Schoolie 2024: Striper Community Celebration

Within the striped bass angling community, the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament stands as a community beacon for this sentiment, drawing enthusiasts from all corners of the country to revel in their shared passion for angling and conserving striped bass.

For those not familiar, the Schoolie Tournament just completed it’s 13th successful event, pitting teams of 2-anglers against each other in a catch-and-release, fly-only, wade-only setting on Cape Cod, MA. The tournament, which started with a small group in a parking lot over a decade ago, now caps total participation around 500 anglers, with hundreds more on a waitlist. So, what has “The Schoolie” (as it’s well known) in such high demand? The Cheeky Fishing team (under the umbrella of North Point Brands) has emphasized the evolution of this tournament to focus on celebration and education. While the event may crown a winner every year, the tournament itself has more of a “festival-style atmosphere” rather than a competitive battlefront. All funds raised during the event are split between three fisheries conservation non-profits and tourney messaging is heavily weighted on fish handling, angler education, celebrating the resource and unity – all extremely important dynamics on the fisheries management front. Even without a big pot of money on the line and no “cutthroat competition vibes”, the atmosphere around The Schoolie has captured the diehard the hearts and minds of New England fishing community.

Schoolie weekend kicked off with the 2nd ASGA Fisheries Science Symposium. Click here to get a full recap of how Science Took Center Stage that morning. The Science Symposium was followed by the Schoolie Tournament Captain’s Party on Friday evening. Over 500 intrepid anglers donned their waders and waterproof jackets that weekend, braving the elements as the weather proved less than accommodating. Adverse weather might deter some, yet perseverance bore fruit, as this year’s event shattered records both in attendance and total inches of fish caught. Those who have been participating in the striped bass management conversation have heard at length about a few year-classes of fish carrying the weight of this coast-wide stock. Recent tournament results have somewhat reflected those year-classes and their growth, as leaderboard-topping scores continue to rise while many anglers noticing a lack of smaller schoolies.

In this year’s tournament, Mike Adresino and Tim Porelle of Team “Hookshank Redemption” claimed top honors, amassing an astounding 129.75 inches for their four-fish score. This achievement not only set a tournament record but surpassed the previous year’s mark by over ten inches. It was great to see participating teams have access to some sizable fish (by fly-wade standards). To put this into perspective, the top seven teams from this year would have clinched victory in the previous tournament—an impressive feat given the challenging conditions. Eric Passante’s new Schoolie record largest fish, measuring a formidable 39 inches, also earned high praise at the award ceremony. In a heartwarming display of sportsmanship, Eric graciously bestowed his newly won Cheeky Spray reel upon the tournament’s youngest competitor, Roisin Ball – such acts of generosity epitomize the tournament’s spirit.

Beyond the new release records and the bounty of prizes from esteemed sponsors lies the tournament’s true brilliance: its impact on the fishery. In addition to gathering invaluable catch and release data for striped bass conservation and furthering angler education programs to help minimize release mortality, the tournament raised has raised over $150,000 for conservation in the last 5 years. The Schoolie is a shining example of a cultural evolution, maintaining the heritage of angling and community while prioritizing a sustainable resource. While the tournament may not have initially intended to be a community anchor for conservation, the Cheeky team has expressed the privilege of watching the event grow and the responsibility the team feels to give back. Many decisions have been made to minimize the impact of so many anglers fishing in one area on one day, including caps on participation as well as increasing the minimum size on eligible fish to reduce unnecessary fish handling. Even though recent research from Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries found that single-hook fly released bass have some of the lowest probably for release mortality (especially in tandem with Cape water temps around the event), Cheeky’s efforts to minimize handling on inconsequential fish is an appropriate step in the right direction and an example for other events.

Our Association is extremely humbled by the support of The Schoolie Tournament as well as the conservation-minded community that participates every year. North Point Brands CEO Ted Upton stopped by The Guide Post Podcast to talk about how a small group in a dirt lot became the largest fly fishing tournament in the world and examples of how #betterbusinessthroughconservation drive small businesses in the fishing industry.

“I think the first step for any company is to acknowledge where your blind spots are and try to work on them. So, that’s our focus. We really want to make an impact, beyond just the products that we make and the things that we sell. We want our company to stand for something.”

– Ted Upton, North Point Brands

Get the full behind-the-scenes scoop on an extremely popular fishing tournament and gain perspective on how a commitment to conservation has become intertwined with small business growth in the fishing industry. Episode 145 is now available on all podcast platforms – including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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