Last weekend, anglers from all over the country set their sights on Cape Cod, MA, for the 12th annual Cheeky Schoolie Tournament–the world’s largest fly fishing tournament. This community driven and conservation minded event is a favorite for many of us here at Flylords, and something we look forward to every year. This year, outside of some strong and ever-shifting winds, Cheeky and so many other sponsors and partners put on another great event! Follow along for a full breakdown of the tournament weekend!
What is the Schoolie Tournament?
The Cheeky Schoolie Tournament is the world’s largest fly fishing tournament. It is entirely catch & release and targets striped bass, hence all the event’s proceeds going towards striped bass conservation (The American Saltwater Guides Association, Keep Fish Wet, and Stripers Forever). The scoring is determined by the angling team’s four-fish aggregate length. In year’s past four 25″ fish or 100 total inches would definitely put you high up on the leaderboard, but the pre-tournament rumors had many anglers dreaming of larger fish and some high scores!
“The Cheeky Schoolie tournament is a celebration of striped bass with an emphasis on handling and conservation,” said Peter Vandergrift of Cheeky Fishing. ”We have people come year after year and not even put in a score card which tells me they are here for the community and the fish. Over the past 5 years we have donated more that $100,000 to striped bass conservation, but we have made a place for anglers to celebrate the fish as well.”
As alluded to, this tournament is all about community and striped bass conservation. Anglers are required to measure fish according to best handling practices developed by the folks at Keep Fish Wet. Representatives from the American Saltwater Guides Association and Stripers Forever were also present and accessible throughout tournament weekend to discuss the recent news on the striped bass management front and how anglers can effectively advocate for an abundant, healthy striped bass population for the long term. Not to mention, the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament, consistently raises a lot of money for these organizations; this year’s tally was $30,756 split amongst those groups!
Schoolie Tournament Run of Show
Tournament Weekend kicked off Thursday afternoon at West Dennis Beach, where Capt. Abbie Schuster led a women’s fly fishing event. Abbie shared her fly fishing prowess and gave many female anglers casting tips and support!
“The womens Cheeky Schoolie Tourney Kick Off is one of my favorite times of the tournament,” Abbie said. “It’s so amazing to see woman come together and fish! Some women have fished their whole lives while others learn that day. everyone is so supportive of each other. Many friendships have been made over the years and some of the women who met there fish together throughout the whole year. I feel lucky to be a part of it and watched it grow. There were even some fish caught, despite the gusting 30mph winds!
On Friday, anglers presumably scouted spots for where they’d find fish come tournament kick off the next day. Our crew planned to get out of the now strong southerly wind and check out some spots on the north shore of the cape. We found some fish, but nothing to get too excited about. Later that day, anglers all met up in Hyannis for the Captains Meeting and to pick up their Captains Bags.
Throughout the parking lot, brands like Costa, Simms, Cheeky, Breeo, Thomas & Thomas had tents set up for anglers to learn about new products and talk fishing. Beers began to flow, oysters were shucked, and there was even live music–The Captains Party really got the stoke high and set the stage for tournament saturday.
Lines-in for the tournament was 5:30 am and was accompanied by some windy and rainy forecasts. Thankfully, the rain held off, but the wind definitely did not. Anglers spread across Cape Cod either finding secluded, out of the wind spots, or braving the South side of the Cape in hope of some larger fish. Flylords’ team members Dan Zazworsky and Nate Holmes were on opposite ends of the Cape with their respective partners and all caught some solid stripers.
As a local Cape Codder, Nate Holmes is the resident striped bass tips and tactics writer here at Flylords and fished hard all weekend. “Being locals, our plan was to hit the spots we had confidence in to produce solid schoolies early in the day so we could take some riskier gambles in the afternoon for those winning 30+ inchers,” Nate explained. “We fished the end of the ebb on a Vineyard Sound inlet to start the morning, with the biggest fish of the effort being a shad before we quickly packed it up and headed to my personal favorite areas. We got word of some solid fish around, and soon after we rolled up on spot 2, we landed a nice 26” fish. The rest of the flood tide at spot 2 did not produce any more than dinks, so we decided to bounce around to try to find more scoreable fish. We found lots of small bass, but struggled to find fish over the 20” limit. We ended up measuring one 23” fish before lunch and one 25.5” at the buzzer to end the day. Our gambles for bigger fish didn’t end up paying off, but we were able to squeeze a few schoolies out of the confidence spots. For flies we were using clousers and kinky muddlers. Unfortunately, the weather did not allow for our favorite technique of sightfishing, so we opted for confidence flies to cover water.”
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But the real story of the weekend was the winning team–P-Rex, Peter Markano and Rex Messing from Simms–amassing 119.5 inches, edging out the second place team–Flailing Fly Fishermen–by just half an inch! But let’s hear it directly from the source:
“We were super excited to compete and be a part of raising so much money for striped bass conservation,” said Rex Messing. “We had no expectations for doing well, but as we got right to our first fish, we knew it was a real one that would put us in contention. We didn’t do anything special, just kept flies in the water and picked away at ’em. We managed our final solid fish right at the end of the day, giving us some optimism that we had at least a chance. When the announcement was finally made, we were shocked and stoked to step up and take the first place trophy. To beat out all the talented anglers in the tournament as a couple Montanans just proves the point that you gotta have a good strategy and a lot of luck to make it all come together”
Huge thanks to Cheeky for another amazing weekend of fishing, camaraderie, and conservation. Also, big thanks to all the other supporting partners in Costa, Simms, Yeti, Scientific Anglers, Breeo, and many more, and the benefiting organizations doing great work on the striped bass conservation front–The American Saltwater Guides Association, Keep Fish Wet, and Stripers Forever. The Cheeky Schoolie Tournament is an event you’ll want to put on your radar for 2024!