High Stakes

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).

How the High Stakes Mid-Atlantic $500,000 Works

An entry fee of $18,000 for a fishing tournament? Really!

I know, I know — New Jersey and Atlantic City is home to some major gambling operations, but this is certainly gambling of a different kind. In the case of the Mid Atlantic $500,000, you stand a good chance of winning and taking home at least one major check, if not three or four. The entry fee could just be in your deck of cards.

So, who has that kind of cash lying around and who would spend it on one fishing tournament?

Rick Weber of South Jersey Marina in Cape May and Tournament Director for the Mid Atlantic $500,000 said, "I bet they our participants don't look anything like what people would expect.

"Sure they have well above average incomes, but most of my participants are far from trust fund babies. They are generally first- to second-generation money. Guys that started with their hands on the tools, and discovered they had a talent for business as well. Work hard and play hard types. Offshore marlin and tuna fishing in the Mid-Atlantic region is hardly for the blue blood set."

Weber said ofshore fishing is akin to being on safari.

"You get up well before dawn to run 90 plus miles offshore with the hope of maybe seeing a fish," he said. "Once there, you may catch a small dolphin or a thousand pound blue marlin. You just never know. But the people that get the big game fishing bug just love the adventure."

Back in 2000, a young competitor named Shane Schneidinger entered the Mid Atlantic $500,000 for the first time. Entry fees and Calcutta's were slightly lower, but the investment to payout ratio was exceptional, just like it is now. That year, Shane and his team fishing aboard his personal boat named 'Kokomo' took the blue marlin division, yielding a check over $226,000. Since then, they have won a few smaller purses, keeping their hat in the ring.

While talking with Shane, I just had to ask how he comes up with the entry fees.

"Look Chris, I know money is tight," he said. "It's tight for everyone. I do what I have to do. I wanted to compete this year so I sold scrap metal just so I could compete. It is what I had to do.

"Fishing these tournaments is fun because it's about beating the well-known teams, what we call the 'Rich' guys. My particular team is just a bunch of hard working Joe's playing against the big boys. If we win, it's even sweeter."

Cape May is arguably one of the top offshore tuna and billfish ports on the East Coast. It stands to reason then that the Mid Atlantic $500,000 is one of the largest offshore fishing tournaments on the East Coast.

Well, that and the fact that the Mid Atlantic $500,000 yields one of the largest payouts annually. The event has found a successful formula in setting a high entry fee with a large payout. In fact, this year's white marlin category winner took home $653,375!

That is one heck of a return on investment after entry fees and Calcutta's. Like in any high stakes sport with big money on the line, competitors use only the best equipment during this trolling only event.

Fishing in offshore tournaments is big money. However, fishing offshore continually throws major obstacles at you, like wind and big heavy seas with 10-foot waves. With so much at stake it is no wonder so many teams invest in only the best equipment.

Capt. Adam LaRosa of The Canyon Runner Sportfishing Team said "Our Ritchie Howell fits our charter and tournament needs because it was indeed the best riding boat we've ever been on. When half a million dollars or more is on the line, I need my boat to get us to and from the dock; otherwise why be there."

During the 2009 Mid Atlantic $500,000, the Canyon Runner boated several white marlin as well as a blue marlin.
"One white weighed 75 pounds and was in second place for a short while but this year wouldn't be our year for that really big check,' Capt. LaRosa said. "Maybe 2010 will be our year."

Coming up with the entry fees seems easier than I originally thought. After all, these are hard working business folks, and they approach it as such. The business people I meet on a daily basis always seem to find a means to an end. They always have and they always will.

And the types who will put together $15,000 to win $500,000 are your passionate, offshore tournament anglers, seeing a big reward for the risk.