A simple “thank you” is not enough for some people.
Retired Army Maj. Bryon Stephens Sr. and his son, Byron “Bubba” Stephens Jr., show their gratitude in a more substantial way. In 2004, Byron Jr. and close friend Al Jordan founded Bass Anglers Plus Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports military members through fishing tournaments and fundraisers that help wounded warriors and disabled veterans.
Bass Anglers Plus Inc. and the Chatham County Park Service will host the third annual “Take a Soldier Fishing” bass tournament April 6 at Lake Mayer in Savannah. They’ll also host their first-ever Walk for a Vet fundraiser. Proceeds from the tournament will go to Fort Stewart’s Warrior Transition Battalion, and proceeds from the walk will go to the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans.
“I have been fishing for 70 years,” Stephens Sr. said. “I started at age 5 with my father in the May River in South Carolina. I fish mostly saltwater. My son and grandson fish freshwater largemouth bass, catch-and-release, in the Savannah River basin. We all support the military by giving back with fishing tournaments.”
The tournament is from 7 a.m.-4 p.m., and the walk will take place from 10 a.m.-noon with registration starting at 9 a.m. Prize drawings will begin at 12:30 p.m., and weigh-in for anglers will start at 1:30 p.m.
Stephens Sr. said the event will begin with a motorcycle convoy and end with a Coast Guard helicopter flyover. There also will be live music, food and door-prize drawings. Registration fees for the participants, the more than two-dozen bass stocked for the event, food and door prizes is paid for by at least 32 business sponsors. Other sponsors include Saint Leo University and all veterans’ organizations in the surrounding community.
Registration fees for the walk are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 5-17. Children younger than 5 can participate for free. The first 100 walk participants who sign up will receive a free T-shirt.
Only 12-inch or larger bass qualify, and all fish caught will be released.
Stephens said there will be 12 boats with trolling motors only on the lake, each provided by an experienced fisherman. Tournament participants include at least two representatives from each branch of the service.
Bubba Stephens said the tournaments started in 2004 with more than 40 boats in the Savannah River. Participants were troops from Hunter Army Airfield, and proceeds went to a national charity. Between 2004 and 2008, the tournaments raised more than $6,000 to help special-needs children, he said. In 2009, he decided the proceeds would go to support soldiers and their families.
Stephens Sr. said that by 2011, the price of fuel increased the costs for the tournament too much to support outboard motors. They looked for a place to hold the tournament where only a few boats with trolling motors would participate.
He said the Chatham County Parks Service supported the first event in 2011. Even though they had fewer boats and fishermen, the number of sponsors doubled.
“This year, we’re repeating what we did last year,” he said. “We’re also adding the walk around Lake Mayer. It’ll be a fun day. We invite the public to come out and help honor our heroes.”
Stephens, who retired a major in 1974 after 21 years in the Georgia National Guard, is a member of the Veterans Council in Savannah. His support for local veterans groups and the soldiers at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield earned him the title of grand marshal for Savannah’s 2011 Veterans Day Parade.
For more information or take make a donation, call 912-667-4842 or go to www.takeasoldierfishing-ga.org.