On Saturday, May 20, the 12th annual Cheeky Schoolie Tournament presented by Simms, took place on Cape Cod. A pair of anglers combined to catch, photograph, and release 119.5 inches of striped bass to clinch the title, but the big winner was conservation. A check for $30,756 was issued to the conservation groups Keep Fish Wet, Stripers Forever, and the American Saltwater Guide Association at the completion of the event.
Understanding Release Mortality
We were invited up to the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament by our friends at Costa sunglasses. On Friday, before the start of the tourney, we all fished aboard the well-kept Jones Brothers center console piloted by Capt. Brian Coombs of Get Tight Sportfishing. In addition to the two members of the Costa team, Hannah Trotter and Joe Gugino, we were joined by Dr. Andy J. Danylchuk, Professor of Fish Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Much of Dr. Danylchuk’s research focused on recreational fisheries. One of his graduate students, Olivia Dinkelacker, is currently studying the effects of catch-and-release fishing on coastal striped bass. As you may know, data on release mortality of striped bass is a little lacking. Dinkelacker, Danylchuk, and others with UMass are collecting valuable info that will hopefully give the angling community better insight into exactly how stripers respond to capture and handling, as well as what happens after they are released.
According to Dinkelacker, the project aims to “identify science-based best practices to effectively reduce impacts of recreational anglers on striped bass stocks. This information will lead to a better outcomes for each striper that’s released.”
The project hopes to gather information on many hundreds of fish by the end of the 2024 striper season in the coastal waters off the Massachusetts. Data about the fish’s response to stress, such as being held out of the water for varying amounts of time, was recorded. Some of these fish were fitted with an accelerometer, which measures short-term movement and behaviors once released. The device is affixed using a small harness, which is attached to spinning rod and reel. Once properly outfitted, the fish is placed back in the water and allowed to swim freely for 20 minutes, reeled back in, and released. The info from the accelerometer is later downloaded and analyzed, which should give a better picture on how striped bass respond to the stress of capture and handling.
At the conclusion of the project, the researchers hope to give anglers the info they need to safely release striped bass in a wide range of conditions. They hope to develop a sort of “decision tree” that lets anglers make an informed choice as to whether or not they can safely take a picture of that fish, or simply unhook it while it’s still in the water.
In addition the science, Danylchuk and his team are doing a survey of striped bass anglers about their perceptions to the state of the fishery. If you fish for striped bass along the Atlantic coast, let Danylchuk’s team hear your opinion via this link.
Record Wins for Conservation
In case you’re unfamiliar, the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament is a one-day, catch-photo-release, fly-fishing-only striped bass tournament with teams of two anglers. The competition is wading-only, so you can forget about using watercraft of any kind—you aren’t even permitted to swim to a distant rock or climb up on a ladder. If you can’t get there on your own two feet, it’s out of bounds. Oh, and you can only fish the areas east of the Cape Cod Canal.
Cheeky partnered with Keep Fish Wet, and uses their principles in the scoring process. Anglers are given a waterproof ruler to measure fish, which may not be removed from the water. The tourney is scored using the culminative length of the biggest four fish captured by the two-angler team. Minimum size is 20 inches, which encourages anglers to return smaller fish to water quickly. Fish must photographed on the ruler in the water, and released as quickly as possible. Photos are sent to the judges.
“We love this event and love how the angling community comes together to celebrate the fish and work together to make the fishery better,” said Ted Upton, CEO of Cheeky Fishing. The tourney took place in some trying conditions, but that didn’t seem to dampen the spirit of the 264 competing teams. The day broke with temperatures in the low forties, and the wind built steadily as the day went on. But despite the tough weather, Upton believes “[T]his was the best Schoolie yet.”
It was a photo finish, with Team P Rex (Rex Messing and Peter Markano) edging out the second-place finisher, Flailing Fly Fisherman (Seth Gilroy and Steve Schaeffer), by only half an inch, with 119.5 and 119 inches of linesiders respectfully. Third place went to Team Schoolie (Marc Savaria and Chuck Scott), with 114 inches of fish.
At the closing ceremony, a check for $30,756 was issued to Keep Fish Wet, Stripers Forever, and the American Saltwater Guide Association. Cheeky is also 1% For The Planet member and has pledged 3 percent of revenue to water-based conservation with the Tip the Water program.