CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. – With the command to start engines, more than 150 high-speed bass boats turned the peaceful waters of Jordan Lake here into a churning mass of white foam.
Each boat carried a military service member from across North Carolina during the 7th annual Warriors on the Water Military Appreciation Bass Fishing Tournament. They were all hoping to claim the top prizes in the tournament that honors military members for their service but in the end, they came away with much more.
Three retired Desert Storm veterans who wanted to show their appreciation to the men and women who are still serving started the tournament in 2006.
“It’s not just about the fishing to win,” said Hal Abshire, Warriors on the Water president.
He said the military members “feel more relaxed out on the water” and will talk with their fishing partners, some of who are military veterans themselves.
“This is a great way to say ‘Thank you’,” he said. “This tournament costs the military nothing.”
Three Army Reserve Command headquarters personnel were some of the lucky ones chosen to participate.
Master Sgts. Anthony Garner, Kenneth Skinner, and LeRoy Tousant spent the day hoping to land a big winner.
But for the trio and the rest of the competitors, even having an experienced angler in the boat didn’t make that many fish fill up their livewells in the boats.
“I was excited!” Skinner said. “I couldn’t wait to show up for this. Even though we didn’t catch very many fish we were out there on the water flipping the rod and we had a great time.”
Like many fish stories, Skinner, and his partner, Brad Kimrey, had a “big one that got away.”
“It was cool to turn around and see his rod bent about halfway over … and him not knowing what was going on until that big one jumped out of the water,” Kimrey said. “Unfortunately, it jumped off about halfway to the boat.”
Tousant and his partner Richard Jensen landed two keepers totaling a little more than nine pounds.
“He (Richard) told me to just keep throwing and be consistent and don’t give up,” Tousant said.
For Garner, he said his day couldn’t have gotten any better – well, maybe if had caught some fish.
“The sun was shining, the water was smooth, it was a good day,” Garner said with a wide grin. “Unfortunately, we did not catch one fish, but we had a good time.”
Besides being on the water and trying to land a trophy fish, the program provided the soldiers something perhaps a little more lasting – the opportunity to build new friendships.
“It’s a fun time,” Tousant said. “Strangers become friends.”
For more information about Warriors on the Water, visit their website at www.facebook.com/WarriorsontheWater