The ninth annual Warriors on the Water Bass Tournament – the idea came from three military retirees – drew 150 two-man teams last Friday at Jordan Lake, with 2013 winners Will Blanton of Fayetteville and Cory Kidwell of Alariogordo, N.M., defending their title with a 5-bass limit that weighed 20.13 pounds and included the day’s big fish, a 7.60-pounder.
The teams were made up of military personnel from the four service branches based at Fort Bragg, Pope Army Air Field, Camp Lejeune and Shaw Air Force Base, active military reservists, retired members of the military and many non-military personnel who provided bass boats, including members of N.C. State’s BassPack fishing team. Hometowns ranged from as far away as Manitou, Okla., to Yuma, Ariz., and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Fayetteville angler Jimmy Hayes and co-angler Ryan Webster, an Army SPC from PeEll, Wash., finished second with five bass that tipped the scales at 19.09 pounds. Thirteen teams landed 5-bass limits, while eight more brought in four keepers as teams brought a total of 191 largemouths to the scales.
Practice sessions the day before the tournament indicated a shallow-water bite, but a cool night lowered the water temperature seven degrees by the 7:30 a.m. start, and fish that had been in six inches of water retreated to 5- and 6-foot depths and didn’t return to the bank until noon to 1 p.m. Fishing ended at 2 p.m. Many of the successful anglers used ChatterBaits.
Many of the military personnel involved had little or no bass-fishing experience, but that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
“This is not only my first bass, it’s the first fish of any kind I ever caught,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Regina Breunig of Huntsville, Ala., smiling as she held up a bass she’d landed on a Senko.
The Warriors on the Water series is the brainchild of three former members of the military living in the Fayetteville area: Hal Abshire, Bob Cunningham and Greg Lahr.
“About nine years ago, all we did was play golf,” said Abshire, manager of Powers Swain Chevrolet, a U.S. Air Force vet and Desert Storm alumnus. “But we liked to tournament fish, so we were sitting around one day and said, ‘Why don’t we put on a military appreciation fishing tournament?'”
Cunningham and Lahr, both U.S. Army retirees, agreed. And just like a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie, they did.
“We had no idea what we were doing, but we learned we weren’t doing it the right way,” Abshire said.
The first event was held on 4,100-acre ShearonHarrisLake near Sanford. It drew 57 boats and 114 fishermen.
“At the time, we thought it’d be fun to fish our own tournament,” Abshire said. “Not a good idea. We said we’d never do that again.”
As the trio got the last fish weighed and the final prize handed out at the dusty parking lot at Merry Oaks Ramp – now paved and called Crosspoint Landing – a reporter walked up to Abshire.
“She said, ‘When are y’all going to do this again?’ ” Abshire said.
Not ones to retreat from a challenge, they picked up the gauntlet.
“We said, ‘Well, next year,’ ” he said.
And they did.
The tournament moved to Jordan the next year, with activities centered on the New Hope launch area.
“Jordan’s got more boat ramps, and we were able to reserve this one,” Abshire said. “It has plenty of parking and allows our sponsors to set up their facilities and help with the tournament. We feel really blessed to have had so many sponsors help us.”
Abshire said Strike King was the major manufacturer to provide prizes, while North Carolina’s Deep Creek Lures offered soft-plastic lures. Vertical Lures also was a sponsor, while Subway provided sandwiches and Bristol Motor Speedway gave two sets of tickets to its August Sprint Cup race to the winning team. The FLW Trail donated its weigh-in trailer and record-keeping equipment.
Pro anglers Kevin Van Dam, Marty Menendez, David Wright, Jeff Coble and Marty Stone have participated in past WOW events.