Manning a booth at the Optimist Fishing Festival on April 12 at Green Valley Park, longtime local angler Tracy Purtee admitted he was a bit down in the dumps.
When asked the reasons for his melancholy ways, he responded, "because our trout tournament is now in its 25th year and that makes me feel really old."
For almost two decades, Purtee has served as tournament director of the Payson Community Christian School Trout Tournament. Before that, he was a regular entrant in the competition.
For the past quarter century, the tournament has marked the unofficial onset of the spring fishing season at Rim Country lakes.
Another tournament Purtee hosts, the Fall Classic, traditionally marks the end of the angling season on the high country lakes.
Both tournaments were originally held at Woods Canyon Lake before Purtee moved them several years ago to Willow Springs.
This year's edition of the spring benefit will be held May 3 at Willow Springs.
Following the traditional tip-off, Willow Springs, and its sister lake at Woods Canyon, will become popular fishing and camping respites for desert dwellers eager to escape the Valley's searing heat.
Among the visitors to Willow Springs in the fall of 2005 was Pam Bumbalow, who entered the Fall Classic only at her granddaughter's request and because it was a charity event. She surprised everyone, including herself by reeling in 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 the 2004 fall tournament, 3-year-old Sonny Gardner braved cold and windy conditions to become the youngest competitor to ever catch a fish in either of the benefit tournaments. The youngster weighed in three trout that tipped the scales at 12.6 ounces.
Also that year, Purtee caught the runner-up in the Big Fish contest, a 10.8-ounce rainbow.
Among Purtee's most cherished recollections of past tournaments is the 1996 spring competition. It was held just days after the Arizona Game and Fish Department had stocked Woods Canyon Lake.
"They (Arizona Game and Fish) had cleaned out their breeder 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 the 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, about 7 pounds, ever weighed in.
Although game officials won't be using breeder fish this year, they will stock Willow Springs two or three times before the tournament.
A huge challenge this year will be to land an elusive brown trout.
"We haven't had a brown caught in the past five years," Purtee said, "and I give a trophy for the biggest brown (trout)."
Bass have also proven to be an elusive species even though there is a prize for biggest large- and small-mouth caught.
This year's tournament will be held from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the lake, located 32 miles east of Payson and north of Highway 260. For tournament newcomers, Purtee's best advice is to follow the signs to the lake.
The entry fee is $30 per person if preregistered before May 1. On the day of the tournament, the fee is $35.
Fees include a tournament T-shirt.
Tournament day registration at the lake dock opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 7 a.m. Those who preregister must also check in before beginning to fish.
A one-hour weigh-in begins at 3 p.m at the dock, which allows participants to catch and release if they wish to do so.
Awards and prizes will be given out at a ceremony beginning at 4:30 p.m. in the lake parking lot.
Due to the size of the lake, the tournament is open only to the first 100 anglers to register.
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.
The minimum size trout that should be kept is 8 inches. The benefit will take place regardless of weather conditions.
Registration forms are available at the Payson Roundup, 708 N. Beeline Highway.
As in past years, students at Payson Community Christian School will reap the benefits of the spring tournament as they do the Fall Classic.
"All monies from this will be used to purchase school equipment," Purtee said.
He estimates the spring and fall tournaments earn about $2,000 annually for PCC.
For more information, call (928) 474-8050 or (928) 478-4337.