230 teams fished, 114 teams weighed in and 11 places were paid. 232 bass were weighed for a total of 464.64 pounds giving an average fish weight of 2 pounds.
Click here for the full results.
On Saturday October 10th, the Central Texas Marine Association hosted the annual Fishing for Freedom tournament on Lake Belton. This was Fishing for Freedom’s 4th annual event and was a huge success as a record 230 teams participated! The tournament matches anglers from throughout the United States (even as far as Washington and Colorado) with soldiers, either active or veteran, and gives them an opportunity to fish in a competitive event. But that’s just the beginning.
The Fishing for Freedom initiative is much more than just the tournament. It begins with literally a year of planning and tons of sponsor support. “Fishing for Freedom is one way that our community may say thanks to those who have and continue to put their lives on the line for our country. Our desire is to offer a guided fishing experience to every interested soldier”, Rick Smith, President of the Central Texas Marine Dealers, Inc. and Owner/General Manager of Marine Outlet in Temple, said. “The only thing a soldier needs to participate is the desire.”
Fishing for Freedom is completely packed with cash, prizes and giveaways; and the $0 entry fee is a testament to the support given by independent donors and businesses (both endemic and non-endemic). Friday night kicked off the weekend and the anglers had a chance to meet up with their soldier partners at the Killeen Convention Center. All were treated to an excellent BBQ dinner, vendor displays, gift bags, raffle prizes (the topper was a G3 boat, Yamaha motor, and Bear Custom trailer) and guest speakers. Everyone that showed up Friday had smiles on their faces; but perhaps the biggest smile in the room was worn by Spencer Latham after winning the raffle for a G3 boat donated by Rick Smith of Marine Outlet!
Friday night’s speakers were not just any guest speakers but some of the biggest in the sport. Legendary Forrest L. Wood, the founder of Ranger Boats and a founding father of bass fishing, was on hand and spoke to the large crowd to close out the evening. Also present was Gary Klein, accomplished BASS Elite Series angler, who gave an in depth fishing seminar to many wide-eyed participants. Some other seminars of interest, all free of charge, were David Poort of Humminbird on reading Humminbird side scan imaging, Mark Prentice of the USCG Auxiliary on boating safety, Homer Humphries (BASS angler and Classic champion) on bass fishing techniques and Tom Gergley of Sure-Life Products discussing tactics to keeping your catch alive and conservation initiatives.
As the evening wound down Texas Tournament Zone caught up with the ArmyBassAnglers as they sent their soldier partners home prepared for the following day. In a formal presentation, each lucky soldier received over $1650 in fishing equipment and special gifts from the ArmyBassAngler sponsors as a “Thank You” for their selfless service to the country. Each soldier received a custom Castaway rod, Ardent XS1000 reel and SmartCull system, loads of fishing tackle and equipment (from Tightlines, JaRod Jigs, Lake Fork Tackle and FirstCommand), custom boating shoes from OTB, Oakley polarized eyewear, a coastal fishing shirt from Aggregate Haulers and a t-shirt, decal, patch and custom tournament jersey from ArmyBassAnglers!
“It’s truly an honor to get to fish with these guys. It honestly felt like Christmas as Cody and the Team kept handing us gifts after gifts after gifts. These guys and their sponsors truly do care about us and our service”, stated SGT Charles Harvey.
ArmyBassAnglers take very special pride in participating in Fishing for Freedom; Cody Roberson, President of ArmyBassAnglers, has participated in the event three out of the last four years. Cody and his team took some time to explain their mission and association with Fishing for Freedom.
The following day found our anglers in the middle of a pretty severe cold front and on the back end of some serious rain. This all worked to make for a much cooler tournament day as water temps dropped nearly 9 degrees in some areas of the lake, and muddy water prevailed in the north end of Lake Belton. With morning temps in the low 50s, the 230 teams were bundled up as they took off for a fun filled day of fishing.
Before the first flight of boats came back to the weigh-in, we had a chance to pull Rick Smith of Marine Outlet and Cliff Brown of Texas Boat World aside and let them explain the success of this year’s Fishing for Freedom tournament.
The fishing was tough and the crowd at the weigh-in witnessed very few limits and lots of smaller sacks comprised of two and three fish. But as we all know, somebody is going to catch them; they always do. This tournament was no exception, just a really cool twist. Gary Klein, a very successful touring pro came down mainly to assist with the event, but managed to figure out the fish as well. We had a chance to talk with Gary. “I looked for the dirtiest water I could find…always do!” The tougher conditions and newer dirty and cold water played right to Gary and his partner Clayton as they kicked up mud way up the river throwing reaction baits. “We couldn’t get ‘em to hit a slow presentation, so we went to moving baits like the square bill crankbait. But even then, we had to work it slow because we were so shallow. The bass would just ‘nip’ the bait”, Gary shared with us.
Coming in during one of the last flights, Gary and Clayton excited the crowd when their fish tipped the scales at 15.60 pounds. Their five fish limit, anchored by a nice kicker weighing nearly 5 lbs, won them a new Triton boat and trailer powered by a Mercury motor!
We also caught up with the second place finishers, Bill Guzman and Tamar Jones. Bill and Tamar weighed in four fish for 14.22 pounds. Bill is an avid tournament angler and many reading this will know Bill well. He and his soldier partner were successful throwing spinnerbaits slow rolled at the backs of docks, targeting visible shad flickering on the surface. “We felt like that indicated fish activity”, Bill advised. Their better bites came later and they explained their fortune for a low draw, which allowed them to be on the water during this opportune period. In fact, they caught the big bass of the tourney, a huge 6.67 pounder, at the very end of the day. When we asked soldier Tamar Jones, who was fishing his first tournament ever, if he was addicted now; he grinned and simply said, “Always was!” Bill and Tamar won over $4000 for their second place finish and Big Bass of the tournament!
Shallow patterns seemed to rule the day, and many came up empty; but the important thing for everyone was the cause. We saw nothing but smiles as soldiers enjoyed their first spin in a bass boat at a mere 70 mph, received fishing gear from sponsors and made new lifelong friends and fishing partner contacts. To put it in perspective, we spoke with Texas Boat World team member Craig Gilbert after the weigh-in. A huge stick on this and many other lakes, Gilbert shared his experience. “I was showing my partner how to locate white bass, so we could hopefully hook some larger black bass under ‘em. They didn’t seem to be there, but we caught a lot of whites. I asked my partner if he was ready to go look for the right species, but he was enjoying himself and wanted to hang tight…so that’s what we did!” Anyone who is as competitive and capable of winning any event as Craig knows the power of this gesture!
Like we said – nothing but SMILES!
After the check presentation Cliff Brown spoke to Gary Klein about his win on Belton and the event as a whole.
We ended our trip with a chat with Rick Smith, Central Texas Marine Association president, who said that this year’s tournament was “one of the most successful ever” and wishes to thank all the businesses that donated prizes, money and volunteers to make this event such a success. He added, “this tournament would not have been possible without the boaters coming together to give their time and offer this free fishing trip to honor our military heroes.”
TTZ would like to acknowledge the sponsors and individuals that we personally witness give tirelessly to make this huge undertaking happen. Please reward them with your business and support.
Rick Smith, Cliff Brown and Gary Wendeborn
Texas Boat World
Forrest L. Wood, founder of Ranger boats
Gary Klein (BASS Elite Series angler), guest speaker and boater
Jeff Cook and Faith Angler Network
Academy Sports and Outdoors
Texas Partners Federal Credit Union
Tom Gergley and Sure Life
And of course very special thanks to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve and protect our great country!
Fishing for Freedom is one of the most rewarding things you will ever experience; giving back to the ones that give so much for us to enjoy our freedom is what this weekend was all about. Texas Tournament Zone was honored to have been asked to cover the event in its entirety. See you all there next year!