The Manhattan Cup: Fishing as a Force for Good

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On June 7, 2024 a fleet of 50-something fishing vessels took off in a shotgun start past the Statue of Liberty. The flotilla zoomed out to the waters surrounding New York Harbor in pursuit of striped bass and bluefish competing for top honors in the prestigious Manhattan Cup, a charity tournament benefiting our nation’s heroes. 

The Manhattan Cup 2024
Capt. Cresitelli’s Contender on the way to find some fish. Photo Courtesy of Jack Reynolds


Charter captains and select private boat owners donated their time and vessels to take out both anglers and veterans during the catch and release tourney. Competing anglers targeted striped bass and bluefish using live bait, artificial lures or fly tackle. Trophies are presented for the largest fish in each division, as determined by length and girth measurements, which are photographed and sent to officials. Trophies are awarded in warrior and angler categories, though the contest has more to do with helping veterans in need than catching fish.

“The Manhattan Cup was established to use fishing as a force for good,” says tournament co-director Capt. Frank Crescitelli. The Manhattan Cup, likely the largest inshore saltwater tournament in the Northeast, was started in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy to provide relief to first responders suffering from PTSD brought on by the terror attacks. About a dozen years after the inaugural event, the focus changed to include service members; mostly veterans returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The tournament instituted the “Catch 22” goal, in honor of the 22 veterans that take their own lives on average each day. Gary Caputi, Capt. Crescitelli, and others involved in the event vowed to host a minimum of 22 vets so that they “won’t become a statistic that day,” according to Caputi. “Fishing in the company of people who appreciate their dedication to duty and their personal sacrifice opened up a new world to many of the veterans who have fished the Cup in the past,” says Caputi, noting that the event was the first time that many of the veterans have fished before.   

Now in its 23rd year, the community of veterans affected by the tournament has grown substantially. Many have started their own outreach programs in other states, introducing other wounded warriors to the peace they have found in the outdoors through fishing. One such individual is Sgt. Robert “Nico” Gil (retired), who served multiple tours of duty with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Iraq before becoming severely injured in an IED blast. He earned the Purple Heart, Army Commendation for Valor, and the Bronze Star for Valor during his service.

In 2015, a superior officer took Gil from a VA hospital to the tournament. Though he had never been fishing before, he won the Cup and began his journey as an angler. More importantly, he credits that experience with turning his life around when he was at his lowest point. Now, Gil serves as the official tournament warrior liaison, and introduces fellow veterans to the outdoors through Fin Chasers Warriors Outdoors

The Manhattan Cup 2024
Mike Dean (left) and Kevin Overlander (right) pose with estimated 60 pound striper before release. Photo courtesy of Mike Dean


The tournament culminates in an award ceremony and live auction, with the proceeds benefiting injured veterans and first responders as well as helping to continue this powerful event. Caputi warned me about how emotionally charged this could be beforehand, but I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of emotion from both the veterans and those that have assisted with the tourney over the years. The lasting effect the Cup had on so many was obvious. 

One of the goals of the live auction was to raise funds to provide Fin Chasers Warriors Outdoors with a drift boat to take vets out on the Delaware River. The crowd agreed that this was a worthy cause and donated funds one after the other. The necessary monies were obtained in short order and an RO Driftboat will soon be ferrying veterans on their own fishing journeys. There probably isn’t a better guy for this mission, as you can tell in this video from a previous year’s Cup. 

The fishing was tougher than it had been in previous years. The number of striped bass caught was down; this was particularly noticeable in the fly division. For the first time in tournament history, no bass were caught on fly tackle. However, perhaps the size of the fish caught made up for the numbers, with the largest fish shattering previous records. 

The benchmark for big stripers is 50 pounds, but this one far surpassed that. Mike Dean, fishing aboard the Rockfish Charters vessel Bass Appeal, caught and released a striped bass estimated to have weighed 60.16 pounds. This is definitely the fish of a lifetime, and the stuff of legend. The big girl was taken live-lining Atlantic menhaden in the ocean and was quickly returned to breed another year. 

The most prestigious trophy in the Cup is the Master Sergeant Christopher J. Raguso Memorial Trophy for the largest bass caught and released by a warrior. This year, that honor was bestowed upon Dwayne Lallathin, who caught a 52.56 pound striper fishing aboard the Epic One with Capt. William Davis. 

The next largest bass taken on bait was estimated at 52.5 pounds, caught and released by Roger Rau aboard the GRETA with Capt. Frank Gissi. Don Meyer fishing aboard the Finchaser Makaira with Capt. Anthony Grassi caught and released an estimated 29.61 pound bass. 

I was fortunate enough to hook the largest bluefish of the tourney weighing an estimated 10.66 pounds on artificials, though Capt. Crescitelli deserves all the credit for finding the fish. He was able to place me alongside schools of blues pushing bait, and the side-to-side action of a Strike King KVD Mega Dawg convinced them to eat. It also gave me the opportunity to test out Quantum’s new Strive series of saltwater rods and reels, which handled the yellow eyed devils with ease.

Jose Enchautegui caught a bluefish on bait weighing an estimated 10.08 pounds aboard the LEGASEA with Capt. Adam  Frank. Bill Dawson took the bluefish fly division with an estimated 4.93 pounder caught aboard the Angler’s of Legends Sportfish Boatworks & Seafoods LLC vessel piloted by Capt. Mike  Century. 

Capt. John Raguso presents the Master Sergeant Christopher J. Raguso Memorial Trophy in honor of his son. Courtesy Jack Reynolds


The Manhattan Cup wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of Cresitelli, Caputi, Gil, John DePersenaire, Mike Dean, Steve Byrne and the other dedicated volunteers that put in countless hours ensuring the continued success of this wonderful event. A number of generous sponsors provide much needed support, including Raymarine, Yamaha, Quantum, Aqua Traction, RO Driftboats, Rugged Road Coolers, Tsunami Tackle, Bimini Bay Outfitters, Liberty Landing Marina and their parent company Suntex Marinas, Princeton Tec, marine artist Savio Mizzi, Gray Taxidermy, Fin Chaser TV, Canyon Runner, Staten Island Yacht Sales, The Fisherman Magazine, Gray Fish Tag Research, D&R Boat Sales, Steiger Craft, AFW Brands, Sage, Ocean-Tamer Bean Bags, Van Staal Reels, Fisheries Conservation Trust, Guides Secret Tackle, Manhattan to Montauk Sportfishing Services, Fish Hooker Light Tackle Charters, UVT Fishing, Visser Reels, Fat Cow Fishing, No Live Bait Needed, Crisdel Group and Beaches & Beans Coffee Co

I am thankful to all of the volunteers that put so much hard work into this event. This tournament has touched many lives in its 23 year history, and I have no doubt it will continue to do so in the future. If you’ve ever wondered if anyone cares, this event is proof that they do.

The author’s trophy and the Strike King KVD Mega Dawg he used to win it have a special place in his house. Joe Albanese