Fishing for Miracles King Mackerel Tournament has special meaning for one family

Amelia Wells Wirth, pictured with a 41.40-pound king mackerel, was treated for bone cancer as an infant at MUSC and has fished most of the Fishing for Miracles King Mackerel Tournaments.

The Fishing for Miracles King Mackerel Tournament has become an annual family tradition for Joe and Paula Wells.

Fact Box

Coming upWHAT: 20th annual Fishing for Miracles King Mackerel TournamentWhen: Registration from 2-7 p.m. Thursday, captain’s meeting at 7 p.m. Fishing Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30 a.m., with competition ending at 5 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.Entry fee: $350 per boatWhere: Weigh-in begins at 2 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday at Ripley Light Yacht Club, 95 Ripley Point Drive, Charleston

The couple from Wando have competed in the charity fishing tournament every year, minus one, since it began in 1994. They have finished second in at least two of the tournaments, and Paula has been the top lady angler several times.

“It’s such a great tournament. The first time we won some money we donated it back because it’s such a great cause,” Joe Wells said. “It’s not as competitive to me as the others. I will cheer louder for the smaller boats that win it.”

Wells and his wife have more than a rooting interest in the tournament’s beneficiaries — MUSC Children’s Hospital and the Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina. Years before the tournament was started, MUSC Children’s Hospital played a major role in their lives.

“Our first child (Amelia) was born with a middle-age bone cancer,” Joe Wells said. “MUSC did the surgery on her and removed all of the tumor they could. They knew they didn’t get it all. But she’s our little miracle baby. She never had chemo and after five years they declared her cancer free.”

Amelia Wells Wirth, now 26, has participated in most of the Fishing for Miracles tournaments with her parents, and in recent years with her husband Randy. Like her mother, Amelia has received the tournament’s lady angler award.

Joe and Paula Wells will be fishing in this weekend’s 20th annual Fishing for Miracles event, but Amelia has a more important commitment. She’ll be on shore taking care of 8-month-old daughter Emma.

“My parents have always been big advocates for anything with MUSC. I’ve enjoyed fishing it for fun, not necessarily going all out,” said Amelia, who caught the second-place king mackerel (41.78 pounds) in the 2009 tournament.

Tournament co-chair John Gourdin said a large turnout is expected this year if the weather cooperates. First place, based on 200 paid entries, is $25,000. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the tournament, this year’s 20th-place finisher will receive $2,000.

Gourdin said the tournament has already raised $34,000, that’s $7,000 more than last year. Since 1994, Fishing for Miracles has donated more than $600,000 to charity.

The two-day tournament (Friday-Saturday) is fished out of the Ripley Light Yacht Club located on the Ashley River in West Ashley. Registration will be held Thursday from 2-7 p.m., with the captain’s meeting at 7 p.m. Registration is $350 per boat.

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