End Of An Era: Duke Of Fluke - The Fisherman

End Of An Era: Duke Of Fluke

trophy
The winner’s trophy that sits in Bill’s shop displays some of the winners and their fluke weights.

Combs Bait and Tackle in Amityville, NY has been in business for 34 years. In 1995, the husband-and-wife team of Bill and Denise Witchey along with the shop owners John and Patty Carananico decided to set up a Fluke Tournament. They started it as a tribute to the late Roy Kneisel who passed away in 1994. He was an avid Amityville angler and was affectionately known as “Uncle Roy” since he never hesitated to take young people fishing and show them how to become future sharpies. (However, he never revealed his special spots to anyone). Due to his exceptional skills at catching summer flatties, Roy also received the moniker “Duke of Fluke.”

Therefore, on June 10, 1995, 114 anglers signed up vying for the title of the “Duke of Fluke.” It was held at Toomey’s on the Crick in Amityville. The boundaries for the contest ran from Ocean Beach to Debs Inlet. Then, in 2000, the venue was changed to Amity Beach. The first winner of the tournament was Mike Ajis, who won with a 5.08-pound flattie, and for the next 24 years it was one of the most popular fluke tournaments on Long Island. Anglers came in from Tennessee, Florida and even from Germany. In 2011, 500 anglers signed up to compete for the big prize.

Signing up came with some nice perks. All participants received free t-shirts and hats. The first 100 to sign up received a free custom tied Combs Terminator rig. Bill noted that over the years, eight of the 25 first place winners used a Terminator to drill the winning fish (Bill designed the Terminator and Denise named it). At one point, the tournament had 60 sponsors. One of the sponsors, Hillside Honda, offered a $100,000 prize for any participant who decked a fluke that could break the IGFA record that was held by Charlie Nappi. Bill and Denise used an IGFA Certified Scale that measured weight to 1/100 of an ounce. Noted marine biologist Dr. Dick Kissel attended many of the tournaments and helped at the weigh-in station to ensure that all fish entered were a “fresh catch.”

In later years, some nifty innovations were added. The Crazy 4’s was instituted in 2013. Every year 90 percent of the participants entered it. A separate entry fee of $10 was paid. Anglers who came the closest to bagging a 4-pound fluke without going over received a special raffle ticket and a single winner was drawn from the barrel. Anglers could also sign up for a Calcutta for the total weight of their three largest fish. Only one angler has taken the top prize twice. Albert Fiore, on his boat the 50/50, was the Duke of Fluke in 2003 and 2013.

It was important to Bill and Denise that young people be allowed to participate. So, a Junior Division was included for future sharpies ages 12 and under. Trophies were awarded for the top three flatties.

Over the years the tournament became a real family affair with Bill and Denise’s daughters Chrissy and Vicki helping out as well as their son-in-law Kenny, who manned the grill with longtime employee and friend Ben Tredwell, and James who provided the music through his company Cutting Edge DJ and Entertainment. During and after the weigh-in everyone enjoyed burgers, hot dogs, raffle prizes music, and of course the infectious and spirited camaraderie.

However, in November 2018, Bill’s wife, best friend and business partner Denise passed away suddenly after a brief illness. Bill never hesitated to tell everyone that she was truly the driving force behind the tournament. Bill said, “She had a real knack for organizing and logistics. She somehow managed to keep track of all the sign-up sheets, sponsors, permits and tournament statistics. I would have been overwhelmed by all of that.”

The 25th, and final Combs Duke of Fluke Tournament was held in June 2019. It was dedicated to the memory of Denise Witchey and 420 anglers participated.

COVID prevented Combs from having the contest in 2020 and 2021, and in February 2022 Bill decided to end the contest. He said, “It was not an easy decision. Denise, the family and I truly loved running it, I will miss it, but it is time for me to let someone else take over.” This year the Duke of Fluke was sponsored by Toomey’s on the Crick in Amityville.

Thanks, Bill for sponsoring a truly great tournament. We will miss it too.

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