By Audrey Spencer
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - Thousands of residents gathered at the Bell County Expo Center this weekend for the 39th annual Central Texas Boat Show.
The three-day event kicked off Friday and ends today. Saturday's highlight was the TuffMan Championship, where 60 area anglers competed to see who could catch the most large- or small-mouth bass, by weight, in Stillhouse Hollow Lake. Craig and Carla Gilbert of Killeen won the first-place prize of $10,000, returning with more than 20 pounds of bass.
"It's a load off my shoulders," said Craig Gilbert, who placed in the top five for the last eight years, but had never finished first.
The Craigs said they planned to save the money to pay bills.
"We've been trying for some years," said Carla Craig. "It's nice to finally win."
The Craigs were the last boat to weigh in, surpassing second place by 7.32 pounds.
The show's main floor featured five dealers from Harker Heights, Temple, Austin and Waco showing 150 boats, as well as accessory vendors offering discounts on life jackets, lures and other boat extras.
Many show-goers said they attend to see what's been updated in the past year.
"Every year they've got something new," said J.C. Carver of Belton. "I come to look around, see what's new, what improvements they've made over last year's models."
Some new technology introduced this year includes HydroWave, a sonic device that plays fish sounds underwater to attract the animals; the Alabama Rig, a type of lure that uses five fish hooks at once; and new outboard engines for boats, which are lighter in weight and more fuel efficient, vendors said.
Toward the back of the Expo Center, activities were set up for children. Kid Fish, an organization that promotes getting children interested in fishing, set up a catfish pool where children could try their luck with the lures at a catch-and-release activity. By mid-afternoon, J.P. Brazeal, director of Kid Fish, said they'd already seen about 350 children.
Tori Murphy, 8, of Temple, caught her first fish at the event.
"I got a gooey fish," she said. "It felt like jelly."
Her father, Tyson Murphy, had never been to the boat show and brought his daughter out for the experience.
"I wanted to see if she was interested," he said. "She's having a blast."
Last year's show brought in around 6,000 people over three days, said Rick Smith, president of the Central Texas Marine Dealers. This year, he expects turnout to be a 5 to 10 percent increase.
"We used more Internet marketing and social media," he said. "I think it was a combination of that, it being a pretty day and the fact that there was not a whole lot going on."
Today is the final day of the show, with doors open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A bass fishing seminar is from noon to 1 p.m., taught by Keith Combs, a professional bass angler.
Admission is $6 for adults and free for children age 12 and younger with a paid adult.
Contact Audrey Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.