Brad Luis, a Navy and Army veteran, receives a check for $2,500 for catching the largest fish of all the non-boaters Sept. 23 during Fishing for Freedom. Luis brought in a 4.10-pound largemouth bass during the third weigh in period. “I’m super grateful for the people that are in charge of (Fishing for Freedom),” Luis said. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Brad Luis, a Navy and Army veteran, receives a check for $2,500 for catching the largest fish of all the non-boaters Sept. 23 during Fishing for Freedom. Luis brought in a 4.10-pound largemouth bass during the third weigh in period. “I’m super grateful for the people that are in charge of (Fishing for Freedom),” Luis said. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Blair Dupre) VIEW ORIGINAL
Dean Alexander, a boater, holds up the 5.64-pound largemouth bass that he caught during Fishing for Freedom. It was the largest fish of the competition. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Dean Alexander, a boater, holds up the 5.64-pound largemouth bass that he caught during Fishing for Freedom. It was the largest fish of the competition. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Blair Dupre) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — The low lake levels didn’t stop more than 300 fishing enthusiasts from participating in Fishing for Freedom Sept. 23 at Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area here.

Fishing for Freedom is a big bass tournament that partners veterans and active service members with pro anglers, avid tournament fishermen, local fishermen and fishing guides for a day of fishing at no entry fee to give them a stress-relieving experience.

“We learned years ago … that the outdoors and Mother Nature have a way of healing Soldiers,” said retired Lt. Col. Cody Roberson, executive director of the board of directors for the Army Bass Anglers Foundation/Fishing for Freedom. “From stress, TBI, PTSD etcetra, (Mother Nature) has a way of working through all of that mess and bringing a lot of stress relief to Soldiers. The outdoors is a great place.”

At the end of the tournament the fishermen who brought in the heaviest fish during each of the four weigh-in periods were awarded prizes, including a new kayak.

Ander Meine brought in the largest fish in the second weigh-in period, a largemouth bass weighing 4.93 pounds. He said Fishing for Freedom is an important event for him because, as a boater, it allows him to give back to the military community.

“It’s a lot of fun to be able to go out and take a Soldier fishing for the day and be able to pay it forward,” he said. “These guys do so much for us and sacrifice so much. Even their families sacrifice a lot. I’m a bishop for our church and most of our members are military and so I’ve really gotten to know and understand the military way of life.

“My eyes have really been opened to how much those families sacrifice,” Meine continued. “It’s put on a whole new meaning for me, living up here, and it’s made this event that much more special.”

Participants rush to shore to make it in time for the last weigh-in period Sept. 23 during Fishing for Freedom at BLORA. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs)
Participants rush to shore to make it in time for the last weigh-in period Sept. 23 during Fishing for Freedom at BLORA. (U.S. Army photo by Blair Dupre, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Blair Dupre) VIEW ORIGINAL

Davion Spiller, a young boater, brought in the largest fish in the fourth and final weigh in period, a largemouth bass weighing 4.15 pounds. Having just met the boater minimum age of 18 requirement, he was able to bring out an Army veteran who served for 25 years and give back to him.

“This year was the first time I was able to participate, meeting the age requirement and being here from school,” he shared. “I took advantage of the opportunity because I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without our service members. To give one weekend to somebody who can enjoy some time on the water — it was a no brainer. I’m just grateful for this opportunity to be able to get a service member on the water. That’s all it was about for me, whether I had a good day or not.”

At the end of the event the boater and non-boater with the largest fish were each awarded a check for $2,500. Boater Dean Alexander and non-boater Brad Luis were the winners with a largemouth bass weighing 5.64 pounds and a largemouth bass weighing 4.10 pounds respectively.

Luis is a veteran of both the Navy and the Army. He has participated in Fishing For Freedom for many years and said fishing can be very cathartic and beneficial for veterans as well as active-duty Soldiers.

“There’s something about hearing the waves,” he said. “There’s something about being on the water. There’s really something about feeling that tug on the line. It doesn’t matter how big or how small.”

He was grateful to everyone who put on the event saying that it’s the amazing people that bring him back every year.

“I’m super grateful for the people that are in charge of this,” he said. “It’s huge for people that actually do participate.”