The Manhattan Cup—an inshore fishing tournament for striped bass and bluefish—is the only and largest of such tournaments in the New York City, and, as its cofounder, master of ceremonies and veritable heartbeat, Captain Frank Crescitelli, likes to say, “It’s definitely the most f*&king fun one!”
The tournament raises funds and awareness for two worthy causes: the health and wellbeing of our military veterans and the health and wellbeing of our fisheries.
This year’s tournament—the 21st—kicked off at around 9 AM on Friday, June 3rd. The 30-plus tournament boats were led out of Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, to the boca of the Hudson River and through New York City Harbor to the Verrazzano Bridge by NYPD officers who seemed to be having some good fun playing a little hooky on their patrol zodiacs.
The day had a promising feel to it. A shroud of fog held over the water and wreathed the buildings of downtown Manhattan. The wind was a mere rumor. But, as any dedicated angler knows all too well, fish are whimsical, flighty creatures, and it is they, in the end, who ultimately decide whether it’s going to be a good fishing day or not, perfect weather notwithstanding.
Our boat, captained by Crescitelli, included the top chef, Tom Colicchio, and the New York Times assistant managing editor and food editor, Sam Sifton. We ping-ponged around the harbor, stopping at various spots to fling flies, pitch plugs and live-line menhaden. We picked up a fish at nearly every stop, though a serious bite never really materialized. Crescitelli, a man with an indefatigable spirit and large appetite for fishing, fun and giving back, was left scratching his full head of hair, what he claims is his “best asset left.”
Near the end of the day, Crescitelli led us back to his honey hole, a place we had tried in the morning with little success. Something about the changed tide there had piqued his interest. Like all great fishing guides, his gut feeling proved prescient. The fishing suddenly picked up. Colicchio masterfully swam a live menhaden in the current and large striped bass swirled on the helpless bait. “Get a fly in there!” Crescitelli bellowed, and Sifton and I, in a “do you mind if we dance with your dates” type of manner, did as we were told, chucking our chicken feathers as close as we could to the boils, as if casting to teased up marlin or roosterfish. Sifton would connect on one of Colicchio’s stirred-up fish, bringing a 28-inch striped bass to the boat.
Alas, our groove had been found in the bottom half of the ninth, so it was soon time to head back to the marina. On our way there, we rode past Lady Liberty, and were provided with a breathtaking view of her solemn-faced, yet graceful, visage, a reminder of what this country, despite all of its current divisiveness, is all about.
Back at the marina, after an early dinner, the purpose of the day was brought into focus. Despite the tough fishing, there were some nice highlights. John Gambradella, fishing with captain Guy Buono, won the prize for biggest fish, a monster 54-pound striper that was the biggest fish ever caught in a Manhattan Cup. Richard Torres, fishing with captain Brian Rice, won the veteran category, with a nice 44-pounder. Crescitelli grabbed the mic and started the auction, raising money for conservation and the veterans, with items from Raymarine and Costa Sunglasses, among other brands. He then handed the mic to Robert Gil, an eight-tour veteran of Iraq who now works for Project Healing Waters, a fishing nonprofit focused on veteran health, who spoke about how the act of fishing alone—even for a day—has saved the lives of countless military vets over the years.
For many of us, the military and the wars in far-off foreign lands remain a rather abstract thing. People like me, who were privileged enough to be able to avoid military service, were, of course, afforded that privilege by the people for whom the Manhattan Cup benefits. The event served as a healthy and necessary reminder of the sacrifice that these men and women have made for all of us. I thought of the line that Abraham Lincoln had written in 1863 to George Opdyke, the mayor of New York City, who had invited the President to the city to help raise volunteers for the Union Army: “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause.”
The veterans who had fished in the tournament—28 of them in all—were given a standing ovation and then each presented with a brand new Tsunami rod and reel. While it was not enough—it could never be enough—it was something. Sharing the water and the dinner with the veterans, and then honoring them for their service, made a good day on the water—which has the unerring ability to restore and heal—even better.