ESPN2: Fishing for Freedom … and bass


Editor's note: This episode of "BassCenter" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. on May 30, May 31 and June 1.

With the cast of every lure toward an unseen Lone Star State bass, Rick Cayton is a man who knows full well the great costs and personal sacrifices made down through the years that help to make such an all-American experience possible.

"There's somebody out there paying the price for everything we enjoy," Cayton said.

Cayton, whose own 27-year military career ended when he retired in 1995 as sergeant major in the U.S. Army Forces Command, carries firsthand knowledge about such sacrifices being made by members of the military and their families during the war on terror.

To that end, Cayton — now a central Texas boat salesman — was determined to offer thanks to American soldiers in the best way he knows how — with a day of bass fishing.

Thanks to the concern of Cayton and others, the result was the inaugural Fishing for Freedom bass tournament — a free event held this month on Texas' Lake Belton that will be profiled during a special Memorial Day Weekend "BassCenter" piece by reporter Trey Reid.

See the feature this Bass Saturday at 7 and 11 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

Reid, a newspaperman turned television correspondent, was moved by the soldiers he encountered at the bass-fishing event held in their honor as a part of the Fort Hood region's salute to military men and women returning from Iraq.

"This puts fishing in a unique perspective," Reid said. "There are a lot of things we take for granted, things that would not be possible if not for the sacrifices that these guys and their families have made."

After his tour of duty, soldier Tim McHale of the HAC 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion knows the sacrifice to which Reid is referring.

"We take having a bass boat and going out fishing without someone shooting at us for granted," McHale told Reid during an ESPN Outdoors television interview.

"When you fish in Iraq, it's to get food for your family; there's no pleasure about it."

If the May 13 Fishing for Freedom event was designed to say thank you to soldiers like McHale, it apparently had another aim, as well.

"Fishing is not just recreation," Reid said. "Yes, it is, but it can be so much more for these soldiers. It can help serve as decompression for the tough times that they've gone through during deployment.

"It can help them to come back to regular life a little bit after a battlefield situation."

Consider the stressful demands of combat, the loss of friends on the battlefield and the loneliness and separation from family members and loved ones that soldiers endured while serving overseas.

"I don't know of anyone that fished that didn't know somebody that died (in military service to the U.S.)," Cayton said. "We're very thankful for their opportunity to be back here.

"Those guys really understand the price of freedom."

Thankfully, however, many of those same battle-weary soldiers also understand the relaxing and therapeutic value that bass fishing can bring, not to mention the outright fun and laughter a day on the water can provide.

"We had 328 boats that took out 819 soldiers," Cayton explained. "A rough estimate from our surveys showed that over 50 percent of them had never been bass fishing before in their lives and 32 percent of those had never been in a boat before."

Experienced angler or not, it didn't take a spectator long to see — or hear — that the event was a rousing, patriotic success.

"It was terrific at sunrise to look out on the lake and see over 300 boats out there with their anchor lights on," Cayton said.

"It was spectacular to hear the joy and the excitement of these guys. We allowed dads to take their kids fishing with them and the excitement of it all was better than any big fish I've ever caught."

On this Memorial Day weekend, perhaps this "BassCenter" piece on a unique fishing tournament in Texas can serve as an appropriate holiday backdrop for a nation pausing to consider the sacrifices made for more than two centuries by American soldiers.

"We've got to remember that there are guys out there putting their lives on the line every day so you and I can go fishing on Sunday afternoon if we want to," Reid said.

Fishing for Freedom II … and beyond

After helping to spearhead the inaugural Fishing for Freedom bass tournament, Cayton has plenty of reasons to seek a relaxing day of angling on the water.

But already he is looking forward to helping spearhead the next such event designed to honor America's valiant troops returning from — or soon to be deployed to — the Iraqi theater.

"You bet," Cayton said. "We're going to do it in January because there is another unit, the 4th Infantry Division, getting ready to go over.

"And we're planning on another one next summer like the one we just finished."

Odds are those events will likely cause much the same stir as the first one has created.

"It really made a big impact on a lot of people," Cayton said.

"The Sergeant Major of the United States Army (Kenneth O. Preston) flew in to fish the tourney. He was extremely impressed and flew back to Washington and gave a report on what had happened."

But the Pentagon isn't the only place hearing about the event.

"We've had many faxes, phone calls and letters about how to make this happen on other installations," Cayton said.

What's the key to putting on such soldier-honoring events?

Teamwork, Cayton said, ranging from the help of local civilian anglers and businesses to national fishing industry supporters to tournament organization pros like David Hagood of the American Bass Anglers.

But perhaps more than anything else, the key to such an event is a driving desire to honor the men and women of the American armed forces who are on the front lines fighting the war on terror.

"I took Ray Scott to Iraq for Thanksgiving," Cayton said. "We went around to 11 different camps and saw over 3,000 service people all over Iraq living in some of the worst conditions imaginable.

"There was not one complaint, not one soldier, sailor or airman holding their head down. They were all holding their head high; it is important to them."

For information on future Fishing for Freedom events in Texas, contact either Rick Cayton at rick@texasboatworld.com or David Hagood of American Bass Anglers (www.americanbassanglers.com) at (888) 203-6222.

This episode of "BassCenter" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. on May 30, May 31 and June 1.