Over 240 teams fished, 129 teams weighed in and 15 places were paid.
Central Texas anglers came together again this year to thank our active duty military and our honorably discharged veterans for their service to our country. The goal of Fishing for Freedom remains to give those who serve the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors they so honorably protect. Last year’s tournament was a huge success; but this year it was truly incredible! Over 240 military men and women went fishing, with over $50,000 in cash and prizes, in a tournament with no entry fee!
Fishing for Freedom is an annual event on Lake Belton, where volunteer anglers are matched with these heroes for a day of competitive fishing and camaraderie.
The Saturday tournament is preceded by a complimentary Friday night BBQ dinner at the Killeen Convention Center for all participants. Speakers at this year’s event were headlined by Earl Bentz, founder of Triton boats. Also in attendance and delivering seminars to the wide-eyed participants were touring pros Zell Rowland and Gary Klein!
It was an incredible evening, but an even cooler sight to see over 240 boats on the water at take-off the following morning.
An emotional national anthem started the event and a beautiful morning; but a frontal system with high winds and heavy rains blasted most of the lake just after lunch, and made for an interesting day for our competitors.
Winning the tournament was well known local angler Bill Guzman and his military partner T.K. Bouressa. Bill came close to winning Fishing for Freedom in 2009 when he and his partner finished second behind Gary Klein; but he sealed the deal this year with a whopping bag of over 13 pounds on only three fish! Yep, they had a 7.99 pound fat girl, which also won them Big Bass for the second straight year, and two 3 pounders to go with her…amazing!
We asked Bill about the day.
“Really had a ball out there, but more than the fishing was the chance to spend some time with my partner. T.K. is a retired Air Force pilot, and at 72 years young he is also a heck of an angler! He also tells me he plays a lot of golf. I was worried about driving too fast and wanted to be careful in the rough water, which I did, but then I remembered I was dealing with a military pilot…silly me!”
Bill went on to tell us more about their great day of fishing.
“We went to our primary water first on the lower end. We really had no wind then, which hurt us, but did have two good ones come unbuttoned on us. We threw crankbaits mostly to start. Our next spot was covered with boats, so we went to our third option, and we lost a good fish there. Decided to go Carolina rig a fourth hole where I’d won some money in the past. There were boats there too, and nothing going on.”
So, like we talk about so many times, the winners are made by their decisions on tournament day. Bill made the right one.
“I really struggled with what to do next, but felt good about going back to our starting water and the two brush piles there on a ledge in about 17 feet. Right off I caught a 3 pounder. Not long after repositioning the boat, I was able to hook the 7.99! I was throwing slow moving baits for big fish while T.K. threw a moving bait for keepers; he was catching a lot of fish just under 14 inches. Not long after, we doubled up and he had a good smallie jumping while I hooked our second 3 pounder! It was comical the way we argued about who needed to grab the net. T.K.’s fish ended up being a tad short. We wanted to stay and try to finish out our limit, but with the storm coming in we decided to head to the weigh-in. Thankfully our three fish held up!”
Bill and T.K. won over $2,000 in cash and a brand new Triton bass boat with Mercury outboard motor worth almost $20,000. Bill had a few folks he wanted to thank.
“Really appreciate the efforts year in and year out of Rick and Cliff…awesome guys! Also want to thank Earl Bentz and Triton for all they’ve contributed and done. FAN and all the volunteers associated with this event are top notch as well; we as anglers can’t thank them enough!”
Coming in with an over $2,500 second place bag and a 12.57 pound limit was another well known local angler, Eric Wendeborn, and his partner Justin Baker. Eric talked to us about Justin.
“Justin was a great partner and we had a lot of fun cutting up throughout the day. Turns out between Iraq and Afghanistan he has been on four deployments…an amazing guy for sure. He’s a heck of a fisherman as well; he even rounded out our limit to help get us into second!”
Eric went on to give us some idea as to their pattern for success on Saturday.
“We fished shallow up river mostly. In fact, most fish came out of no more than a few feet of water. Started out with Lucky Craft 4 foot runnin’ crank, and put it down after about four casts; picked up a 12 inch watermelon red trick worm on a spot remover and caught that 5.48 pounder first thing. Felt real good about it, because in practice I had been on 16 plus pound bags without any fish that big. Finished out the day with those LC cranks and we caught a lot of fish. We culled our final keeper with a nice one Justin brought to the boat on a crankbait, and headed for the weigh-in.”
Eric told us he’d really like to thank Cliff and Mary Brown, and Rick Smith. He also appreciates his sponsors Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Farm Bureau and “Please Release Me” livewell treatment. Congrats again Eric and Justin!
TTZ also had a chance to speak with 4th place finishers Brian Mater and Roy Nealy.
“We had a late draw and started up river crankin’ shallow rocky points, but it started off good. In fact, we had our three biggest fish in the first 30 minutes! The real pattern for us was baitfish. If they weren’t around, we didn’t hang out long. When the storm came, we hid under the 36 bridge; but it was raining sideways so not sure that did us much good! I gotta say I really enjoyed fishing with Roy, and I’d do it again anytime! This tournament is a great experience and reminds us not to take these men and women for granted. They are the reason we all get to what we do. If you’ve never fished this as an angler, do yourself and a soldier a favor.”
Brian would also like to thank Cliff and Mary Brown, and Rick Smith for all they do for the soldiers and the local anglers. He also extended his appreciation to Jack Allen’s Kitchen out of Austin. Well done Brian and Roy!
Texas Tournament Zone would like to additionally congratulate TTZ team member Dean Alexander for a 7th place finish; Dean and his partner Gustavo Belran came in with a limit for 10.16 pounds.
We’d also like to mention Gary Klein and Zell Rowland.
Gary and Zell both cashed checks and finished in the top ten. They are both Elite Series anglers with highly decorated resumes; Gary took 8th while Zell took 10th. Well done gentlemen, and thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to support this event!
TTZ talked to the two men who really are the heart and soul of this thing, and who’s all year dedication to the cause make Fishing for Freedom possible.
“How many tournaments can you go to where a Legend in the boating industry stands for over three hours and shakes hands in the weigh-in line? If this is not a testament to Triton founder Earl Bentz’s appreciation for our soldiers I do not know what is. I want to thank all the boaters who made this possible and thank all the soldiers who participated. I would also like to say thanks to our sponsors. Until next year God bless our troops,” said Cliff Brown of Texas Boat World.
Rick Smith of Marine Outlet told us more.
“We wish to thank our sponsors, the volunteers and the boaters who took time to take a soldier fishing on Lake Belton. The efforts everyone put forth to honor our American heroes are heartwarming and will pay dividends for many years to come. Many new friendships were formed and bonds established. Congratulations to everyone – you are all winners. We are already planning next year’s tournament. Hope to see you there!”
Well said gentlemen. TTZ would like to encourage our readers to support this event…there is truly nothing more fulfilling or deserving in our sport. Words and pictures cannot begin to describe the true meaning behind Fishing for Freedom, but we think this testimonial from SPC A.H. sums it up.
“This was my third and probably my last fishing for freedom tournament as I was just diagnosed with a rare auto immune disease that was likely triggered by my injuries in Iraq and it has begun to attack my kidneys and will soon move to my lungs. I just wanted to thank you and all the sponsors for what they do to put this special day together for soldiers. You all are why I never thought twice about putting my life on the line for this country and I know that is how many soldiers feel. For one day my pain seemed a little less and all my problems were all left at the dock. Thank you again and God bless.”
God bless America, and God bless our troops.