MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Travis Johnson felt a tug on his line while he was getting a bass fishing lesson Saturday morning from Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Poche.
“I felt something, so I pulled on it a little bit, and it pulled back,” Johnson said. “I went to set the hook and it darn near took the pole out of my hands.”
Johnson, a retired U.S. Marine lance corporal from Greenup, Ky., had an eight-pound, seven-ounce largemouth bass on the end of his line.
“It made me nervous,” Poche said. “But Travis did an awesome job working the fish and not letting it jump or break his line. I kind of coached him and we landed the fish.”
Johnson couldn’t keep a smile off his face after that, which is what this event was all about. For the second year in a row, as part of the Bassmaster Elite Series Toyota Trucks All-Star week, Hope For The Warriors brought six veterans here to compete in their own bass fishing tournament on a private lake.
Hope For The Warriors® (www.hopeforthewarriors.org) is a national, nonprofit organization that supports wounded U.S. service members, their families and families of the fallen. A group of military wives founded the organization in 2006.
“There are other organizations like ours,” said public relations coordinator Anne Woods. “Each one of them has just a little different focus.
“This is a great event. It’s very therapeutic.”
It felt therapeutic for both the wounded servicemen and the professional anglers.
“I had an awesome time visiting with Lance and just hanging out with him,” said Poche, who lives in Troy, Ala., and finished 10th in the Elite Series Angler of the Year race this season. “We had a fun day.”
Not only did Johnson and Poche have that eight-pounder to their credit, they had a five-bass limit weighing 18 pounds, 2 ounces to win the tournament. The results were announced during the weigh-in of the Elite Series Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship Saturday at the Union Station Train Shed.
“The other fish we caught were the biggest bass I’d ever caught,” Johnson said. “When I landed that big one, it just blew my mind.”
Johnson was medically retired after suffering a broken leg and a back injury while deployed in Iraq.
Army sergeant Paul Walter of Selden, N.Y., was in Iraq on Jan. 12, 2005, when a passing vehicle loaded with explosives detonated. He suffered severe head trauma as well as shoulder and leg injuries, and was awarded the Purple Heart as a result.
Walter was paired with Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins on Saturday. They finished second in the tournament with 13-15, which included a 4-6 bass.
“I rarely get to go bass fishing, so this was a great day, unbelievable,” Walter said.
Walter has done some saltwater fishing. Although he hasn’t bass fished much, he is familiar with B.A.S.S. and Scroggins, the San Mateo, Fla., pro who finished sixth in the Angler of the Year race this season.
“Terry is one of the guys I’ve heard of before, and to get to go with him was awesome,” Walter said. “He’s one helluva fisherman. It was definitely a great day.”
Scroggins has participated in these type events before.
“Anytime we are asked to do something for our military veterans, I’m all about it,” Scroggins said. “What they’ve sacrificed for our freedom means a lot to me.
“And I have a lot of fun doing it. A lot of times these guys don’t know a lot about fishing, but they’re eager to do it. Today I was able to teach Paul how to cast at targets. He was a little rusty at it, but by the end of the day, he was where he needed to be. It’s fun to watch someone figure it out and get into it the way he did. We had a big time.”
The team of Skeet Reese and Marine corporal Bobby Davis of Mobile, Ala., finished third with 13-13. Aaron Martens and Army chief warrant officer John Lightsey of Atlanta, were fourth with 11-14. There was a tie for fifth place with 7-14 between Steve Kennedy and Marine corporal Daniel Mullins of Gainesville, Fla., and Greg Vinson and Navy HM2 Dean Carr of Jacksonville, N.C.