BELTON LAKE — Around 300 boats with 600 fishermen from across the nation joined together on Saturday at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area for the 13th annual Fishing for Freedom tournament. Anglers had their sights on the first-place prize of a brand-new $32,000 bass boat, but many more were there just to have fun and support the military.
“It’s important to show the soldiers that we appreciate what they do for us,” said event organizer Mary Brown. “I’m not sure they get a lot of opportunities to not think about life problems.”
Volunteer fishermen, including some professional anglers, fished with soldiers during the day. The volunteers provided their boats, fuel, fishing equipment and their expertise. The Temple Elks Lodge helped out in the pavilion’s kitchen with snacks and drinks.
Brown said she has seen many friendships blossom out on the open water, fishing rods in hand, which is important for the military community.
“It helps let them know they’re part of our community and we’re happy to have them here,” she said. “The good camaraderie in fishing is similar to the military.”
The winning team of Cris Tatum and Broc Boettcher just about broke the scales with their largemouth bass weighing in at 18 pounds, 62 ounces. The second-place team of Reynaldo Ramon and James Banks rolled in with 17 pounds, 91 ounces worth of fish. Charles Whitted and Gabriel Gonzales came in third place at 16 pounds, 33 ounces.
Many military members had limited fishing experience.
Tremele Carthen, a soldier in the Army, said he had fun catching his fish. His partner, Kyle Jenkins, volunteered his boat and helped Carthen and along the way the two men became friends.
Jenkins started fishing in the Fishing for Freedom tournament while in college.
“It’s nice to be able to give back,” Jenkins said. “I try to keep doing it every year.”
The event was sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Academy Sports & Outdoors, Texas Boat World, Line-X of Harker Heights, Marine Outlet, Lendlease Community Fund, Cloud Construction Perry Cloud, Tanner Roofing, Environmental Holding Group LLC, Yester Construction, and others.
Organizer Cliff Brown said the next three tournaments already have been scheduled.