The Real Catch is for Charity

Fishing for Miracles benefits coastal conservation, children

By Abby Deering
Photographs by Josh Norris

In Carol Gourdin’s home office, there’s a picture on a bulletin board. It’s of a young girl, no more than 3 years old, with her hair in a ponytail, holding up a tiny fish. Carol likes to tell her husband, “See? I’ve been looking for you since I was 3 years old.”

Avid angler and marketing director Carol Gourdin.

And Carol’s husband, John, will always tell her how lucky he is to have a wife who loves to fish as much as he does. As Carol explains it, she and her husband “have this thing” about their shared passion for fishing.

Some 20-odd years ago, when a group of families started the Fishing For Miracles King Mackerel Tournament in support of The MUSC Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and The Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina, Carol and John leaped at the opportunity to get involved. They even brought their young children along, who helped out by doing odd jobs, such as tagging the fish.

Today, the husband-and-wife team still volunteers at the tournament — which is, in fact, an entirely volunteer-led operation — but they’ve taken on slightly larger roles: John is the director and Carol is the marketing director.

This year will mark the 24th year of the tournament, which will take place August 17-19 at the Ripley Light Yacht Club in Charleston.

When John brought Carol on as the marketing director, she told him, “We need to grow this tournament.” And grow this competition she has. Carol has added several TWTs (tournament within a tournament), including an inshore division and a Wahoo TWT. It will probably come as no surprise that Carol was also instrumental in adding the Lady Angler division.

A lady angler holds up her King.

In 2015, about one-third of the boats had lady anglers aboard. In 2016, that number grew to one-half. Carol’s ultimate goal? A boat with a lady captain and an entire lady crew.

Above all, what drives Carol is raising money for the charities. To date, the tournament has raised $900,000 for the MUSC Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and The Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina. The purpose of CCA is to advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources. It’s a charity near and dear to Carol’s heart, “Hopefully, one day, I’ll have grandchildren, and they’ll love to fish, and there will be fish for them to catch.”

A dinner, silent auction, raffle, and T-shirt sales also help to raise money. Carol hastens to add, none of this would be possible without the continued support of their sponsors, as 100 percent of the sponsorship dollars goes to the charities. Each year at the Captain’s Dinner, doctors from MUSC speak about what the money raised affords them to do.

The tournament doesn’t only raise big. It pays out big — $100,000 in prize money, to be exact. The grand prize for largest King Mackerel is $25,000, and prize money is also awarded to 2nd through 30th place, in addition to the various bonus awards.

Last year, the winning King Mackerel weighed in at a whopping 42.4 pounds, caught by Melvin Knight. And, of the lady anglers, Alicia Hart with her 36.15-pound King Mackerel finished fifth place overall in a tournament of approximately 500 predominantly male anglers.

Last year the tournament raised $60,000, with $30,000 going to the Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina and $30,000 going to MUSC Children’s Hospital Pediatric ICU. Their biggest year was in 2015. They raised $78,500. It’s a target Carol hopes to reel in again this year.   E

Onlookers await the arrival of the competitors at the Ripley Light Marina in Charleston, South Carolina.