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Benefit to be Held for Ailing Cortez Angler

The Cortez community is hosting a Bradenton benefit for the long-time commercial fisherman, who was diagnosed with throat cancer last year. The profits will help with his medical bills.

Mike O'Leary stands in front of his crab traps. Photo provided.
Mike O'Leary stands in front of his crab traps. Photo provided.

Gearing up for stone crab season, which begins in October, has been a little harder this year.

Mike O’Leary, 56, has been commercial fishing out of Cortez for more than two decades. Normally you would find him tending to his crab traps in the gulf or fishing the inshore grass flats, but recently something has been keeping him from getting out on the water in his “ol’ wooden boat, Keegan,” which he named after his son. As O’Leary put it, he just doesn’t have the “giddy up and go” any more.

O’Leary, a fourth-generation Bradenton native, was diagnosed with cancer last year and is currently undergoing radiation therapy. While a life at sea offers many benefits — open air, liberty and landscape — health insurance isn’t one of them.

“It’s been hard,” O’Leary said. “I want so badly to get out there and get to work, but I’m just too weak. Instead I’ve been having an Andy Griffith bonanza.”

Luckily for O’Leary, his friend of 30 years, Pam O’Reily, has organized a benefit to be held Sunday at Swordfish Grill, 4628 119th St., Cortez, from 2 p.m. to close in order to raise money for the ailing angler. The event is set to be an authentic southern shindig with lots of seafood, BBQ, hot dogs, a cash bar, silent auction, raffles and great live entertainment.

“This benefit should not only generate the wide variety of support from those that have known him for years but also those compassionate residents in the area who are willing to serve a good cause,” O’Reily said of the event.

O’Leary’s catch is normally sold in one of the Cortez fish markets. He said he has been “working the docks” for years. His first gig was at Bayshore Seafood, which opened in 1978, but closed its doors a few years later.

Since then, O’Leary has fished for many other local companies, including A.P. Bell Fish Company Inc., which has served area restaurants fresh Florida seafood for the last 37 years.

The O’Leary family has been a staple in the community for four generations. O’Leary said his kinfolk used to own a liquor store in downtown Bradenton and he remembers going there as a child.

“It’s great I have good friends,” he said. “I’ve been around here all my life and now (the community) has really stepped in to show how much they care.” 

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