THREE RIVERS, Texas The road home for some 50 wounded combat soldiers returning home for therapy and treatment took a welcomed detour when the Texas BASS Federation hosted a special tournament and related festivities for the U.S. military personnel.
The troops were treated to a special day of "R&R" at Choke Canyon Reservoir, courtesy of the Quality Bass Club of San Antonio and the South Texas BASS Federation. The group, from San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), included medical therapists and more than 100 volunteers who hit the lake for a tournament. Breakfast tacos, courtesy of Quality BASS Club's president, Mike Robbins, got things started for the participants. Volunteers included local, state and corporate sponsors who helped the April 2 event become a success.
"It turned out very, very well for everyone involved," said Texas Federation state conservation director Tim Cook. "It was a really good event, and everyone involved from start to finish came away from it with a good feeling."
The service members were stationed throughout the country, but had been receiving medical treatment at the sprawling Fort Sam Houston medical facility, the largest Department of Defense medical facility of its kind. The soldiers sustained wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq, ranging from burns to amputations, and are either awaiting treatment, a return to their units or discharge.
A fishing trip was just what was needed to lift their spirits.
"They won't stop talking about it," said Judith Markelz of the BAMC Soldier Assistance Center. "Of all the trips we've done, I've never seen one with a group this big where everybody comes back happy."
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) waived fishing license fees and Caliham State Park fees for the troops. TPWD marine police officials also assisted with safety enforcement at the launch ramp. Other volunteers who donated critical assistance included LeBlatt Food Service, Travis Boating Center, South Park Mall, Skeeter Boats, Pure Fishing (Berkley), BASS, JoBaby Spinnerbaits, CenTex Fire Protection and TX Hunting and Fishing. Former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Jay Yelas of Tyler, Texas, also pitched in to help. American Express Financial Advisors donated $1,500 to cover any incidental costs.
A chartered bus delivered the troops to the state park, which is located about 80 miles from San Antonio.
The guests were so into the day that most wanted to skip lunch. The fish may not have been biting, but that didn't matter. BASS club guides asked their partners if they wanted to eat or fish. Eating could wait, said many who stayed on the lake.
When they did return for the afternoon weigh-in, things got interesting. The competitive nature kicked in as the field watched South Texas BASS Federation director Bill Marion man the scales to see who would claim big bass honors. Marion and Tim Toomey, of the Quality Bass Club, spearheaded the project after Toomey hatched the idea as a show of support for the troops.
Marion, at the scales, said everyone was excited.
"Running the scales for these troops was certainly an honor," he said. "Watching the service members crane their necks to see the weights, holding their breath as the scale settled and the good-natured ribbing when somebody topped his buddy's weight … it could have just as easily been a full-blown BASS tournament. These troops really enjoyed their day on the water."
Winning big bass honors was Dwayne Abbott, who caught a 5.94-pound largemouth. Nathan Moyer was second with a 5.56-pounder, and Richard Gonzalez of New York City was third with a largemouth weighing 5.33 pounds. The outing was the first fishing trip ever for Gonzales, who on his registration slip wrote: "I've never fished in my life. NYC boy." An award also was given for the biggest fish of any kind; James Johnson won it with an 11.56-pound gaspargoo.
Several soldiers and their boat partners exchanged e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. Many had not fished before, or at least not in a long time, and some had never been on a bass boat. But they all were happy to have the chance to get away from the base for a day of sun, fun and fishing.