Staff Sgt. Enrique Reyna wasn’t going to budge.
His sister-in-law had just given birth, but Reyna was going to go fishing.
“I told her that ‘We are going fishing, babe. You can go (to the hospital) by yourself or wait for me, but I am going fishing,’” Reyna said. “But she waited for me.”
Good thing, too. Reeling in four fish weighing a total 14.41 pounds, including a 7.85-pounder, Reyna and local legend Bill Guzman won the seventh annual Fishing for Freedom bass tournament Saturday at Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area.
The team won a Triton fishing boat package worth an estimated $25,000 and a check for $2,700 for catching the biggest fish.
“We are going to split it all 50-50 — we’re a team,” said Reyna, who mainly fishes for catfish. “Bill didn’t just take me out and say good luck, he showed me how to do stuff — he is someone that I can contact later and ask questions if I need to.”
In fact, randomly drawing Guzman as his fishing partner may have been Reyna’s biggest catch of the weekend.
Guzman won the tournament with T.K. Bouressa in 2010 and has won three of the last four big-fish checks, including two straight in 2009 and 2010.
Guzman and Tamar Jones placed second in 2009, but Guzman didn’t score a weight with his partner in last year’s tournament.
“We are a team. We both caught the big fish,” said Guzman, who’s from Leander. “I caught it and he netted it. We worked together all day.”
Almost 300 teams entered the tournament and a total of $34,000 worth of prizes were handed out to the top 26 places, tournament director Jeff Cook said.
“It’s all about supporting the soldiers — this is our chance to say thank you for all that they do,” Cook said. “Plus we get to spend time with them on the water and get to know them. One soldier gets paired with one boater.”
For Guzman, an avid angler, he was ecstatic for the team’s win, but also with the bond the new acquaintances forged.
“It was a blast and we had great time,” Guzman said. “Reyna actually used a cast and reel that he’d never used before, so he was a bit worried about it. But he improvised like a true soldier and he caught five fish. I think he’s probably gonna go out and buy 30 reels like it.”
Before Saturday, Guzman and Reyna never met in person, and only corresponded through email once. The two were just one of 296 teams, made up of one soldier and one boater, that were randomly paired for annual tournament.
“I am in total disbelief right now that we went out and won it,” Reyna said. “My thing was to come out here and have a good time — just having a line in the water is good for me.”
Reyna’s interest in pursuing the friendship is reciprocated by Guzman, who invited the soldier to fish again Sunday morning.
“If his wife will let him — he’s a married man,” Guzman joked.