Santa Claus Spotted Fishing Offshore

By MONIQUE M. DEMOPOULOS | Dec 18, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds Santa practicing some casts on his new fly rod.

Beach Haven, NJ — “Whenever I’m in Beach Haven, I never want to leave,” said a smiling, salt-washed Santa Claus, who explained his ultimate goal is to retire from his “other business” and live full time in Beach Haven. All right, perhaps the man in the suit is actually more like Santa’s helper, and his name is Capt. Frank Crescitelli.

Crescitelli may be best known for his television show “Fin Chasers,” which has aired on the Discovery Channel and can be found on Amazon Prime, Vimeo and YouTube. He is currently filming his fourth season – but that’s jumping ahead.

Born and raised on Staten Island, Crescitelli grew up on the water and has spent more than 40 years fishing.

“No one in my family was into fishing. Somehow I just latched onto it, and that was it,” he said, laughing.

Coming from very little means, Crescitelli expressed profound gratitude for the life he has built. “I grew up on welfare and food stamps, and I somehow managed to get this crappy little boat when I was 13 years old, and I just fished.” He continued, “I became totally obsessed, and I made it my living.”

He has been professionally guiding and fishing in tournaments for the last 20 years. He mostly guides out of New York City, where he was one of the first guides doing solely fly fishing in salt water.

“It’s not something you would think we’d do in NYC. Twenty years ago, it was just a small group of us doing it, but nobody was doing guiding – certainly not on Staten Island,” he explained.

Crescitelli stuck with fly fishing for seven years, and over time, his passion grew to match the advancing industry. “The fish kept getting bigger, and the fishing kept getting better,” he explained, “so we branched out to spin-fishing, bait-fishing and artificial lures. In time, we started doing near-shore fishing for mahi mahi and tuna.” He continued, “Once I got a bigger boat, we started doing offshore for marlin and tuna fish.”

Beach Haven had been the beloved summer destination for Crescitelli since meeting his wife in 1983 and accompanying her to the shore. “We always dreamed of getting our own place,” he shared. The impetus that drove Crescitelli to finally make the move was experiencing the horror of the 9/11 terror attack from New York Harbor, where he wound up working on traffic safety detail.

“Three out of every five firemen killed were from Staten Island,” he shared, soberly recalling the harrowing impact the tragedy had on Crescitelli’s entire community, with countless loved ones lost. The following year, Crescitelli purchased his second home in Beach Haven, and began migrating down every June after finishing his spring guiding out of Staten Island. “So, out of a bad thing came a good thing,” he said.

Wasting no time, Crescitelli joined the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club, right on his lagoon, and immersed himself into the fishing culture of Beach Haven. Longtime local pro Herb Miller (former Ship Bottom chief of police for 28 years) was happy to impart his wisdom to Crescitelli.

“Herb took me under his wing and showed me the way. There was great, great fishing.”

Crescitelli, who praised his home city of Staten Island for having the most world records for weakfish, was beyond impressed with the fishing he found in Beach Haven. “Weakfishing is an old-school thing for South Jersey, and the weakfishing in Beach Haven was just tremendous.” He described chumming with little grass shrimp and catching world record sized weakfish with his mentor, Miller. “I grew up in NYC with world-class fishing, but Beach Haven is a magical place,” he shared.

Crescitelli also appreciated having more access to offshore fishing in Beach Haven, especially after Superstorm Sandy, which affected the quality of fishing in the bay. “Offshore fishing is my passion, and what led me to spending so much of my time on LBI,” he said. Within two years of living on LBI, Crescitelli won the tuna and marlin club’s 35th annual tournament. He was proud to share his achievement of being the first small boat to win the tournament in 35 years.

Since 2005, Crescitelli has been a member of the marlin and tuna club, which he described as “an absolute gem.” It holds small club tournaments every other weekend during fishing season, with categories for boys and girls. Crescitelli recalled spending many cherished moments with his daughter fishing those tournaments, many of which they won together.

“There aren’t too many clubs like that anymore,” he explained. “It’s a wholesome, old-world atmosphere that really makes you put the unimportant stuff on the back burner.”

And Crescitelli certainly does not exaggerate when he uses “old world” to describe the fishing community of Beach Haven. “That white marlin tournament is the oldest white marlin tournament in the world. It’s not run much differently than it was in the beginning, either.”

He shared a story passed onto him from his neighbor Carl Anderson, who was one of the original tournament fishermen in Beach Haven. “Back in the day, they would start the tournament with a parade. The kids would run from street to street to watch all the boats in procession.”

Crescitelli believes in preserving magical traditions like these, which is why every Christmas season for over 15 years, he can be spotted out at sea or on his motorcycle, dressed as jolly Saint Nick. “Why not?” he said, chuckling “I still believe in Santa!”

Charity fishing tournaments quickly became a fundamental element in Crescitelli’s career. He cofounded the Manhattan Cup with David Fallon in 1998. After 9/11, they focused on bringing out first responders, and later, combat veterans.

“I’ve met a lot of great people through these charity tournaments,” he said. “I fish with a NASA astronaut,” he exclaimed, referring to retired U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Bruce Melnick. “How could I ever have met a guy like this!” Among those many reputable figures, Crescitelli befriended baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.

In addition to charity tournaments, Crescitelli has been involved with the NYC conservation effort for 17 years. “We are concerned with protecting the natural environment here in New York City,” he explained. “It’s not something people consider enough when they’re planning big industrial projects.” Crescitelli became involved after he learned the city’s proposed plan to dump toxic waste into the Raritan Bay.

“They were saying there was no life where they were going to dump dredge material so toxic, no garbage dump would accept it.” Determined to save the bay from this detrimental action, Crescitelli bought an underwater camera and proved there was, in fact, marine life in the proposed dump site. This stopped the project entirely.

“A lot of what I do is about education and awareness,” he explained. “A large percentage of the people who participate in these tournaments are Wall Street guys. They have no idea how much life is thriving under the ferry they take to work every day.”

Crescitelli takes gratification in knowing with every tournament, people gain more understanding and a stronger appreciation for their environment.

After sharing his knowledge and expertise on television, such as for ESPN and “The Today Show,” he began developing plans for his own production all about tournaments and pursuing world records. He pitched the idea to Wade Boggs, by whom it was well received. According to Crescitelli, Boggs’ reply was “I’ve been after a world record myself.”

Crescitelli laughed. “He’s in the baseball hall of fame, and all he wants is a world record fish!” With that, they teamed up and went out on the water to film “Fin Chasers.” SandPaper photographer Jack Reynolds did the majority of the filming, and Crescitelli produced the entire show himself.

In the first season, Boggs obtained his sought-after record for bluefish in a category called “all tackle release,” a special class whereby the fish is released after it’s measured. During the second season, Crescitelli broke the world record for striped bass, also in the all tackle release category. The majority of the third season was filmed mostly offshore in and around Beach Haven. The fourth season is currently being filmed, and will feature the local Junior MATES program.

“They’re teaching kids how to charter fish,” he explained, “and they raised a bunch of money to put new wrecks on the reef off of Holgate. It’s pretty cool that these kids want to do these kinds of things.”

Crescitelli acknowledged with disappointment how disconnected people are from nature, especially in cities like New York. He affirmed, “The more people are aware of the natural world, the better off our planet is. That’s what life is all about!” Thus, his hope for “Fin Chasers” and charity tournaments is to see more people engaging fully with the environment, especially those not fortunate enough to live in a community like Beach Haven, where the natural world is an evident and integral part of life.

“The natural world is what keeps you anchored,” he professed. “If you’ve ever been caught offshore in a storm, you know. You only need to do it once to recognize you are but a speck of dust. All it takes is one wave to disappear, yet the world keeps on turning. It’s a humbling experience.”

He elaborated, “People who are separated from the natural world believe they are the center of the universe because they do not have these humbling experiences.”

One of the best aspects of spending time offshore, explained Crescitelli, is being detached from technology and isolated from the virtual world. “I think people should do a little bit more of that. They’ll feel more in touch with what’s important,” he said.

Crescitelli’s concluding statement was a loose recital of Karen Blixen’s famous quote (which she published under the pen name Isak Dinesen), “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” He continued, “That sums up everything for me. The pull to the sea is a strong one, if you feel it. I’m so fortunate to live this close to it.”

To learn more about Fin Chasers, visit finchaserstv.com.

— Monique M. Demopoulos

monique@thesandpaper.net

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