Page 2 Stone, a former BASS Angler of the Year, suffered the same fate on the water, but came back with the same response. When a fishing tournament has little to do with the actual fishing, landing a big bass becomes an afterthought.
"Unfortunately for the soldier I drew, I hadn't been on the lake in over two years," said Stone, who lives in nearby Linden, N.C. "I found out real soon that it didn't matter. This guy just wanted to enjoy a day on the water away from his work and the pressures that come with it."
Rich Mustard was an example of Stone's revelation. Mustard, of the 108th Air Defense Brigade, had just gotten back from Baghdad on April 7 after an 11-month tour. He works within the army as an expert of communications: "Radios, computers, whatever it is. As long as it has to do with communications, I"m responsible for it," he said.
Long before he was responsible for the radio communication between units on the battlefield and the base they report to, he would sit under a bridge near his home in Hopkinsville, Ky., with a stick, some string and a hook.
"I remember my uncle used to have a 5-gallon bucket, and everything we needed to go fishing he had in that bucket," he said. When he's not overseas, Mustard is usually looking to wet a line for catfish with his 7-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and his wife, Erica.
"Rebecca is special needs, so we got her one of those little Finding Nemo rods that's got the little fish on the end. Well, every once in a while she'll be holding it in the water and she'll say, 'I got one!' and she'll pull the little weight out of the water. She holds it up real proud."
Mustard said he called a friend, Staff Sgt. Kyle Roscoe, when his feet hit American soil to see what was going on in the homeland, and Roscoe turned him on to the tournament.
"I asked him if we were going to take his boat or mine," Mustard said. "When he told me it was a Bassmasters tournament, I got real excited. I just want to have a good time. I'm not too worried about catching fish."
Mustard was one of many guys who put the boat back on the trailer with nothing to show for their time. By the end of the day, only one limit made it across the stage (Anthony Monaco and John Crowe, who brought in five fish that weighed 19 pounds, 1 ounce to win), with over two-thirds of the teams catching nothing. The only BASS pro with a good showing was Preston Clark, who finished third with partner Walter Peters.
"For me it was probably one of the biggest honors of anything I've ever been involved with," Clark said. "It was a very emotional day for me. I mean, how do you tell a guy 'thank you' that's never met you or your children that's willing to go out and die for them?"
While time is a valuable gift coming from professional anglers, who spend the majority of the year on the road, Stone said he wouldn't have any trouble supporting the military in a much more personal way.
"My son, who is 9 and one my best friends, told me about a year ago, he said, "Dad, I might want to be a soldier,'" Stone said. "If he was to sign up, there would be nothing in this world that could make me more proud of him, and I would support that decision. That's how much I think of the guys that are fighting for us."
For Stone, the three-day event was just another way to support the troops that receive his love year-round.
"For those that have been around me and truly know me know that I have a fondness that I cannot explain for these soldiers," he said. "I've known some that have died for our country. I've known some that have died so we can enjoy the freedom to fish."