Mark Lundren, the organizer behind the Help Our Heroes Tournament held earlier this month, has submitted this write up about the event for us to enjoy. Thank you, Mark!

This is the fourth year that Toho Marine held the Help Our Heroes Tournament on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. This event has grown every year, both in terms of angler participation as well as sponsor contributions and donations.

In four years we have managed to raise over $46,000 for multiple Veterans organizations on both the local and national levels! This is all made possible by the great companies and individuals who help to sponsor and promote the event!

This has always been a tough one to win. The list of anglers competing in this tournament reads like a Top 100 or a “Who’s Who” of tournament bass fishing in Florida. There is probably not a single team that enters this event that doesn’t believe they have a shot of winning, and they do their best to get the right five bites before the time comes to hit the state.

Over the last four years it has always taken over 30 pounds to win, and even a 20-pound bag isn’t a guarantee to earn a check. This is not a tournament where you have to worry about points, and most anglers know that anything under 20 pounds won’t do them much good.

The tournament launched at 6:15 a.m., a little later than usual. Because of low water levels, Lake Toho was excluded since the locks were closed. This still left plenty of water to fish as Kissimmee, Hatchineha, Cypress and miles of canals were still available to fish.

The boats began arriving at 3 p.m. at 15 minute intervals for weigh ins and this year we opted to do trailer weigh ins to help keep the fish in the water and as healthy as possible. The trailered weigh in would not have been possible without the help of several volunteers from Osceola Teen Anglers. As each boat pulled into the weigh in area it was met by a member of Teen Anglers who filled the weigh in bag and carried the fish straight to the scales.

There was no waiting in line with bagged fish to contend with and these kids did an awesome job with helping us out!

The champions were Russ Osborne and Micah Silverman, who dropped 33.37 pounds on the scales. Russ and Micah earned the “big check” of $6,000. They also won in 2014.

Don Eady and Kenny Bivens were second at 29.75 pounds and Will Evans and Trevor Fitzgerald were third, bringing in 28.34 pounds.

Rounding out the top five were the teams of Ken Lucas and Danny Lanier with 26.34 pounds, and Charlie Harrelson with Logan Murphy with 25.86 pounds.

The big fish, and a $2,000 prize, went to Tane Crossley and Mike Larson for the 8.84-pound giant that they weighed in as part of their 23.32 pound bag. The second big fish was awarded to the team of Donald Bradley and Jamie Stephans for their 8.75-pound giant. As an added bonus, they also received two free entries into the Bass Pro shops Big Fish Tournament next year!

Sixteen teams brought in bags in excess of 20 pounds.

After the event the teams were treated to barbecue, cooked on site by Milton, as well as all of the water and Gatorade they needed thanks to Pete Saraf and PepsiCo.

Guide trips from Bobby Lane, Glenn Browne and a guided duck hunt from Fast Break Bait and Tackle in Okeechobee were raffled during the barbecue.

Toho Marine had over $10,000 worth of products to raffle off and there were display booths from Lowrance, Power Pole, Trophy Catch and several others.

Cindy Carpenter Joint from The Reel Deal Osceola News-Gazette column and Scott Scarborough from Blazer were on hand to take photos and videos, and reps from Triton, Skeeter and Blazer were there to answer questions from anglers and provide demo rides. Every team, whether or not it won a prize, still had a chance at walking away with something to put a smile on their faces!

Highlights of the raffle were a Motorguide X5 trolling motor; Bob’s Machine Action Jack Hydraulic jackplate; JL Marine Power Pole; electronics from Lowrance and Humminbird; TH Marine Boat alarm; Hydrowave and a host of rods from Denali, Enigma, Fitzgerald, Halo and Ark. There were reels from Lew’s, baits from Tightlines UV, Medlock Jigs, Bruiser Baits and Flat Out Tungsten and many more.

The raffle actually took almost as long as the whole weigh in due to the overwhelming support from the sponsors! A big thank you to all of them for their support!

Please make sure to support them as much as they support all of us!

A special thanks to Mike Blocher and Team from the Xtreme Bass Series, as well as the Lakeland Jr. Bassmasters and Osceola Teen Anglers that came out from very early in the morning to help direct traffic and stayed late to help with the weigh in and fish release!

The Lakeland Jr. Bassmasters were kind enough to bring their Live Release boat to ensure that everything possible was done to take care of all of the fish that were brought to the scales.

We can’t leave out the Murphy and Overstreet families as they were kind enough to offer an alternate location to host the Help Our Heroes tournament when it became clear that the low water levels were going to eliminate the use of many boat ramps. Without their help and hospitality we might have had to cancel this year’s event.