BELTON - More than 200 boats floated the waters of Belton Lake Saturday morning for the 12th Annual Fishing for Freedom tournament.
Local veterans hold the event every year to help their fellow soldiers navigate both local waters and their struggles downrange.
Fishing for Freedom serves the community as not only a fishing tournament, but as a mentoring event. Every year, the tournament matches up experienced anglers with local soldiers -- giving the soldiers an opportunity to get out on the lake and learn to fish.
But often, those fishermen are also veterans.
Chris Brewton has participated in the tournament for 9 years, but he's also a retired veteran and NCO.
Earnest Vance still serves in the Army and participated in the tournament last year as a soldier. But this year, he brought his own boat to guide someone else.
228 teams competed in Saturday's event. Each boat provided a great fishing experience and a safe place to talk.
One of the most common conversations: what happens when a soldier transitions out of military life.
"It's just kind of talking to him throughout the day about things to do when you get out," Brewton said. "Educational benefits and everything... things that I've going though as a civilian now."
Over the years, Fishing for Freedom has built bonds between people that extend well beyond when the boat docks at the end of the tourney.
"One of the things we see year in and year out, is that tournament creates a fellowship between the service member and the volunteer," Clifford Brown said. "A lot of them continue to fish with each other for many years afterwards."
Tournament winners received a brand new Triton fishing boat, while second and third place walked away with cash prizes. Anyone who enjoys fishing in the area and wants to guide a solider for the event next year can contact organizers at Texas Boat World.
Planning for next year's event begins in January.
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