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Reeling ladies into fishing with Reelin’ for a Cure Tournament

In the 1980s song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper belts out her anthem tune about coming home in the morning light and phones ringing in the middle of the night. In the 2019 version of “girls wanted to have fun,” they were getting ready to hit the water on Lake Ontario before sunrise to participate in the fourh annual Reelin’ for a Cure ladies fishing tournament held out of the ports of Wilson and Olcott.

“After we had a record 21 boats last year, I was hoping for 25 this year,” said Stephanie Pierleoni of Newfane, the brainchild for this all-woman team fishing contest. “Instead, we jumped to 36 boats competing in this fun competition, while raising a record amount of money for a cancer-related cause.”

Fishing has long been Pierleoni’s passion. She grew up enjoying the pastime with her family and married one of the top charter captains on the Great Lakes, Capt. Vince Pierleoni of Thrillseeker Sportfishing.

“It’s in my heart and soul to get more women into the Lake Ontario fishery,” she said. “Not just for this event. I love sharing my fishing passion with other females. The excitement in the Town of Newfane Marina was crazy this morning and it was great to see so many people involved. It was overwhelming for me to see 36 boats this year and I have already been contacted by four more for next year.”

It’s not just a local event, either. The tournament drew teams from West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and all over New York. It’s not showing any signs of slowing down as women (and men) rally to become involved.

Tournament organizer Stephanie Pierleoni of Newfane, second from right, is all smiles after another successful Reelin' for a Cure Tournament. Her Fish N' Chics team placed fourth overall. (Bill Hilts Jr./Buffalo News)

Of course, the cause is another huge driver for participation. Every year, the tournament chooses a benefactor to receive funds from this charity event. This year, it was “Hope for Two,” a support organization for women who are pregnant and have cancer. Patty Murray, who started the group, told people at the awards ceremony in Olcott how they help those women emotionally and also place them in contact with other women who have gone through the same cancer fight.

The Honorary Survivor this year was Karen Evarts of Olcott, who owns and operates The Boat Doctors with her husband Jim.

“Cancer has touched all of our lives in one way or another, and it’s brought many of us together through this tournament,” she told the gathering along the lake. “This event is a celebration of life.”

When the female teams brought their coolers to the scales at the Lions Club Pavilion in Krull Park, there was an amazing amount of energy. Every team weighed in by weigh master Connie Adams of North Tonawanda received a big round of applause from the gallery, and team members were as excited for a 25-pound catch as they were for a 100-pound 6-fish limit. These types of events can really get your adrenaline flowing and it showed with every fish being weighed.

The first team to weigh in was the Reel Alewives of Western New York, a group made up of current and former Department of Environmental Conservation employees. They were fishing aboard the White Mule, a 36-foot Tiara captained by Bob Cinelli of Newfane. The first fish weighed in was 25.33-pound king salmon. The crowd went wild. As the other five fish were put into the weigh basket, the ladies held their breath. Six fish is the limit for this tournament.

“The weight is 114.89 pounds,” said Adams. “Excellent catch.” Of course, she said that for all of the coolers that came to the scales, an ambassador for this fishery. Scoring, based on 10 points per fish and a point per pound, gave the crew of Jen Dunn, Shannon Dougherty, Ann Swanson, Jacquie Walters, Jen Pettitt, Karen Cinelli and Angie Driscoll a total of 174.89 points. Their score held up.

As John Syracuse shouted the team names over the PA system, they brought smiles to the folks in the gallery. Names like Nauti Nurses, Skippers for Nippers, Asleep at the Reel, Reel Pole Dancers and Reel Housewives of Orleans County were called to the stage. Others gave pause as some names carried special meaning like Fishin’ for Remission, Offshore Therapy and Reel Warriors.

It was all about the ladies fishing on Lake Ontario. (Bill Hilts Jr./Buffalo News)

“It was awesome to see so many women out there fishing,” said Karen Cinelli, another lady passionate about fishing who also married a top charter guy in Capt. Cinelli. “My father used to take me fishing and hunting when I was very young. I loved it then as much as I do now. He exposed me to a world that I would not have otherwise known. I fished Lake Ontario as a child and when I was old enough, I started to work as a first mate on different boats. I was out there doing what I loved doing. There were never very many women fishing back then. This is great.”

“I can remember when I first met Stephanie,” Cinelli added.  “It was awesome to meet another woman who was actually as passionate about fishing [and as competitive] as I was.  It's really amazing how she took a passion for fishing, combined it with a passion for wanting to help cancer patients, and got more women involved in fishing.  Thank you for creating Reelin’ for a Cure.”

Cinelli is now a hospice nurse. She doesn’t have as much time to fish as she once did, and she doesn’t get to hear as many success stories about the cancer survivors.

“I can't tell you how refreshing it was on Friday for me personally to see so many women out there enjoying the sport of fishing and to hear all the treatment success stories.”

“Congratulations to the teams for their efforts during a rough day on the water,” Pierleoni said. “Thanks to all of the teams for toughing it out during some adverse conditions. Not once did I hear any complaints; it was all cheers and excitement at the weigh in. It made me smile.”

The date for next year’s tournament has been set for August 21. Mark it on your calendar. There’s plenty of room for more teams.

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