This weekend, a small bar on a small spit of land swelled with hustle, with excitement, and with suspect stories. The 2015 Cheeky Schoolie Tournament had come once again to The Sand Bar in West Dennis, MA.
The format is simple enough: you team up into fly fishing pairs, and can fish anywhere on the cape so long as you wade, and you release the fish. Cheeky describes the tournament this way: it is a “fun, competitive tournament open to all skill levels. The Cheeky Schoolie Tournament is a low barrier entry, grassroots tournament designed to encourage the interest and growth of saltwater fly fishing. True grassroots style – no engines, paddles or flippers.”
For many, the most important phrase there is “fun”: this is, after all, a tournament in which the winner typically catches the largest small fish. The whole thing, from my perspective and that of others, is, if not tongue-in-cheek, then certainly self-aware enough to know that this is not a tournament about big fish, big budgets, and big egos. It’s about a day of good fun.
Moreover, it brings together good people. I can’t say enough good things about the founders of Cheeky — they’re all really nice guys. I also can’t say enough good things about the people that I met at The Sandbar: everyone wanted to chat fishing, and share a few beers and laughs along the way. For me, that made the tournament worth it.
And that’s not just because the fishing was tough. The morning’s bright and beautiful skies, were traded for heavy winds and, on the south side, rolling fog, shortly after noon. Many teams of skilled anglers went either empty-handed or posted low numbers. A few teams posted some impressive numbers. Team Compass, comprised of Nantucket guide and author Matt Reinemo and his uncle Bob, posted two fish in the thirties, plus two in the twenties, for a total of over 100″ inches between four fish. Damn. They were followed up by team Why Knot, powered by the indefatigable Joe and Matt, the founders of Why Knot Fishing.
This was not the first Cheeky Schoolie tournament, but it was different in one very significant regard: the tournament’s participation level blew up this year. In years past, the tournament has sold out quickly — as early as 9am the morning of, according to some. Cheeky had planned to cap registration this year at 40 teams. The talk the week and night before was of how this had not come to pass: all told, there were close to 80 teams participating. Looking around the parking lot at 5:30 am on Saturday, and around the Sand Bar’s small outdoor patio at the awards ceremony, it was easy to observe two things: how much fun people have with this tournament, and how this tournament is on the verge of growing out of its grassroots britches.
That has its benefits. For one, participants traveled from as far as Montana this year. Peter Vandergrift, Costa’s Fly Community Leader, was there. It was great to meet him in person, after corresponding and talking with him on the phone. So too was Hilary from Outside Media and TroutTV, and Marc Evans, a guide from Montana and member of team Cheeky. It was great to chat with Hilary and Marc, and share in their excitement of learning about striped bass the day after they caught their first. They mixed with people like the talented Mike Rice from Mud Dog Flies, Cory Merrill founder of The Fly Pack (and my host for the weekend), James Hamilton of Guidehire and a bunch of other people — all knowledgeable and all passionate about the sport.
This growth also has its drawbacks. For one, I like that the tournament isn’t: there’s no official office, no gold plaque, no hierarchy. Instead, the registration table is set up in a sandy parking lot out the back of a truck. In addressing the crowd, Ted Upton stood on a make-shift stage: a wobbly chair. Everyone talked, often recognizing each other by first name, and everyone had a fair shot.
So what will the 2016 Cheeky Schoolie Tournament look like? 160 teams with teams from Loop and Guideline crossing the Atlantic? We’ll see. But I hope to sign up, and I hope that, when we gather for drinks next year on the eve of the tournament, its still a bit salty, still a bit grassroots.
Check out the #cheekyschoolietourney hashtag on Instagram for some great photos from the tournament.