“Our initial involvement as a supporting sponsor in 2018 gave us the opportunity to learn more about the event and the volunteers who make it happen,” said Martin Peters, Yamaha’s Sr. Manager of Government Relations, Communications and Dealer Education. “We were impressed and made the decision to take on the role of presenting sponsor in 2019 and again in 2021.”
The unique charitable event honors American heroes, the men and women who put their lives on the line to fight our freedom around the world. Many of them suffer quietly from the physical and psychological effects of combat and are prone to depression and even suicide months or years after returning from service. The Veterans Administration determined that an average of twenty-two transitioning warriors take their own lives each day - a frightening statistic. The Manhattan Cup opens new channels of hope to these selfless, brave men and women.
“The goal of the tournament is to use fishing as a force for good,” says Captain Frank Crescitelli, one of the founders of the event and current tournament co-chairman ,along with angler and outdoor journalist Gary Caputi. “It’s our attempt to bring a new source of light to the darkness they experience by exposing them to the joy we find fishing. The positive results are almost universal.”
Celebrating its twentieth year in 2021 after COVID forced a cancelation in 2020, the Manhattan Cup originally started in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Crescitelli, a local angler and Yamaha Pro light tackle fishing guide, watched the towers fall from his boat on the Hudson River that day, and was deeply affected by his experience. He was even more concerned about the toll those events took on the first responders who worked ground zero tirelessly in the days and months following that catastrophic event. Together with a small group of dedicated volunteers, he put together the first Manhattan Cup. The idea was to bring New York firefighters, police and rescue workers dealing with PTSD-related symptoms out to enjoy a day on the water that surrounds the city. Few of them realized those waters are literally teeming with striped bass and bluefish. With a great deal of support from companies within the New York financial community, the marine and fishing tackle industry, local charter and light tackle guides, the inaugural tournament was a huge success. It continued to grow in size, stature and impact with each successive year.
Over time, the tournament’s focus shifted to another group in need, a much larger fraternity of walking wounded, the warriors returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who carried the physical and mental scars of the battles they fought. Crescitelli and company changed the scope of the tournament, continuing to use fishing as a force for good by reaching out to as many veterans in need as the tournament resources would allow.
On its 20th anniversary, the Manhattan Cup hosted 30 men and women, most returning from recent deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to a handful of Vietnam-era service members, to fish and compete with captains and fellow anglers, many of whom donated their boats and services for the day. Among them were several Yamaha Pro Captains and boats provided by marine dealers with businesses in the New York/New Jersey area. This has become a growing trend at recent tournaments and one that allows the event to expand its reach to a greater number of veterans each year.
The tournament takes place in a perfect venue located in Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River directly opposite the new Freedom Tower, built on the site of the Twin Towers. Liberty Land Marina, a property of the Suntex Marine Group, along with the Liberty House Restaurant served as hosts for the 2021 event.
The day started with captains and anglers arriving for a 7:00 a.m. check-in at the restaurant, mere steps away from the marina docks, immediately followed by a buffet breakfast where captains, anglers and warriors were organized into teams. The teams attended a brief captains’ meeting before boarding their boats for a shotgun start directly in front of the Statue of Liberty. The boats dispersed throughout the harbor, many heading south under the Verrazano Bridge into the Raritan Bay complex where the fishing was excellent during the days leading up to the tournament.
The Hudson River is unique in that it hosts the second largest spawning event for the Atlantic striped bass population. In the early summer, millions of stripers are either staging to spawn or headed up river. For that reason, the Manhattan Cup will always be an all-release tournament. The rules clearly state that all fish caught during the event must be released alive. Fish that might be in contention for one of the dozens of trophies presented in a variety of categories include those caught on live bait, artificial lures or using fly tackle. The anglers take length and girth measurements before release, and use photo verification to confirm the calculations are within the accepted length/girth formula by the rules committee. In recent years, the tournament partnered with Gray FishTag™ Research to provide streamer tags for each boat wishing to compete for the “Most Fish Tagged” trophy, a beautiful striped bass replica mount provided by Gray Taxidermy®. In 2021, all participating teams opted to tag fish and the results were truly impressive.
Additionally, the tournament makes a special donation to implant satellite archival pop-up tags on striped bass as part of an ongoing study to learn more about the migratory habits of the larger, mature fish. Some of the returns from satellite tagged fish are eye-opening, revealing striped bass spend time farther offshore than anyone previously believed - as far as the offshore canyons more commonly home to tuna and marlin.
Fishing throughout the tournament day was spectacular, with the waters of Raritan Bay and the New York Bight offering world-class fishing with over 160 bass and bluefish caught and released. If the number of fish caught was not amazing enough, two enormous stripers (more than 50 pounds each) were caught and released in addition to several in the 30- and 40-pound class. At the end of the tournament, Jersey Devil, with Yamaha Pro Captain Brian Rice at the helm, repeated their win from 2019 Manhattan Cup, catching and releasing a 52.80-pound striped bass on a live eel. U.S. Airforce veteran Richard Torres, who served two tours in Afghanistan, caught the giant, which also qualified Torres for the honor of receiving the Msgt. Christopher J. Raguso Memorial Trophy, presented for the largest striped bass caught and released by a warrior/angler. Also aboard the Jersey Devil was NFL® athlete Clark Harris from the Cincinnati Bengals®. Harris won the celebrity striped bass award with a 49.24-pound fish.
The Msgt. Christopher J. Raguso Memorial Trophy commemorates the life of a true American hero - a warrior with a huge heart. A native of Long Island and life-long angler, Chris was deployed with the USAF 101st Jolly Green Helicopter Rescue Squadron and a Lieutenant in the FDNY, where he was cited for numerous commendations for bravery. He was killed in action flying in support of special forces under siege in March of 2018 during Operation Inherent Resolve, the war against ISIS. His father, John, is a charter fishing captain and well-known outdoor writer for The Fisherman magazine. He attends the Manhattan Cup each year to help present the trophy in his son’s memory.
Richard Torres’ jumbo striper wasn’t the only massive fish caught that day. Jim O’Sullivan, fishing aboard Captain Cole Svenson’s Cheap Shot, boated the second largest striped bass of the tournament, a 50.11-pound monster that also ate a live eel. Tournament co-director Capt. Frank Crescitelli guided celebrity angler and Black Rifle Coffee representative Oliver Ngy to a day of amazing fishing aboard his Yamaha-powered Blue Wave® bayboat. Also aboard was angler Paul Bourcq, who took the trophy for the largest striped bass caught on an artificial lure.
The awards dinner saw upwards of 200 people filling the room at the Liberty House Restaurant where they shared a wonderful meal, fish tales and plenty of opportunities to win raffle and auction items ranging from charter trips on the Deadliest Catch® boats Tuna.com and Fishin’Frenzy®, to a full electronics package courtesy of Raymarine®.
Matthew Braiotta, a wounded warrior himself and newly appointed Assistant Director of the Veterans Benefits Administration N.Y. regional office, not only attended the dinner but competed in the tournament alongside his brothers in arms. He told the audience about his first experience at the Manhattan Cup during the dinner ceremonies with heartfelt comments. In a subsequent email sent to the tournament organizers, he wrote:
“Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing event, as it was life changing for me. I have not felt this connected with my fellow veterans in a long, long time. I want to personally thank you all for the work and dedication you have for our nation’s veterans and for me as well. Your extraordinary efforts in putting this event together personally impacted my life and renewed my spirit to go above and beyond for our veterans. Thank you again for the community that you all built, and let me know how I can support and serve this noble cause in the future.”
Emotions ran high as Frank Crescitelli announced a special presentation, a beautiful rod and reel outfit valued at over $300 given to each of the warriors in attendance so they can carry on their fishing experiences well after the tournament. Bob Feldsott, president of Tsunami Awesome Tackle, made the generous donation. Manhattan Cup Warrior Liaison, Sgt. Robert Gil also addressed the crowd with an emotional salute to his fellow veterans and his sincere wishes that their introduction to fishing would help carry them through their trials in returning to civilian life as it did for him when he first fished in the tournament in 2013. The applause and the level of appreciation from everyone in the room for these brave American heroes was deafening.
Everyone involved in putting on the Manhattan Cup, from the volunteers to the sponsors, felt honored to have the opportunity to recognize and assist the bravest and most deserving among us, the warriors who sacrificed for our nation and its citizens.
For more information on the Manhattan Cup, visit www.manhattancup.com. If you would like to be involved in the 2022 tournament, please contact John DePersenaire (609) 294-3810 or Gary Caputi (732) 740-9982.
Manhattan Cup sponsors include: Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A., U.S. Marine Business Unit, Bimini Bay, Tsunami Awesome Tackle, Staten Island Yacht Sales, Black Rifle Coffee Company, Raymarine®, Bluewave® Boats, D&R Boat Sales, Finchasers TV, Steiger Craft Boats, Liberty Landing Marina, Manhattan2Montauk, AFW Fishing Brands, The Fisherman, Princeton Tec®, Gray Taxidermy®, Interlux, Costa del Mar®, Guides Secret Lures, Colorfast, Starbrite, Mustad®, St. Croix Rod®, Tony Maja Products® and TackleDirect.com. Y
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