On Saturday, area civilians, active-duty military, military retirees and other veterans came together to remember their friend, commander, brother-in-arms and fellow fisherman, Brig. Gen. Charles B. Allen. This gathering took the form of a bass fishing tournament held at Dana Peak Park on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir.
This was the seventh annual such gathering held in the late general officer’s memory.
Allen, an assistant division commander for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, died while on active duty in November 2004 when the Blackhawk helicopter he was in struck a support wire for a large television antenna near Waco. The rest of the aircraft’s crew also perished.
This year’s event was presented by the United States Field Artillery Association’s Red Team Chapter and by Tightlines Premium Fishing Tackle, of Killeen, who lent technical expertise to the event. U.S. Army Captain James Tartaglia, was the event coordinator, and Thomas “Ned” Learned of Tightlines oversaw the conduct of the tournament itself, including registration, launch procedures, weigh-in of fish, fish care and emcee duties.
During the nine-hour event, 22 two-man teams competed against one another to bring in the heaviest five-fish limit of black bass (largemouth or smallmouth bass).
Once a team captured five legal fish of at least 14 inches in length, the team then culled — a process in which smaller fish were replaced with larger fish, resulting in the five largest fish caught being the final five fish that the team brings to the scales.
One of the two-man teams included Allen’s fishing buddy, Maj. Gen. John C. Thomson III, former commandant of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and the current commander of the 1st Cavalry Division. Thomson delivered the eulogy at Allen’s funeral just a few weeks after the two had traveled to Arkansas together on a Veterans Day break to fish for trout. That would be the pair’s final fishing trip together. The two had fished together dozens of time in the pursuit of bass on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, which is one of the main reasons the tournament is held on that body of water.
The order in which the two-man teams launched was determined by luck of the draw. It is typically desirable to draw a low number so a team has the best chance of getting to their desired first fishing spot before another team.
In the military, it is customary for higher-ranking personnel to allow lower-ranking personnel to go ahead of them in line for a meal, for example. It was somewhat true to form then, that Thomson drew No. 60, the highest possible number in the “hat” from which the tournament participants drew for their order of launch at the beginning of the tournament, thus letting all the others anglers get out fishing before he did.
As the teams returned from the lake for the 3 p.m. weighing deadline, three teams had risen to the top of the field.
First place went to the team of Thomas Watecia and Justin O’Brien. The pair landed 11.21 pounds of bass. Second place was a tie between James Millsap-Troy Northrup and Rodney Thompson-Brian Whitney, each with 10.1 pounds.
The pre-tournament buzz indicated that the tournament would be won by those focused on fishing shallow. The recent heavy rains had pushed the reservoir over 3.5 feet above its normal level and, due to more severe flooding elsewhere in the state, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer had not yet begun to release any water. When vegetation is newly flooded, largemouth bass often move up into that cover, where they ambush prey. Based on the reports of the winning teams, it seems this line of thinking proved to be correct.
Each team paid $50 to participate, and these fees were divided amongst the top finishers as prize money. Allf of the proceeds were paid out to the participants.
Tartaglia, an occasional bank fisherman, applauded the focus this year on not only remembering a fallen comrade, but also on pairing non-boating soldiers with boat owners so they could experience competitive bass fishing.
“I think this is a great bridge helping soldiers get off the bank,” said Tartaglia.