tackle, graciously donated a rod and reel to each veteran during the awards ceremony. Manhattan Cup veteran coordinator, former Sergeant Robert Gil, in addressing the warriors issued a challenge. A challenge to use what they experienced and learned to not only incorporate it into their lives but to reach out to other veterans and show them first-hand what the power of the passion of fishing can do.
Matthew Braiotta, Assistant Director of the New York office of the Department of Veterans Affairs and member of the Metropolitan Fly Fishing Club addressed the room shortly after. He too had seen the incredible impact the day had on veterans that had joined us for the day. Echoing the sentiment of what the power of the outdoors can have for post combat veterans, his passion to incorporate work like the Manhattan Cup does was nothing short of amazing.
The 14-hour adrenaline surge from the day had started to fade a bit as things wound down. The drive home to the East End of Long Island was looming over me, but I wouldn’t be trailering a boat to Montauk like Tim O’Rourke or making the run by boat back to Jersey, Staten Island, or the Great South Bay like Captain Brian Lilienthal of Reel Busy Sportfishing. I took a good look around the room and soaked it all in. So much good had happened that day because of everyone there. Warriors that took a leap of faith that the day could deliver what we aimed for the event to do. Captains and anglers, many of them legends that without hesitation made this day a priority. Sponsors went above and beyond to make a difference. There wasn’t another spot in the world I’d rather have been.
Register For The 2022 Event
Registration for the 2022 Manhattan Cup is now open. Please visit manhattancup.com for more details. Teams of up to 4 anglers can register to compete and enable more warriors to experience a day on the water. Sponsorships are still available along with the opportunity for charter captains to donate their boat and time for the day. We’re so grateful for the continuing support of our sponsors that include The Fisherman Magazine, Yamaha, Black Rifle Coffee, Yeti, Raymarine, Staten Island Yacht Sales, D&R Boating World, AFW, Tsunami Tackle, Bimini Bay Outfitters, and Liberty Landing Marina.
Please contact Mike Dean for more details or any questions.
Phone #: (917) 873-6651