Fort Bragg warriors take to the water for fifth annual tourney
This year's winning team of Fort Bragg's Parker Tootill, left, and Pope Air Force Base's James Poirrier show their catch, as co-organizer Hal Abshire addresses the crowd during the weigh-in ceremony of the Warriors on the Water Military Appreciation Bass Fishing tournament Friday at Jordan Lake. Poirrier, the 2006 Air Force National Angler of the Year, will soon reach 20 years of service.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Under a dimly lit spring morning sky, 150 boaters and professional anglers were paired with an equal number of servicemembers for what would be a fun day of fishing and fish stories in the fifth annual Warriors on the Water Military Appreciation Fishing Tournament, which took place Friday.

The event began as three veterans, Hal Abshire, Bob Cunningham and Greg Lahr, decided to hold a fishing tournament for about 10 to 15 veterans who had recently returned from deployment. Each man shared a passion for fishing and thought it would be the best way to show their appreciation to today's veteran.

The event went off without a hitch, as expected. What wasn't expected was the tournament's rate of growth. The event, which began with only 10 to 15 boating teams, now has to be limited to a total of 150. But it has generated interest from numerous sponsors, such as NASCAR, Dominoes Pizza, Texas Roadhouse and many other local businesses.

This year, Fort Bragg's Parker Tootill and James Poirrier teamed up to take first place by catching a total of five largemouth bass for a total of 21.3 pounds. The team of Jimmy Hayes and Army 1st Lt. Michelle Little reeled in 20 pounds, 12 ounces of fish for second place while Brian Monroe and Will Blanto finished third with a total weight of 18 pounds, 7 ounces.

Hayes, a tournament angler and Fayetteville native, who served as mentor Friday, has participated in two of the previous tournaments. He said it's important to give back to the troops.
"I've done it for two years and I'll do it as long as they do this," he said. "The first two years I missed it because I didn't know anything about it, but if it wasn't for these people here, we wouldn't be able to do what we do."

Hayes, who has about 15 years of bass fishing experience, provided Little, a self-proclaimed saltwater angler, with several tips that would prove helpful. The result was a newly developed passion for the sport.

"I had never been a part of something like this and I had never bass fished, or been on a bass boat or even seen a bass tournament," explained Little, an Army first lieutenant, who grew up near the Chesapeake Bay, Va. "Jimmy was really patient. We met at the meet-and-greet and he showed me a lot of things.

"When we first got here, we arrived a little early and he showed me how to cast and which bait to use," said Little, who's assigned to Fort Bragg's Warrior Transition Battalion. "He was very helpful. Bass fishing is fun. It's more fun than pier fishing and you don't have to deal with the salt. Right now we'd be rinsing the boat off, trying to get the salt out of the engine."

"As soon as we got our limit, we both let out a celebratory yell," Hayes said. "This is the first fisherman I kissed. We had a really good time." Little said that if she is allowed to return, she would definitely participate in next year's tournament.

For Pope Air Force Base's Michael Cramer, the event provided an enjoyable and productive day as well.

"I think it's excellent ... great program, great sponsors and everything that they've put on for everyone," said Cramer, a native of Ashland, Ohio, who's assigned to the 43rd Security Forces Squadron. "It's my first time coming out to Jordan Lake. We hooked in a couple of fish, but they didn't measure up to 16 inches, so we had to let them go. But we did bring in three that were over 16, one was 4 pounds, 11 ounces."

The tournament's events actually began April 20, with an icebreaker event at SportsUSA. The event provided an opportunity for servicemembers to meet their boaters and co-anglers. It also provided a chance for tournament organizers to give away products that were donated by several sponsors. This year, each servicemember participant received a free fishing rod as they signed into to the event.

There were also tackle boxes, lures, rods and reels, coolers, spa passes and passes for free dinners at many of the local restaurants that were given away during the icebreaker. Several participants even received the back bumpers from two NASCAR race cars, including that of Army Chevrolet driver Ryan Newman.

Current Bassmasters Champion Kevin Van Dam and 2005 champion Woo Daves made appearance and signed hundreds of autographs during Wednesday's event.

Van Dam said he was more impressed with the servicemembers who were in attendance.
"I'm not a hero, they're the heroes," he said. "I fish for a living, but I couldn't do what I do if it were not for them. They are the reason that we are here."

Servicemembers also had an opportunity to meet Corporal Rudy Gonzalez, a Congressional Medal of Honor awardee and former World War II bombardier William Rogers, who observed the entire tournament and were on hand for conversation with the troops.

"Honestly, this was the best tournament ever," said Abshire. "We finally got it right. Everything came together, the sponsorship, the volunteerism, everything. Volunteers make it happen."
He said the sponsorship and guest appearances were an added attraction this year.

"How often can you have Kevin Van Dam and Woo Daves come in on their own accord'" Abshire said. "They came because they wanted to pay tribute to the troops."

Abshire said the Warriors on the Water committee is already preparing for next year tournament. He added that all photos from this year's event can be found on the tournament website at www.warriorsonthewater.org.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16