The lasting impact of the Alice Kelly Memorial Ladies Only Billfish Tournament on its 34th year – OBX Today

The lasting impact of the Alice Kelly Memorial Ladies Only Billfish Tournament on its 34th year - OBX Today
(Courtesy Capt. Dave Lear/

By Capt. Dave Lear,

A person’s legacy is often measured by the impact on other lives and the friends left behind. For the hundreds of women gathering at the Pirate’s Cove Marina Pavilion Saturday night, that person is Alice Kelly. While many knew her as a passionate angler and tireless volunteer, others never met the namesake of the Alice Kelly Memorial Ladies Only Billfish Tournament. But the inspiration is still there, regardless.

Now in its 34th year, the Alice Kelly Memorial was started in honor of Kelly after she lost her battle with cancer. Before she passed, Kelly started the Outer Banks Cancer Support Group in 1989, a group of volunteers who helped cancer patients get out-of-town treatment. In 2015, the Interfaith Community Outreach program absorbed the group and expanded its role. The ICO, a non-denominational 501 C (3) non-profit organization, is led by a board of directors, with two staffers. It is the largest non-profit on the Outer Banks. The billfish tournament is one of the biggest benefactors to the organization, allowing it to continue cancer support efforts for local residents. That impact is why many anglers have fished this event for years.

“I fish the Alice Kelly because it supports a good cause,” says Christie Baer of nearby Manns Harbor. Baer has been competing for 10 years now and will be aboard Short Rigger, a 57 Bobby Sullivan charter boat, for tomorrow’s contest. “The ICO is a great charity and this tournament is a wonderful event for the community. The fellowship of the other ladies, socializing on the docks is a big part of it as well.”

Some of Baer’s team members (“all local girls”) have been together for several years, including her 19-year-old daughter. Baer is married to a local charter skipper, who will be on another boat, but she feels that may give her the inside track a little bit.

“We’re going to let the captain make the decisions, so we can have some fun and catch some fish. The captain knows best!” she explains.

Allyson Hoggard of Windsor, North Carolina, has been fishing the Alice Kelly for 13 years, with a past championship trophy on the ledger. She and her team mates will be fishing on Fistful, a Pirate’s Cove charter boat.

“The Alice Kelly is a good cause and a good time with good girls. It’s just fun,” Hoggard says. This is the third year she’s fished on Fistful.

“I plan to get a good night’s sleep and go at it with a good attitude and do what the captain says,” she explains. “When they tell you to reel, you reel!”

This is the first year participating in the Alice Kelly Memorial for Jessica Williams and her five team mates, all from the Outer Banks. Team Keeping Reel Estate are realtors and co-workers fishing on Triple Down, another local charter boat.

“We know other friends who have fished the tournament in the past, it’s in our backyard and once we were able to secure a boat, we jumped at the opportunity,” Williams says. “It will be a fun way to connect and team build and we’ve already met a bunch of awesome women. We really don’t have any big expectations, other than we’re looking forward to going out, having fun together and hopefully catch some fish. Oh, and we want to win!”

The tournament scoring format is strictly release for billfish. Successful blue marlin releases earn 150 points, while white marlin, sailfish and spearfish count for 100 each. Tuna, dolphin and wahoo are eligible to be weighed and an optional Billfish and Dolphin Jackpot entries will award cash prizes for the most releases and biggest dolphin. Fishing begins at 8:30 Sunday morning, with lines out at 3 pm. The scales at the Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo are open to the public. The 163 teams competing are vying for a record payout of $107,525 in the two jackpots.

But tonight will feature colorful team costumes, boat decorations, charity raffles, the kick-off dinner and lots of laughs, hugs and memories. Alice Kelly’s impact lives on.