Texas Community Say ''Thanks''

For one day in September, about 250 military members can forget about marching and overseas deployments when the 5th annual Fishing For Freedom tournament kicks off on Belton Lake adjacent to Fort Hood, Texas.

At dawn on Sept. 25, 2010, anglers will head out of the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area to fish for cash and prizes, including a new Triton boat package. Impounded on the Leon River in 1954, Belton Lake covers 12,385 acres and drops to more than 124 feet in places. The public weigh-in begins at 1 p.m.

"Our main purpose is to provide our military members a free fishing trip and for our community to say thanks for all that they do," said Cliff Brown of Texas Boat World, the Triton dealership in Harker Heights and the tournament organizer in association with American Bass Anglers. "We look for volunteers to take soldiers fishing. It's open to any active duty or retired military member. Since the lake is right by Fort Hood, we'll predominately get Army members, but a few people from other services usually fish."

The tournament randomly pairs volunteer boaters who donate their time to take a service member fishing. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines could share a boat with an occasional fisherman or a top professional angler. Last year, Clayton Carver joined Gary Klein, a pro from Weatherford, Texas, to beat 237 other teams, winning a fully rigged Triton boat/Mercury motor package. They caught a five-bass limit weighing 15.6 pounds.

A decorated Iraq War vet, Carver earned a Bronze Star for valor in combat while serving with the First Cavalry Division. Wounded by a rocket propelled grenade and forced into a medical retirement, the eight-year Army veteran now hopes to become a professional anger and compete in the Bassmaster Classic. In 2009, Carver and Klein fished up the Leon River and landed some good smallmouth bass with spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwaters.

"Last year, I had the opportunity to fish with a really super solider and a great angler," Klein said. "Lake Belton is full of big smallmouth. We didn't catch a lot of fish, but when we got a bite, it was a quality fish. Last year, a tremendous storm lasted several days. That helped produce that shallow water bite, but I think deep water techniques will win this year. The lake has a tremendous amount of offshore structure. This year, my go-to technique will be a drop shot or shaking a 4-inch finesse worm."

Bill Guzman and Tamar Jones took second in 2009 with four bass weighing 14.22 pounds. They also landed the tournament lunker, a 6.67-pounder. In third, Eric Emerson and Lawrence Roach caught five bass at 13.89 pounds.

"It'll probably take 16 to 18 pounds to win it," Klein said. "The big bass will probably weigh about 7 to 8 pounds, but it's not really about winning. It's about the soldiers. Without a doubt, it's a very humbling experience to be in the presence of men and women who have sacrificed so much to give me the freedom to live my dream. In a very small way, this tournament gives guys like me an opportunity to give something back to those who have sacrificed so much for others."

David Hogge of Waypoint Guide Service in Nolanville, Texas, predicts good topwater action this year. In August, he reported big schools of hybrid stripers and white bass herding baitfish. Largemouth and smallmouth bass go where they can find food.

"Lake Belton is mostly devoid of cover, but it has a lot of deep rocky banks," Hogge explained. "The average depth is around 40 feet. In the mid 1960s, they raised the lake level by 25 feet. That left a lot of structure, like the old shoreline and a willow line at 24 feet, plus sunken marinas, boat ramps, roadbeds and other stuff."

Hogge recommends looking for schooling bass in the back of pockets. He also suggests throwing Carolina rigs, deep-running crankbaits, spinnerbaits or Texas rigged soft plastics around deep cover.

"I plan to start early on the main lake looking for smallmouth," Hogge advised. "Five-pound smallmouth are not uncommon on Belton Lake. If it's a sunny day, I'll head up the Leon River at about 9 a.m. I've seen stringers as high as 23 pounds. The lake can produce some double-digit bass, but not that often. The lake record weighed 13 pounds."

This year, the winning team will take home a new Triton TR-17 Explorer powered by a 50-horsepower Mercury outboard and equipped with a Minn Kota trolling motor, Lowrance electronics and a trailer. The package retails for about $18,000, Brown said.

"We also give cash prizes," Brown explained. 'We do a raffle the night before and use the money from the raffle to determine what cash we can pay out during the tournament. In 2009, second place received $5,000 and we paid out 15 places. Anglers can also enter an optional big bass pot with a 100-percent payout for the top three places."

The Sept. 24 pre-tournament banquet begins at 5 p.m. at the Killeen Convention Center with a series of fishing and boating seminars. Guest speaker Earl Bentz, founder of Triton Boats, will wrap up the evening before everyone heads off to prepare for the tournament.

"I always look forward to fishing with the soldiers," Hogge said. "It's a fantastic feeling. When I was a soldier, I never had anything like this done for me. The soldiers get to fish with some great fishermen and have a chance to win super prizes. It's a win-win for everyone."

For more information call Brown at 254-699-9151 or see www.texasboatworld.com. To register, see fishingforfreedom.org. For booking trips with Hogge call 254.702.8349 or see www.waypointguideservice.com. For information on ABA, see www.americanbassanglers.com.

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