Toddler Is Youngest Ever In Willow Springs Fish Tourney

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A determined field of 35 hearty anglers, including 3-year-old Sonny Gardner, braved cold and windy conditions at the Fifth Annual Fall Classic Trout Tournament at Willow Springs Lake.

Gardner, the youngest competitor to ever catch fish in the tournament, reeled in three trout that tipped the scales at 12.6 ounces. The San Carlos Apache Tribe member finished fourth in the 13-years-and-under division.

During the 10-hour benefit tournament Oct. 16, participants caught 121 trout and raised about $800 for the Payson Community Christian School.

According to tournament director Tracy Purtee, who was second in the "big fish" division, the most popular and successful bait was worms rigged with cowbells or Ford Fenders. Purtee's trout tipped the scale at 10.8 ounces and was second only to a fish caught by Sam Grasso of Phoenix, which weighed 13.7 ounces.

Third place in the big fish division was garnered by Phoenix resident Kevin Bonner, who boated a 10.2-ounce fish.

Grasso also took first in total weight with a catch of 59.8 ounces.

"He fished from the shore ... didn't use a boat like I did," Purtee said.

Mesa's Don Byers weighed in 49.8 ounces to finish second. With 47.5 ounces, Louis Capello of Phoenix, was third.

In the "big fish" division for anglers 13-and-under, Santana Curtis was first with an eight-ounce fish. Hunter Doka (7.2 ounces) was second and Rick Dabney (6.8 ounces) third.

In fifth behind Gardner (5.8 ounces) was Austin Krehbiel (4.9 ounces).

Total weight winners for children 13-and-under included Curtis (first; 20.7 ounces), Doka (second; 16.1 ounces), Dabney (third; 15.1 ounces), Gardner and Landis Quade (fourth; 12.3 ounces).

All the youngsters are from Payson.

The top three finishers in each age division received trophies. All youngsters also received fishing bags loaded with angling gear.

Purtee thanked United Anglers of Phoenix, West Tech of Phoenix, and John Robinette Drywall Repair for their sponsorship. Among the prizes awarded was an electric trolling motor. It was won in a raffle by a Phoenix entrant who, three years ago, also took the tournament's top prize.

The Willow Springs tournament annually marks the end of the summer and fall fishing season in the Rim country.

For more than two decades, the Woods Canyon Lake Trout Tournament, held in May, has been regarded as the unofficial beginning of the summer trout season on the Rim Lakes.

A date has not yet been set for the 2005 showdown.

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