AllStar Bass Fishing Tournament officials have tapped a pair of former Payson High School star athletes as their team "Anglers of the Year."
Clifford Pirch and Preston Mercer received the honor from AllStar spokesman Tom Stiles at the spring season's tournament finale held June 3 at Roosevelt Lake.
With the laurels, the pair received a berth into the AllStar SuperTeam championships Sept. 15 and 16 at Lake Pleasant. There, the two champions will also be awarded prizes for their efforts in winning the team title, Stiles said.
Pirch and Mercer were selected the best fishing team of the spring season, using a rating system in which points are awarded for both pounds of fish weighed in and overall finishes during the seven-tournament season.
The former Payson residents racked up 307.8 points. Runner-up honors went to Allen Van Lowe of Phoenix and Rick Grumbein of Glendale, who finished with 291.7 points.
Pirch and Mercer fished their way to the championship crown by relying mostly on consistent finishes which included a tournament win in early May that earned them $3,500 in prize money. The pair also turned in three other top-10 finishes. The most unusual feat the two pulled off occurred in early May at a Lake Pleasant tournament.
Because Mercer, now of Flagstaff, had a job interview, Pirch had to fish the tournament alone. Never one to shy away from a challenge as evidenced by his prep accomplishments in wrestling and track Pirch rose to the occasion to finish fifth and earn the team $600 in prize money.
Now the owner and operator of Copper State Guides Services in Tonto Basin, Pirch also fishes the Hill and Sons, Wild West and American Bass Arizona Division pro-teams circuit.
Pirch and Mercer first began fishing together when both were in elementary school.
"We've been (fishing as a team) for a long time," Pirch said.
After Pirch graduated from Payson High School in 1994 and Mercer in 1995, the two attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where they continued to fish the bass tournament circuit.