The South Jersey Shark Tournament gives anglers an introduction to biggame competition and impressive paydays too.
Most boat owners don’t start by buying a 60-foot-plus battlewagon, dropping $30,000 in marlin tournament entry fees, and going in search of monster fish that resemble something out of a Hemingway novel. In most cases, both one’s boat size and fishing exploits are progressive. For many mid-size boat owners making the switch from chasing pelagics recreationally to competitively, shark tournaments offer a great transition. For example, one highly successful and big-paying shark competition takes place out of Cape May, New Jersey.
For 31 years now, during the first full week of June, the South Jersey Shark Tournament has drawn anglers from both the mid- Atlantic and Northeast to compete for six-figure payouts and to cut their teeth on bluewater tournament fishing.
Dick Weber, founder of South Jersey Yacht Sales and the Canyon Club, started this event modestly out of his tackle shop. By the time tournament director Bob Glover took over running the event about 25 years ago, average team participation numbered 75 boats (mostly local fishermen). But solid fishing and strong marketing has seen this event attract up to 220 boats in some years. Glover says that on average the South Jersey Shark Tournament sees about 190 to 200 teams. With the last few years’ recession there’s been a drop in participation, but when I spoke with him just after the winter holidays, anglers were already signing up, and it looks like the tourney is on the upswing for 2011.
The great thing about an event like this is that boats as small as 22 feet can be as competitive as those in the 60-foot class. To keep such a wide range of boats on a level playing field, the tournament rules state that anglers are limited to a fishing area within 60 miles of the Cape May sea buoy and lines all go in at the same time to give slower boats ample time to get to their spots.
This three-day event begins with a captain’s meeting on Thursday night followed by two consecutive days of fishing. Three weather boats are deployed about an hour before each day’s Bimini start to provide feedback to tournament control and ensure the day is fishable. Glover says this competition is considering going to a best two out of three days in the near future to enable all the boats to fish two days. For a team to go “all in” at this event, it will run about $3,100 in entry fees and optional calcuttas (plus fuel, bait, dockage, etc.). This tournament usually offers a sixfigure payday for the largest mako, and there are 13 other categories in which to collect a check, which make this an affordable tournament for the newbie competi tive angler. “We like to pay out to as many people as we can,” Glover comments, adding, “It gets spread around a lot.”
If youhave the means, you may want to consider a calcutta or two as the fish caught here can get big. I’ve fished this event more than a half dozen times over the last ten years as a warm-up to my summer offshore season and have seen many 500-pluspound threshers caught as well as some sizeable makos. Glover says that the tournament’s largest snaggletooth was more than 500 pounds, and he laughingly adds that the captain was apparently very excited about his catch. When he brought his boat and big fish through the inlet he may have come in a bit fast as he was trailed by a boat with flashing blue lights. Today, a replica mount of that winning fish can be seen just a stone’s throw away from the dock at South Jersey Marina.
In addition to the standard and calcutta prize money, any team that can beat the current state record weight for a mako (856 pounds) or a blue shark (366 pounds) can win an extra $50,000 for no additional fee. New Jersey’s largest mako was caught back in 1994, and the big blue was captured in 1996. “Guys definitely have a shot of beating the record here,” Glover says confidently .
With conservation at the forefront of most fishermen’s minds, this event has a high minimum weight (200 pounds) for all kept sharks, and most of the fish are released healthy and with a tag in them (see “Tag-A-Shark,” this story.) Scientists are always on hand at the South Jersey Marina weigh-in station to collect data on the captured sharks, which helps provide more insight into their diet, behavior, growth rate, migratory habits, and more.
The South Jersey Tournament also offers anglers an award for most releases. And there are always a lot of them. I fished this event back in 2001 and released 22 sharks (20 blue sharks and two makos, according to my boat’s log), and my team wasn’t even close to taking the release division. Suffice to say, the waters off Cape May are fishy. “We really push conservation,” Glover tells me, adding that he’s noticed that the anglers “take pride in their conservation efforts and letting the small ones go,” which ensures good fishing and tournament finishes for future generations.
For more information about this year’s South Jersey Shark Tournament, which runs from June 9–12, please visit www.southjerseytournaments.com.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.