Freedom fishing

Herald/Steven Doll - Competitors in the 2008 Fishing for Freedom Tournament salute during the national anthem before the start of the contest at Belton Lake on Saturday morning.

By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Some just had one fish, or a catch of less than two pounds; others made the weighing team grunt as they hefted catches nearly 20 pounds across the scales to determine who would win prizes. But the big victory for the trade association Central Texas Marine Dealers, Inc., was that 193 soldiers each were paired with a guide in a boat to spend Saturday morning of Belton Lake in a show of friendship and support.

The Fishing for Freedom 2008 tournament at Fort Hood’s Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area was the second the association of boat and accessory dealers had organized. The first was in 2006.

There might have been one in 2007, but the lakes were still flooded after that year’s epic rains.

Bass fishermen were predicting, though, that the next few years would be banner years for sport fishing, and organizer Cliff Brown of Texas Boat World said the predictions were coming true.

“Every soldier I’ve talked to said he had a great time,” said Brown, whose co-leaders were Rick Smith of Marine Outlet of Temple and Gary Wendeborn of Gary’s Marine in Gatesville. “This was a lot bigger and better than the first one.”

Top prize was a Triton bass boat worth nearly $30,000 with accessories, won by Chuck Guthrie of Tight Lines Premium Fish & Tackle, a retired first sergeant, and Lt. Col. Kelly Sanderfer.

They landed five fish totaling 16.58 pounds. The team also won $1,872 for a fish weighing 7.72 pounds and $1,000 for a big bass caught with a power tackle rod, Brown said.

Other prizes up to 10th place were awarded but had yet to be recorded, he said.

Bob Kuchan won another Triton boat in a raffle at a kickoff banquet Friday night with former Baylor Bears head coach Grant Teaff as featured speaker.

Bass anglers came from all over Texas to host the soldiers on the water.

Zell Rowland, of Montgomery, and his guest, Chris Stelle of Cleveland, Texas, took five fish without knowing much about the lake.

“We just ranged all over it,” Rowland said. “We learned a lot about it, though. If I come again, I’m going just as far up the river as I can. From the looks of things, I’m sure that’s the best place.”

The boats launched at dawn Saturday morning with no entry fee charged.

“The only thing a soldier needed to participate was the desire to fish,” Brown said.

The bass fishermen, mostly members of fishing clubs, and community, state and national sponsors provided all the gear that was needed.

Organizers were prepared for up to 300 teams for an orientation and pairing of soldiers and anglers by drawing Friday afternoon.

Professionals discussed sport and conservation issues with them.

Because of the numbers Saturday morning, boats had to wait for a go-ahead when a coordinator determined the light was safe, and they left in controlled “flights.”

While the weighing was going on, volunteers distributed sandwiches and snacks, and a couple of inflatables augmented the park’s permanent playground equipment to keep the children busy.

Brown and Smith laughed when asked if the event would be annual.

“We hope so,” they said. “But right now it’s ‘iffy’ about next year. We’re business owners, and it takes a lot of time away from work. But we learned a lot about how to do it, and the soldiers loved it, so we’re hoping.”

Sponsors included Triton Boats, Legend Boats, Academy Sports & Outdoors, A&M Marine, Advantage Office Supply, Bass Boat Saver, BELCO Signs, Big Chief Fuel, Candy Bouquet, Car Quest, Clear Creek Golf Course, Continental Battery, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dr. Pepper, Line-X Spray-On Bedliners, G3 Boats, Dr. Shawn Isdale, Eisenhower Bank, Elliott Brothers, Gary Yamamoto, GymX, Hook & Line, Interstate Battery,, McDonalds, Mona Vie, Monster Energy Drinks, Power Tackle, PulseTech Products Corp., Evinrude Motors, ProTour Trailers, Randy Sutton, Rick Loomis, Shilo Inn of Killeen, Southern Marine, Staples, Stone Tree Golf Course, Strike King, Sure Life, Tracker Magazine and V & V.

Contact Don Bolding at or call (254) 501-7557.

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