Fish For A Cure

by Tom Weaver & Joe Evans

The Best Reason to Fish Ever

The  CBM  river team prepares to release an undersized striper in the 2016 tournament.

The CBM river team prepares to release an undersized striper in the 2016 tournament.

This is about survival.

In 2007 Greg Lilly and Tommy Whitely launched a light-hearted contest among friends to see who might catch the biggest striped bass on a given fall day on Chesapeake Bay. 

Lilly, Whitely, Bart Hiltabidle, Rich Grossman and Greg Stevenson won the day with a fish weighing about 12 pounds.

In 2008, Lilly’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, and the nature of the tournament forever changed. The anglers rallied around in support of a friend, turned the event into a fundraiser for the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and launched the Fish For A Cure campaign. They recruited more anglers and raised $7,000 that year and another $26,000 in 2009 under the guidance of Mike Cassidy and Jim Kantowski who respectively handle tournament logistics and the Paul C. Dettor Captain’s Challenge. Nine years later, Kristie Lilly is in fine health and doing well, and the tournament has grown exponentially.

In 2010, Fish For A Cure shifted support to the Geaton and JoAnn DeCesaris Cancer Institute at Anne Arundel Medical Center, closer to home. Over the next seven years, the tournament raised $1,350,000. Last year, the event attracted 75 boats and raised more than $350,000. The now-famous tournament party sustained 500 people well into the night, celebrating the satisfaction of doing something altogether fun and good. 

While the DeCesaris Institute works to save lives, the daily mission
for the hospital, the patients and their families is about understanding, caring, rapport, trust and hope in the face of complicated and frightful circumstances. The linchpins between the patients, the doctors and compassion are the nurse navigators, who are part of the institute’s Survivorship Program. Nurse navigators are disease-specific experts who guide patients and families through treatment. They are the sources of information, direction and comfort throughout a terribly stressful process. While the doctors and each patient work together to beat back the disease, the nurse navigator is ever-present to help everyone adjust to the challenge and to anticipate the physical, psychological, nutritional, spiritual and financial twists and turns. The navigator handles appointments, follow-up care, emergencies and communications. With success, the navigator eventually delivers the patient and families to the Survivorship Program with optimism and strategies for a full and happy life. Fish For A Cure funds are dedicated to these essential patient advocate programs.

The competition begins with boat registration and a $500 entry fee followed by the robust Captain’s Challenge competition to raise money online and through events for each team’s effort. There is also a silent auction at the Shore Party. Last year’s auction included a chartplotter/fishfinder, a Paul Reed Smith guitar, a vacation week for 12 on a South Carolina beach, a week in the French Pyrenees for eight, a month of Naval Bagels, Redskins tickets, original art, boat services, to name a few. 

Event administration is handled by volunteers, and most goods and services are donated. A wide door is open to private and corporate sponsors, of course. Ken Scaturro and Keith Fraser ( have built a robust rewards program for sponsors.

Chesapeake Bay Magazine is unconditionally committed as a prime media partner and as eager fishing participants in the tournament and the awesome party. We have fished the event for the past five years, and we will join the Eastport 32 team again this year to raise funds and fish hard in the fight against cancer. Meanwhile, Fish For A Cure has renewed its pledge to raise another million dollars for the Survivorship Programs at AAMC.

The overriding mission in no way diminishes the importance of winning the tournament. There’s something about this cause and the people involved that inspires optimism and a winning spirit on the water, online and in the hospital. November is an excellent time to intercept large stripers that have returned to the Chesapeake a bit early, and the mission to support cancer care and save lives is pervasive. Most boats head to the open Bay and likely hot spots to troll or jig for the big ones. Meanwhile, a fierce but civilized white perch contest has developed under the auspices of Admiral of the Bay/Severn River guru John Page Williams and his friendly rival Dr. Stanley Watkins, the fishingest oncologist on the Bay. This happy but sometimes hapless division is growing in size and intensity. There’s a special perpetual trophy for this contest, but, at the moment, no one knows where it is.

The tournament also awards a trophy for a slam of any three gamefish species. Perch anglers have an advantage in this with plenty of
small stripers, white perch and the likelihood of a beautiful chain pickerel in the rivers. However, a burgeoning fleet of kayak anglers are the biggest threat to the old-guard’s hold on the slam trophy, mainly because they start earlier, they are quieter, and they don’t take two hours off for a proper onshore luncheon.

Registration has been open for a couple of months, and the teams are fully engaged in competing to win the Paul C. Dettor Captain’s Challenge. The winning fundraisers are presented ill-fitting, mismatched, second-hand blazers monogrammed with the Fish For A Cure crest to wear for the duration of the after-party.

 Please go online to find a boat to back and to follow the fundraising competition as it heats up, neck-and-neck until the final moment. Some teams host fundraising party events at popular watering holes around the watershed. Follow Chesapeake Bay Magazine on Facebook for news of team parties and other updates leading up to the tournament. Historically, every cent of the Captain’s Challenge goes directly to the Cancer Center.

For anglers, the sooner you register, the sooner you can begin raising money and awareness for the cause.

Cancer has directly or indirectly touched all of us. It’s an easy decision to be involved as a donor, a sponsor and an angler.

We hope you will join us.