Fish For a Cure 2020 Charity Tournament Recap

Fish 4 A Cure Charity Fishing Tournament 2020. Anglers from FishTalk/PropTalk Team competing at the Fish 4 A Cure Charity Fishing Tournament 2020. Photo: Lenny Rudow.

Competition in this year’s 2020 Fish For a Cure fishing tournament began at 6:30 AM and we arrived at the boat ramp at 6:05 AM to discover the access road blocked by two large wooden barriers reading “Closed.” With the short and precious 10.5 hours of fishing about to begin, rather than launching the boat so we’re ready to cast at the starting bell, our entire Team FishTalk/PropTalk crew of four is furiously scrolling through the internet on our phones trying to ascertain why these barriers are sitting in our way — and more importantly, if and when they’ll be removed.

Then the park ranger’s truck pulls up, and we breathe a sigh of relief. Slightly delayed but entirely undaunted, we get the boat into the water, pull off the dock, and point the bow at… the Lincoln Memorial?

Yes, the Lincoln Memorial. There are 65 boats plying the waters of the Chesapeake Bay while competing in the tournament this year, and we’re 40 miles or more away from the nearest one. We have a special and unusual game-plan, because this year’s tournament is different from those of the past. The Fish For a Cure has always had three categories: a striped bass division (combined length of four largest fish), a perch division (combined length of five largest fish), and a Grand Slam division (consisting of the total length of any three fish of different species).

Fish 4 A Cure Tournament. Anglers from FishTalk/PropTalk Team competing at the Fish 4 A Cure Charity Fishing Tournament 2020. Photo: Lenny Rudow.

This year there’s a new division: invasive species, with no limit on the number of submissions. And the Potomac River is riddled with invasive blue catfish, right smack dab in the middle of the nation’s capital. We’re going to target those blue cats and see just how many inches of fish we can stack up, hopefully enough to take top honors in the invasives division. If we can pull it off, we’ll win a trove of treasures including a goodie bag of lures, a cooler, and a couple of hats.

Wait a sec — why get all worked up over a batch of prizes that you could pick up at the local K-Mart with a half-used stimulus card? In truth, the prizes are irrelevant. And while our team would love to win bragging rights, in this tournament, the fishing results aren’t really what make you a winner.

The Fish For a Cure is a 501(c)(3) organization that started out as a regular striped bass fishing tournament in 2007, but shifted focus almost immediately when the wife of one of the participants was struck with cancer. The decision was made to turn the tournament into a fundraising effort to fight the disease. The Geaton and JoAnn DeCesaris Cancer Institute at the Anne Arundel Medical Center has been the tournament’s beneficiary since 2009, and funds raised by Fish For a Cure go directly to the Cancer Survivorship Program. To date, anglers have raised over 3.4 million dollars for the cause.

One of the biggest ways the tournament raises money is the Captain’s Challenge, and in truth, this is where the real competition takes place. Each captain and crew takes on the responsibility of raising funds both personally and as a team, and boats then get ranked by how much cancer-crushing cash they can rake in. The pride and street cred that goes with winning this aspect of the tournament overshadows the fishing competition by a longshot. In 2020, the winning team of Laxfish, captained by Stephen Morgan (yes, Captain Morgan does exist) amassed $65,905 to take top honors. Team Alternating Currents captained by Brian Heller took second place with $55,576, and team Just in Time captained by Thomas George ended up in third with $44,050.

The year 2020 has been challenging for countless people in countless ways, and team FishTalk/PropTalk, captained by myself [Lenny Rudow] and crewed by Zach Ditmars, Kaylie Jasinski, and Eric Packard, we knew it would be a difficult year of fundraising. FishTalk Magazine and PropTalk Magazine, as tournament media sponsors, ran ads for the tournament and pumped it up as much as possible on social media to help bring the public’s attention to the event. But we were fearful that after meeting our team’s $10,000 goal in 2019, we’d be hard-pressed to raise half that amount in 2020. Fortunately, the team pulled through and as we sat at the closed park entry in the predawn hours, to our own surprise we had hit $10,535 and landed in 12th place in the Captain’s Challenge. Not bad, for a bunch of boat-nut editors. Thus, the pressure was off before we even began fishing, and we weren’t pressed over winning any prizes. But those bragging rights? We sure wouldn’t mind ‘em.

With Honest Abe just a few hundred yards away we dropped anchor, and sent our first batch of raw chicken livers and cut bunker baits to the bottom. Moments later a rod bends over and the first blue cat is on the line. We crank it in, lay it on the official measuring stick, snap off the entry photo, and release the fish. Oops. We forgot to add the tournament identifier to the picture, proving it was a valid Fish For a Cure catch. Ten minutes in, we’re sitting at negative 19 inches.

Fortunately, those lost 19 inches do not prove to be critical. Through the next five hours we bait up, crank in catfish, photograph them (with the identifier now safely glued to the boat’s deck by catfish slime), rebait, and redeploy the lines. Zach, our tech wiz who’s the only competent user of the iAngler tournament app aboard, has to cease fishing for long stretches of time just to keep up with entering all our catches. Several times we have five or six wiggling blue cats on the deck of the boat, waiting for their turn on the measuring stick. When we stop to take a lunch break and assess our position at one o’clock, we have amassed 814.5 inches of blue cats including one 36.75-inch monster, and we’ve also logged a 22-inch channel catfish.

While lunch breaks in most serious fishing tournaments consists of cramming down a PBJ with one hand while you continue swinging a fishing rod with the other, in this case we kick back and relax for a bit so we can savor jumbo steamed shrimp and lobster medallions. Yes, you read that right — thanks to the generosity of foodie tournament sponsors like Ken’s Creative Kitchen, Pusser’s, Davis’s Pub, and Gary’s Restaurant, the Fish For a Cure “Shore Party” lunchboxes are an utterly decedent affair.

The mixed smells of shrimp cocktail, blue catfish slime, and cut bunker drifts across the boat, rudely intruded upon by the occasional wafting molecule of raw chicken liver. Bloated by the ridiculously good boat-food we pull out our phones and scan the tournament standings. We realize that at this point we almost certainly have a lock on the invasives division. It’s tempting to celebrate by cracking open the Painkiller cocktail kit that was also included in the Shore Party goodies, but since we’re still on a boat we opt to save it for later.

After scanning the leaderboard for the Grand Slam division, we realize that putting our big blue cat tail-to-nose with the channel cat, if we can catch a third species of fish we have a very real shot at winning the Grand Slam, too. So we pull the anchor, hang up the catfish tackle, and shift gears.

The frantic action of the morning transitions into a bite-less afternoon. Well, not entirely bite-less. We do add some to our catfish tally, but the big largemouth bass this river is famous for prove elusive. We have just a few hours to find one that’s willing to bite. Then one hour. Then a mere 27 minutes remain in the competition, when Zach’s rod suddenly goes down. He yells for the net and moments later, the cell phone makes its fake shutter-click sound while hovering above a 16.75-inch largemouth.

Angler Competing In A Charity Fishing Tournament Angler from FishTalk/PropTalk Team competing at the Fish 4 A Cure Charity Fishing Tournament 2020. Photo: Lenny Rudow.

Cheers and high-fives go all around. According to the leaderboard, we now own two goodie bag of lures plus a fishing rod, the cooler, and a lot of hats. The lead holds. We’ll have our bragging rights. And when it’s time for Fish For a Cure 2021, you can bet that we’ll be back. We’ll promote this event as much as we can in FishTalk and PropTalk during the lead-up. We’ll come up with a new fishing game-plan. And next year we hope to win even bigger in the part of this tournament that really counts, by cracking the top 10 in the Captain’s Challenge.

For more information or to join in the fundraising and fun, visit Fish For A Cure.

Captions Log:
F4AC1 – The author hoists the biggest blue cat of the day, a 36.75-incher.
F4AC2 – PropTalk editor Kaylie Jasinski proved her mettle, reeling in hundreds of inches of catfish through the course of the day.
F4AC3 – Team member Eric Packard gets ready to measure yet another fish, while Rudow rebaits and redeploys a line.
F4Ac4 – The team takes a moment to bask in the November sunshine, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.

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