For the past 10 years, the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament has been an event glued on our calendars. For many anglers, it marks the beginning of their surf striper season, and for others, it’s a chance to gather with fellow striper fanatics on the Cape before the full season begins on Memorial Day Weekend when the beaches fill up with sunbathers and crowds.
This year’s tournament was special. Not only did it mark the 10th anniversary of the event, it was also the first in-person fishing event we’d attended since the tournament was delayed last year in the wake of the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately for those eagerly anticipating the usual pre- and after-parties, we’ll have to wait until the 2022 tourney to hang out and enjoy the event’s signature Dale’s Pale Ale and hilarious live raffle drawings.
I arrived on the Cape a few days early to dial in a few fishing spots and tides, and to attend the Media Day on the Friday before the tournament. We started the day in the Mecca of American marine research, Woods Hole, for a presentation from Dr. Robert Max Holmes on his Science on the Fly program and to hear from the Buzzards Bay Coalition about their efforts to restore Salter Brook Trout habitat on the Cape.
From there we shoved off and headed to the Falmouth Rod and Gun Club to see one of the Salter stream restoration projects. This project was easily one of the largest scale stream restorations this writer had ever seen, and if their plan works, a beautiful piece of anadromous brookie water will surely be the result.
From there, our group headed to West Dennis Beach where Sascha and Dr. Andy Danylchuk awaited to show us how their Keep Fish Wet release studies are done. As we all walked up to their presentation after a lobster roll lunch, the pair had a mid-twenty-inch striper in a net pen to demonstrate on. They walked us through how their accelerometer works to track fish stress post-release and attached the device to the striper via an easy-release velcro strip. They attach the device to a free-spooling heavy fishing rod so they can easily remove the device after they have enough data on the release, freeing the fish with a firm tug on the rod. Keep Fish Wet’s goal is to reduce the mortality rate of fish post-release to nearly zero by improving fish handling practices. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming feature on their efforts.
We also got to hear from the ASGA and Stripers Forever about their current efforts to protect and conserve the future of the striped bass as the nation’s striper stock surpasses a 25-year low. Flylords Conservation Editor, Will Poston, spoke on behalf of ASGA and their work to promote the proper management of our striped bass stock.
You can read more about their work in his coverage of striper regulations, here.
After the final presentations wrapped up, the gathered crew of wadered-up fishy folks scattered across the cape to take advantage of the evening tide, and try to get their game plans together for the next day’s tournament action.
Tournament Day Through the Eyes of Flylords-Own Nate Holmes:
As Flylords resident New Englander, the Cheeky tourney is an event that I look forward to every year. I get to show the crew around my home waters on Cape Cod and chase after some of my favorite fish in the ocean with some of my favorite people. The main goal for this year; find some fish and beat my dad and little sister, who somehow found a way to beat my friend and me last year.
Our day started on a flat near the mouth of an estuary during an ebbing tide, so naturally, we were feeling pretty good. Anyone who fishes for Striped Bass knows that when water flushes out of an estuary into even more fishy water, good things tend to happen. From talking with other teams after the tournament was over, it sounded like finding a solid amount of baitfish was a struggle, so we got lucky as this flat was covered with small sandeels. Within about 30 minutes of the tournament starting, I was tight to the first fish of the day, a solid 25” Bass that slurped down a small flatwing. After measuring and releasing this fish, we were off to a strong start, giving us hope that many more scoring fish were to come. As it turns out, there weren’t, at least not immediately.
I guess that system hadn’t fully warmed up yet because apart from that first fish, we only came across one other small bass which was only about 10” long. Landon and I ended up hopping in my dad’s pickup with the man himself and my sister (who were fishing the tournament together) and headed to another nearby spot. This spot was a super fishy cut way up behind a harbor, where fish seemingly piled up on the bottom and never left. Very shortly after arriving, I plopped my fly down near a dock piling only to be quickly scooped up by another healthy 25” Striper. By this point, if we could find two more 25-inchers, we would have a respectable score. We plucked through quite a few more small Bass, and Landon picked up a solid 20” fish. This put us at 70” of measurable (20”+) fish on the day, and we still had room for one more on the scorecard.
After a seemingly endless amount of small Stripers, we packed up and decided to meet up with the rest of the Flylords crew. We threw some flies around a harbor channel and picked up a few small Bass and a couple of Flounder, which was an entertaining surprise.
After lunch, we tried a couple more spots with little luck, so we still needed one 20+ inch fish to fill out the scorecard, something Landon and I had never done in past Cheeky Tourneys. We decided to hit the same spot where we started the day, my confidence spot.
The sun was up, and the wind was howling, making our Hail Mary play of the day a tough one. We met Poston and his teammate Luke down on the beach and headed out into uncharacteristically nasty surf. By the time we reached the sandbar, we had about an hour of tournament left, and we still needed our last fish. While the elements seemed to have been working against us, I felt good and was confident that this was our best shot at filling out the scorecard.
After about 30 minutes of bombing our flies into the strong headwind while waves crashed over our waders, out of nowhere my line went tight and I was on! For its size, it gave an impressive and entertaining fight. Poston and Luke were cracking up as Landon and I chased this fish all around the sandbar, just trying to land it so we could get a measurement. From what we could see, it looked like it would maybe just go 20” on the measuring board, so there was even more pressure to get this buzzer-beater fish to hand. Finally, Landon lipped the Bass and we frantically pulled out our measuring board, only to get knocked over by the crashing waves a couple of times. Eventually, we got the fish under control and snapped a picture of it on the board, 20” on the dot! Drenched, we popped the hook out and let the fish dart back into the waves.
Overall, we completed the goals we set out for; we found some solid Bass and filled out our scorecard on a day when the majority of teams struggled to find even one measurable fish, so there isn’t too much to complain about. We got to hang out with some good people, find some good fish, and we all lived to fight another day (except for Landon’s phone: taken by a wave, gone but never forgotten may it rest in peace).
This year’s tournament would not have been possible without the support of its sponsors. Thank you to Cheeky Fishing, Simms Fishing, Costa Sunglasses, YETI Coolers, Oskar Blues, Thomas & Thomas Fly Rods, Scientific Anglers, and Traeger Grills for helping put on such a great event!