Just as the Woods Canyon Lake Trout Tournament marks the unofficial beginning of the trout season in May, the Willow Springs Fall Classic Trout Tournament signals the end of the summer season.
This year's fall tournament, which will benefit Payson Community Christian School, is slated for 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 1 at Willow Springs Lake, located 32 miles east of Payson and north of Highway 260.
Tournament director Tracy Purtee said there will be signs posted to direct competitors to the lake.
The pre-registration entry fee is $20, due before Sept. 23. On the day of the tournament, the fee to enter will be $25.
Tournament day registration at the lake opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 7 a.m. Those who pre-register must also check in.
All entrants must be in possession of an Arizona fishing license and a trout stamp. Arizona Game and Fish laws limit an angler to six trout per day.
Participants must fish Willow Springs Lake only. The minimum size trout that should be kept is 8 inches. The benefit will take place regardless of weather conditions.
The weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. and closes at 4 p.m. Since the weigh-in will be held at the dock, fishermen can opt to catch and release. Awards and prizes will be given out at a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. near a motor home with a Payson Community Christian School sign.
First-, second- and third-place trophies will be awarded for the largest fish and total weight of fish caught in two categories -- No. 1 (rainbow and German brown trout) and No. 2 (large and smallmouth bass). There will be similar awards given out in a 13-and-under division.
Tough fishing in 2004
Last year's Fall Classic turned out to be an endurance test for the 35 hearty anglers, including 3-year-old Sonny Gardner, who braved cold and windy conditions at Willow Springs.
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, participants caught 121 trout and raised about $800 for the Payson Community Christian School.
Purtee, who was second in the "big fish" division, said 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 8-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.
Purtee said he is uncertain if any of last year's winners will return for the 2005 angling fray.
Since taking over as tournament director, Purtee's most cherished recollections are of the 1996 Woods Canyon tournament when the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocked the lake just days before the event.
"They had cleaned out their breeders' pond and put the fish in the lake," he said.
"There were some big fish in there."
With Woods Canyon overloaded with lunker-sized trout, tournament fishing was at its best.
"A 12-year-old boy fishing from shore with a bobber caught a 6-pound rainbow," Purtee said. "That's one of the biggest that's been caught."
The tournament also produced the largest stringer of fish ever weighed in -- about 8 pounds.
Entry forms for the Fall Classic are available at the Payson Community Christian School website, PCCS@cybertrails.com. or by calling (928) 474-8050.