New tournament is a fall classic in the making

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Rob Miller has been fishing the rips off Chatham, Massachusetts, and Nantucket for 15 years. “These are amazing, beautiful waters, and I’ve had some terrific days,” Miller says. “It’s a great way to fish with light tackle and catch active, feeding striped bass.”

Rob Miller and three other fishermen aboard the Southport 33 Summer Place won this fall’s inaugural Nantucket Classic tournament.

Miller has won at least 10 local tournaments during the past several seasons, including this September’s inaugural Nantucket Classic. His four-person team caught and released 72 striped bass aboard his 33-foot Southport center console Summer Place to take the $3,000 first-place prize. The two-day tourney, held Sept. 23-25 at the Nantucket Boat Basin, was presented by Soundings and produced and managed by the magazine’s parent company, Active Interest Media. Anglers fished for stripers, bluefish, false albacore and bonito.

“I’d say our average fish was about 36 inches,” says Miller, who lives in Centerville, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. “We caught all of the fish in the space of about five or six hours on the first day. It was crazy, nonstop action. The stripers had to be at least 28 inches, and we had to measure and photograph every fish.” Miller’s team, which included David Rose, Les Schwom and Bob Lewis, fished St. Croix Mojo casting rods with Van Staal reels and 30-pound-test fluorocarbon line, throwing Tady lures.

Miller enjoys competitive fishing, but he really gets a charge out of teaching novice anglers — kids, in particular — how to catch fish in the rips. Handkerchief Shoals and Bearse Shoal off Monomoy and Old Man Shoal off Nantucket’s southeast tip are some of his favorite haunts. “It’s more about the people in the boat than the fish,” Miller says. “I like to make it really fun for them, and to me this type of fishing is ideal for that. There’s nothing better than when they get hookup after hookup on every pass through the rip.”

Miller fished a 1985 32-foot Blackfin flybridge before taking delivery of the 2016 Southport 33 FE in June. Powered by twin Yamaha F300s, the Southport puts him closer to the fishing action, and on a center console that can be anywhere from bow to stern. “I love to hear the laughter of the guys and squeals of the girls,” says Miller, who is part owner of an insurance company.

He’s thrilled with the speed and fuel economy of the center console, which he refers to as his little rocket. “I would cruise at 24 knots in the Blackfin, but I can cruise at 31 knots in the Southport and still get better fuel economy,” Miller says.

40 blues

Rhode Islander Craig DaPonte cruised into second place fishing his 26-foot NorthCoast center console with twin Suzuki DF250s. He and his crew caught and released 40 bluefish in two days to take home a $2,500 purse.

The weather was pleasant on the first day of fishing, but the action was slow, he says. A 12- to 15-knot wind greeted the anglers on the second day, and DaPonte’s crew fared better, catching and releasing more than 30 blues. “The rip was standing straight up, and we started casting into it,” DaPonte says, referring to Bonito Bar, just outside Madaket Harbor. “We figured if we can get a ton of blues to win, we’ll do it,” he says. “We had double and triple hookups a couple times. We fished until the slack hit and the rip sat down.” (Bluefish had to measure at least 21 inches.)

DaPonte’s family owns C&C Marine in Bristol, Rhode Island, the builder of NorthCoast boats. The 26 has a huge cockpit for a boat of its size, DaPonte says. “There’s 5 feet from the transom to the back of the leaning post, so there’s never any congestion in this area,” says DaPonte, 23, who is the floor manager at the family business.

Craig DaPonte (left) and Keith Olsen, along with two other anglers, released 40 bluefish to place second.

DaPonte’s team caught the blues on a combination of Deadly Dick lures and Daiwa Salt Pro minnows. “Two of the SP minnows seemed to be outperforming the rest,” DaPonte says. “I was throwing the blue mackerel pattern. The blues were so keyed in on the blue and silver colors that when I lost my blue mackerel minnow on a cast, I tied on a green mackerel, and the blues wouldn’t touch it.”

DaPonte’s team, which included Gregg Weatherby, Keith Olsen and Brian Patterson, caught most of their fish on spinning gear with braided line, including Van Staal VM Series, Quantum PT 40s and Penn Battle reels; almost every spinning rod was a Tsunami Five Star.

Team TinMan, with owner Nicholas Gault aboard his 27-foot Mako, released four false albacores and 18 bluefish to win third place and $1,500.

He’ll Be Back

In addition to Southport Boats, the sponsors of the Nantucket Classic included Nantucket Boat Basin, Cisco Brewers, Sudbury Boat Care Products, Anglers Journal magazine and Ocearch, an organization that generates scientific data and biological studies of great white sharks and other marine species. “We were very fortunate to have the Nantucket Boat Basin work with us and have Southport Boats sign on as our exclusive boat sponsor,” says Soundings publisher Paul Smith. “Friday night’s welcome party on the Ocearch shark research vessel added a positive cause to our event, and catering sponsors Slip 14 restaurant and Cisco Brewers made the weekend complete. We all agreed we should do it again next year.”

If they do, Miller will be back in the rips, looking to repeat.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.