The Great Gun Moriches Anglers hosted their annual fluke fishing tournament at the Union Avenue dock in Center Moriches on Saturday, Aug. 5.
“We’ve got it down, how to handle a tournament properly,” Great Gun Moriches Anglers member Frank Lapinski said.
The Chet Wilcox Memorial Fluke Tournament lasted from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. Anglers sailed into Moriches Bay and surrounding waters in order to catch the largest fluke possible. Each of the anglers who caught the three largest fish was awarded a cash prize. The Great Gun Moriches Anglers hope that the fishing tournament helps the Center Moriches area become more aware of the local fishing community.
“We wanted to bring a local tournament to the forefront of our community [and promote] Moriches Bay’s most popular fishery,” Great Gun Moriches Anglers vice president John Bunai said.
The Great Gun Moriches Anglers posted flyers advertising the fluke fishing tournament. The flyers displayed the tournament’s official rules and the prizes. Participants signed up at Harts Cove Bait & Tackle, in East Moriches, and Sharks Bait & Tackle, in Mastic.
Originally, prizes were based on the assumption that 100 anglers would register for the tournament. Finishing in first place had a cash prize of $1,875; second place’s reward was $1,125; and third place’s prize was $750. On the morning of the tournament, around 50 anglers had registered, so the first-place prize was changed to $935, second place’s prize was altered to $560, and third place’s prize became $380.
“In the interest of promoting conservation, our minimum size [for a fish] to be eligible for a prize is 21 and 1/2 inches,” Bunai said. “A legal-sized fluke to keep is 18 and 1/2 inches in New York State.”
For the past two decades, the fluke tournament was originally known as the Moriches Anglers Fluke Tournament. However, the tournament was renamed this year in honor of Chet Wilcox. Wilcox had owned B & B Tackle and Sports in Center Moriches. He died in May 2022.
“He was a local legend [and] very active in the community,” Great Gun Moriches Anglers member Tim Markart said. “[He was] just an overall good man [and] good person.”
“He was considered a talent in his family, [who] were big duck farmers,” Bunai said.
“He was a mentor to everyone who fished here,” Lapinski said. “He was the only guy back [in the day] who advertised freshwater tackle.”
Additional competitors entered the tournament at the last moment by signing up at the Union Avenue dock around 6 a.m. the day of the tournament. Fishermen spent the next 10 hours scouring local waters, like Moriches Bay, for fluke. The Great Gun Moriches Anglers started weighing submitted fish at the dock at 4 p.m. All tournament participants were expected to return to the dock by 4:30 p.m., so that all fish could be properly evaluated by 5 p.m.
The judging of the fishes, known as the “weigh-in” among the anglers, was accompanied by a barbecue. Hamburgers and hot dogs were offered to fishermen returning from their 10-hour quest for the largest fluke. The Great Gun Moriches Anglers also sold T-shirts to tournament attendees in order to spread awareness of the club. Russel Werthner won first-place prize of $935 with a fish that was 24 and 3/4 inches and weighed 5.65 pounds, while Tom Kaucky won second place with a fish that was 22 and 1/2 inches long and weighed 4.15 pounds. As Werthner and Kaucky’s fluke were the only submitted fish that fulfilled the length requirement of 21 and 1/2 inches, third-place’s cash prize was raffled off and given to a random tournament participant.
“I’ve won a few [tournaments] so far in my time,” Werthner said, “so it felt really good [to win], especially with a 5-pounder. [There] was one [fish] we didn’t think would make it in, but we had three keepers.”
The Great Gun Moriches Anglers desire to continue hosting the tournament annually in order to both strengthen their ties to the community and to honor Chet Wilcox. Their next event will be a striped bass tournament at the end of October. The tournament is currently planned to start Oct. 25 and end on Oct. 29.
“That wraps up [our] stuff for the year,” Great Gun Moriches Anglers president Evan Goldstein said.
Lapinski added that the Great Gun Moriches Anglers is planning to create a Chet Wilcox Youth Tournament for local youth. The club is still drafting plans for the youth tournament and has not yet announced a potential date for the new event.
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