A decades-old fishing trip between the Ocean City Marlin Club and the Cape May Marlin & Tuna Club is scheduled to return to Ocean City September 14-16.
The 45th Annual Charles Kratz & Scott Smith Challenge Cup is a billfish shooting tournament for full members of each club only.
The tournament is a battle for the prized Challenge Cup, which once awarded to the winning club, is engraved with the club’s name (similar to professional ice hockey’s Stanley Cup) and is held at the club until the following year.
“It’s competitive, but there’s a lot of camaraderie between the clubs historically. (It) goes way back. We can see people, fish with people once a year. Once a year, former tournament president and now co-fisherman, Pat Svehla said: I mean, let’s face it, we all have the same agenda in this sport of beak hunting.”
These two clubs have not competed head-to-head since 2019, when 22 boats participated in the Cape May Club and 19 boats participated in the OCMC.
While the teams were tied in shoot points that year, OCMC won since they caught their last fish first.
The Challenge Cup began in 1978 after Charles Kratz, of the Ocean City Marlin Club in Ocean City, Maryland, and Scott Smith, of the Cape May Marlin and Tuna Club of New Jersey, came up with the idea while out fishing together.
Throughout the 1980s, Sevhla said, the venue for the tournament alternated between Cape May and Ocean City from year to year.
Around the early 1990s, Sevilla said, a few challenge trophies were canceled due to weather and many anglers began to lose interest.
Traveling to New Jersey every two years also didn’t help the fishermen in Ocean City, since the billfish mostly lingered south of Ocean City around Washington Canyon during September.
Around the mid-1990s, Svehla, the late OCMC member Billy Ortlieb and a few members of the Cape May Club, brought back the tournament, and decided to hold it in Ocean City every year.
Svehla said the Sunset Marina in West Ocean City hosts Cape May Club members and offers free docking coupons as long as New Jersey fishermen buy fuel.
“They (Cape May Club members) view it as a weekend destination,” said Sivhla.
Registration for this year’s tournament will take place on September 13th from 6-8pm at the OCMC Club located on Golf Course Road in West Ocean City. There will be a captains meeting at 7:45pm, which can be attended in person, also at the clubhouse, or online via a link on the club’s Facebook page.
Sevilla said the Cape May club would have its own registration in New Jersey.
The boat entry fee is $400, which includes six fishermen. The cost for any additional fishermen is $50 each, and boats can fish for two or three days.
Both clubs may enter as many boats as they wish, and it is not necessary for each team to have an even number of boats.
Typically, the Cape May Club brings about 15-20 boats, while the Ocean City Club often has 12-15 boats.
Only the top six from each club are recorded. Whichever team has the highest average out of all six of its qualifying boats will determine the winning club.
Boats earn different shooting points for different types of billfish.
White marlin, sailfish, and pike are worth 75 points, while blue marlin and swordfish are worth 150 points.
Lately, most of the best billfish fishing has been farther north than usual, Sevilla said.
Closer to Cape May, honestly, Sivela said.
However, he added, it is not possible to determine where the fish might be, by the time of the tournament. The billfish can start migrating south again just in time for the Challenge Cup.
Besides the Challenge Cup, there are also five prizes for individual boats.
There are two awards for the most points earned on the first day of fishing, one for the boat that is part of the OCMC and one for the boat from the Cape May Club.
Two prizes for the highest points earned on the second day will be allocated in the same way.
Only one boat in the entire tournament can win the cup with the most aggregate points. If there is a tie, the cup goes to the boat that caught its last fish first.
In addition to the prizes, there will be a winner-takes-all ‘Calcutta’ entry level, whose payment will go to the boat with the most issue points. And it costs $1,000 to enter.
On September 14th, OCMC hosts all tournament participants and their guests for an Italian night from 6:30-9:30pm at the Clubhouse, another tournament tradition.
“A bottle of wine on the table, a checkered tablecloth, what have you, … which puts everyone in a good mood on the first night of the tournament,” said Sevilla.
On the last day of the tournament, everyone returns to the clubhouse for the awards ceremony from 6:30 to 9:30 pm.
There, the organizers count the results and know the winning team, trying to keep the verdict secret until the time it is announced.
When the time is right, a member of the winning club steps up to accept his prize, while a member of the losing club must participate in a humility ritual dating back to the first tournament.
A losing member approaches the winner and kneels in front of the winning member. In one hand the hunter representing the losing club presents the challenge cup to the winner, and on the opposite forearm he rolls a large white handkerchief or tablecloth.
“It’s an interesting moment, but it’s something they started with and they’ve tried to maintain over the years,” Sivela said.
For more information, call OCMC at 410-213-1613.