Minutes into his spring break fishing adventure at Green Valley Park, 12-year-old Larry Everetts hooked a lunker he knew couldn't be one of the 9-inch rainbows frequently stocked into the lake.
"It put up such a good fight, at first I thought it was a big bass," the Rim Country Middle School sixth-grader said.
Following an anxious and spirited angling battle, Everetts triumphantly reeled in a 14-inch crappie which drew oohs and aahs from his admiring fishing buddies.
Everetts said the crappie is the second largest fish he's ever hooked. The only one larger was a 9-pound trout caught a few years ago at one of the Rim lakes.
In landing a crappie at a man-made lake that is part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department's urban fish program, the youngster came up with one of the most unusual catches of the spring fish season. Game and Fish stocks only trout at the Green Valley lakes.
Local Arizona Game and Fish Officer Carl Lutch surmises that the crappie probably entered the lake from the live well of a fisherman who was cleaning his gear in GVP after having returned from an outing at Roosevelt Lake.
Fish released into the lake from other sources are known as "bucket breeders," said Payson's Special Events Coordinator Scott Smith, who oversees the fishing program at GVP.
Smith said that in addition to accidental releases in the lake from unknowing fishermen, some anglers chose to place live fish in GVP that were caught earlier in other lakes and streams.
Officials believe this was the first crappie to be pulled out of Green Valley Park.
The strategy is to return later and try to catch the fish when they are larger, Smith said. Often those fish reproduce, increasing the population in GVP.
Other nonstocked species that have been taken from the lake in the past include bass, catfish, bluegill and sunfish.
Lutch said he doesn't believe the species pose any threats to the waterways at Green Valley Park.
In snagging the crappie Thursday afternoon, using a nightcrawler as bait, Everetts was fishing with younger sister Laurin, 10, and cousin Larry O'Donnel, 13. The three fished near the corner of the southeastern most of the three lakes.
The trio said they frequent Green Valley Park three to four times a week, but because school was in spring recess, they'd been there almost every day.
Fishing, the three agreed, is their favorite pastime.
In addition to the crappie, the happy youngsters proudly showed passersby a creel filled with one nice-sized rainbow and about 10 bluegills.
"It was a good day of fishing," Larry said.