FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The team of Will Blanton and Dylan Mask, an Army staff sergeant, reeled in 21.20 pounds of largemouth bass to hook first place in the 8th Annual Warriors on the Water Military Appreciation Bass Fishing Tournament at Jordan Lake, near Holly Springs, N.C., April 19.

The team of Jason Longfellow, U.S. Army and Erik Lentine hooked the biggest fish, snagging a bass that weighed 7 pounds, 20 ounces to win the big fish category.

For the past eight years, the trio of Hal Abshire, Greg Lahr and Bob Cunningham has treated area servicemembers to a fun day of fishing, as a show of appreciation for their service to the country.

The event was coordinated and organized by the Fort Bragg Garrison Community Relations office. According to Abshire, the initial event was supposed to be the only one, but said he is happy that it has lasted for eight years.

"It's very gratifying, knowing that 150 boats left out with anglers and military counterparts. Just seeing everyone here this morning and it ran so smooth. And after eight years, you're still getting the same volunteers coming back and it's almost like clockwork, everybody knows their area of responsibility."

"It's been pretty good because we were only supposed to do it one year, but two lady reporters from the Paraglide and the Fayetteville Observer came up to me afterwards and asked what we were going to do for next year. I looked at them and I said, 'we going to make this bigger and better,' but in reality, we hadn't thought about doing another," he explained.

Abshire said he went to Lahr and Cunningham and said, 'guys, I think we're going to have to do it again next year.' I'll never forget, they both said, 'what are we gonna do, we don't have any more money?" Abshire said at that point, the movie Field of Dreams came to mind and he said to them, "If we build it, they will come. We had no idea it would get this big."

The event has since increased from the initial 57 boats to more than 150 and it now includes numerous area sponsors, who have also decided to seize the opportunity to honor the servicemembers. The event also has many volunteers, who travel to Fayetteville each year to be a part of Warriors on the Water. Some of them come from as far as Pennsylvania, Abshire said.

"I feel good doing this," said Floyd Chilton, one of the event's volunteers. "I too am a former Soldier and I enjoy being around Soldiers. I feel at ease when I'm at Fort Bragg or around some of the Soldiers."

Chilton said he got out of bed at 1:10 a.m. Friday morning, to be at Jordan Lake to register the boats that began arriving at 3 a.m.

Warriors on the Water is actually a three-day event, which begins with the Wednesday icebreaker and culminates with the actual tournament on Friday.

"What we try to do with the icebreaker is show the anglers what the military does during the course of their day. Then on Friday, we try to show the military what the anglers on the fishing side of the house do. I wanted them to see both sides of it," Abshire said.

He said the icebreaker event on Wednesday night is actually the event that allows the anglers to meet and get to know their military counterparts and it has been successful establishing numerous friendships.

"It kind of breaks the ice before they get out on the water," Abshire said. "They get together and make their plans and actually they're already making plans before the night is over. They're saying, 'this is what you're going to be throwing. Don't tell my partner, because he's going to fish against us.' So it becomes a lot of fun because most of the anglers are thinking, "I want my guy to win," but the biggest prizes are the friendships that are established."

Pro angler and TV show host Jarrett Edwards made his first appearance at this year's Warriors on the Water and for him, the event now holds a special place, he said.

"I don't care if I have to walk here backwards, I'm not going to miss this event again," said Edwards, a native of Lake Powell, Ariz. and a cancer survivor. "I think as a sportsman and a proud American, given the opportunity to come out here and participate in this event and to see what life on post is like, and for Fort Bragg and Pope Field to open its door to us has been amazing.

"I can't say enough about how humble the Soldiers have been, along with the staff in showing us what military life is like. The week has been the funnest week of my life and I get to do a lot of cool stuff," Edwards continued. "There's no better honor to be here with these men and women."

Edwards said he looks forward to coming back next year and filming a one-hour episode that will feature Warriors on the Water for his show, Jarrett Edwards Outdoors, which airs on the ESPN networks.

Page last updated Fri April 26th, 2013 at 00:00