The spring and fall Payson Community Christian School trout tournaments have, for years, marked the unofficial onset and end of fishing season in the Rim Country.
The spring tournament was held May 3 and the fall benefit will be contested Sept. 27.
On hand at all the angling frays, regardless of whether it’s spring or fall, is tournament director Tracy Purtee. Known as a pretty fair country fisherman, he usually competes in the events.
The upcoming fall tournament kicks off at 6 a.m. and continues to 4 p.m. at Willow Springs 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 Sept. 23. 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. New this year, food will be served during the post tournament awards ceremony.
For the event, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 PCCS.
For more information, call (928) 474-8050 or (928) 478-4337.
For many years, the benefit tournaments were held at Woods Canyon Lake and benefited the Christopher Creek Kohl’s Ranch Fire Department.
About 10 years ago, the tournaments moved from Woods Canyon to Willow Springs and the benefactor was changed to PCCS.
Following the traditional spring tip-off, Willow Springs, and its sister lake at Woods Canyon, 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, 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.
“We haven’t had a brown caught in the past five years,” Purtee said, “and I give a trophy for the biggest brown (trout).”