Pre-Registration Starting For Fall Classic Trout Tourney

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Anglers will be battling for prizes, trophies and bragging rights at the 8th Annual Willow Springs Fall Classic Trout Tournament.

The 2007 fall tournament, which will benefit Payson Community Christian School, is slated to get off to a rousing start at 6 a.m. Sept. 29 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 $30, due before Sept. 26. On the day of the tournament, the fee to enter will be $35.

Tournament day registration at the lake opens at 6 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 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 if they choose to do so. Awards and prizes will be given out at a ceremony at 4 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.

Donations for raffle tickets, at $1 each, will be accepted throughout the day.

"A special thanks goes to all who have donated prizes for the raffles," Purtee said.

Tough fishing

Some past Fall Classics have showcased anglers' hearty nature and dedication to the sport. Such was the case in 2004 when the tournament turned out to be an endurance test for the 35 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 past tournaments, participants have weighed in more than 100 trout and have raised hundreds of dollars for the Payson Community Christian School.

Purtee, who usually competes in the tournament, said among the most popular and successful baits in the past have been worms rigged with cowbells or Ford Fenders.

AT the 2007 spring classic, which also benefited PCCS, Purtee said he "fished with cowbells, crankbaits to the shore and crick hoppers."

As good an angler as Purtee has proven to be, it took the creative juices of a grandmother to catch the largest trout weighed in at the 2005 Willow Springs Fall Classic. Pam Bumbalow, who entered the tournament only at her granddaughter's request and because it was a charity event, caught a 21.2-ounce lunker with a powerbait she had modified.

"I kind of decorated it to look like a cricket," she said. "When I caught it, we were trolling back (to the shore) because my granddaughter had to go to the bathroom."

In 2004, Purtee had a good showing, catching a trout that tipped the scales at 10.8 ounces and was second only to a fish caught by Sam Grasso of Phoenix, which weighed 13.7 ounces.

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.

Past classics

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 Web site, PCCS@cybertrails.com., by calling (928) 474-8050 or at the Payson Roundup 708 N. Beeline Highway, in the Swiss Village Shops.

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