When it comes to local bass fishing events, the annual Fishing for Freedom banquet and tournament are simply unparalleled.
On Friday night, a majority of the 230 two-angler teams participating in this year’s Fishing for Freedom event, joined by their families, filled the Killeen Civic and Conference Center for a well-coordinated, positive and uplifting evening of fellowship focused on showing appreciation to those who have served, and those who are now serving, in our military.
In a joint effort between Marine Outlet, led by Rick Smith, and Texas Boat World, led by Cliff Brown, both organizations brought to bear the resources and talent of many other local businesses to generously provide a barbecue dinner, prizes and an opportunity to pursue victory on the water in the form of a competitive bass fishing tournament, all at no charge to as many local military recipients as expressed interest in participating.
The opening banquet was sponsored by the Lendlease property group which manages the Fort Hood on-base housing.
Bassmaster Classic tournament winner Randy Howell, famous for his come-from-behind win on Lake Guntersville, Ala., was the dinner-time speaker. He recounted how the Lord worked through him before, during and after his stunning win at the highest level of competitive bass fishing in 2014.
On Saturday morning, the military anglers, each escorted onto the waters of Belton Lake by a local boat-owning bass angler, fished with their partners to compete for money and prizes by landing the heaviest five-fish limit of bass (largemouth and smallmouth) they could catch in approximately six hours of effort.
The anglers enjoyed mild conditions this year with a pre-dawn air temperature of around 72, and a lake surface temperature around 77.
Jeff Cook of the Faith Angler Network blessed the fleet with an opening prayer broadcast across the water so all the teams afloat could hear. Following that came the playing of the national anthem. Then the boats began racing off to their first fishing locations.
Given the great number of anglers competing in this event which launched out of the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area, the anglers had to depart in organized shifts based on the order in which they signed up for the tournament.
Launching first on Saturday at around 7:10 a.m. was local construction contractor Tommy Yester who stayed up until 12:01 a.m. on the day the signups for the tournament registration opened in order to secure a first-place launch for himself and the soldier he would guide during the event.
The boats departed 25 at a time, with 15 minutes between each “flight.” The first flight to launch was due back in to the weigh-in at 1 p.m.
Top prize this year was a Triton bass boat powered by a Mercury outboard motor, valued at $28,995.
The prize for second place was $3,500 from Skeeter boats. The prize for third place was $2,500 generated from the raffling of items at the Friday night banquet.
After all of the teams had weighed in, one team had outperformed all others — the team of Charles Whited and his guest, Nick Miller. These men caught the biggest bass of the tournament, a 6.49-pound largemouth which certainly contributed heavily to their overall winning weight of 20.67 pounds.
Whited is a professional fishing guide who owns and operates Barefoot Fishing Tours on lakes LBJ, Canyon, and Travis. Whited put in hours of practice on Belton Lake the week before the tournament and found one particular area in 35 to 42 feet of water that produced well for him on a Carolina rig during the afternoon on one of his scouting efforts.
During Saturday’s tournament, the pair visited this spot three separate times, finding fish present on their final visit, as revealed by sonar.
They caught their three largest fish in a short window of time from 11:15 to 11:20 a.m. These three fish came on a spoon. Over the course of the tournament, the pair landed over 20 fish, of which 11 were keepers, throwing both spoons and a Texas rig.