For three days on Roosevelt Lake, Roy Hawk and Clifford Pirch put aside their close personal friendship to wage a ferocious battle for top spot in the inaugural FLW Stren Series bass tournament.
When waves finally settled and power worms were stored away — at a weigh-in finale held April 18 at Walmart — it was Hawk who emerged victorious with a total catch of 42 pounds, 6 ounces.
For the victory, FLW officials awarded the Salt Lake City man the top prize of $20,423 in cash and a fully equipped Ranger bass boat, motor and trailer.
Pirch, a hometown favorite who competes for Team National Guard on the FLW bass tour, pocketed $8,169 for his second-place finish.
Pirch’s three-day catch tipped the scales at 38 pounds, 3 ounces.
At the conclusion of the first two days of tournament fishing, when the field of 250 pros and co-anglers was cut down to the top 10 anglers, Pirch stood in fourth place with catches of 12 pounds, 12 ounces on Thursday, and 11 pounds, 9 ounces the following day.
“The second day was really tough for me,” Pirch said. “I really had to hunt hard and finally gave up on the main lake and went into the river.”
What rendered the fishing doubly tough was a cold front that arrived a day before the tournament.
On Saturday, the third and final tournament day, Hawk and Pirch dead knotted for largest catch. Both weighed in a five-fish limit of 13 pounds, 14 ounces.
Although the two angling buddies tied on the final outing, the lead Hawk built on day one and two was enough to earn him the victory.
Pirch lauded the first-ever FLW tournament on Roosevelt Lake as well run and a complete success.
“It showcased professional bass fishing to the area and allowed the (tournament entrants) to learn a little about Roosevelt,” he said. “It was a very good tournament.”
Although the former Payson High School three-sport star has been fishing the lake since he was in early elementary school, the waters were a bit foreign to him.
“It’s a different lake because it’s completely full now and the (foliage) has changed so much,” he said.
Only a few years ago, Roosevelt was less than 50 percent full which exposed shoreline, rocky areas, sandy bottoms and other habitat that is now covered in deep waters.
Which meant, the tournament anglers had to pick their spots wisely and move and adjust as needed.
Hawk said his strategy was to fish sparse brush at the mouth of the Tonto River by slow rolling spinnerbaits and Pepper Jigs over edges.
The strategy of Duane Dunstone, the tournament’s sixth-place finisher, was to use 4-inch pumpkin Berkley Power Hogs throughout most of the fray.
The big bass winner on day one was Steve Adams who hooked a 7-pound, 1-ounce lunker. On day two, David Valdia won with a 7-pound, 14-ounce catch. Both anglers earned $333 for their big fish.
Following Saturday’s weigh-in Pirch immediately departed to near Charlotte, N.C. where he is entered in the $1.1 million National Open on Lake Norman.
Among the co-anglers, Tucson resident Vu Au took the lead on the first day with 16 pounds, 5 ounces and held it throughout the tournament.
His final catch of 23 pounds, 10 ounces earned him the top prize of a Ranger bass boat and trailer.
“Now all I need is sponsors,” an elated Au said after the presentation.
Co-anglers fish from the rear of a professional angler’s boat and compete against other co-anglers. Professionals own the boats and control the boat’s movement on the water.
If there was a hard luck story in the tournament it featured Payson angler Chris Perkes.
At the conclusion of the first two days, Perkes weighed in 15 pounds, 4 ounces of bass, which was just 1 ounce short of qualifying him for the top 10 and a berth into the third and final round.
Had one of the seven bass Perkes caught in the tournament been just 1 ounce heavier, he would have been a prize money winner.
Also from Payson, Josh Johnson was 29th in the 146-angler field with a total weight of 11 pounds, 1 ounce for three fish.
Chris Purtee was 47th with 9 pounds, 3 ounces.
Pine angler Buddy Randall was 63rd and Ted Morton of Tonto Basin was 101st.
Also representing the Rim Country were John Pelto, Robert Johnson, Levi Armstrong and John Browning.
The co-angler big bass winner of day one was Derek Stewart with a 4-pound, 9-ounce largemouth that earned him $166.
On day two, Joe Jenson won with a fish that also tipped the scales at 4 pounds, 9 ounces.
More than $260,000 in prize money was given away in the tournament’s closing ceremonies.
Payson FLW committee members, including Mary McMullen and Dennis Pirch, called the event an overwhelming success and indicated they hoped that next year FLW would return with a FLW National Guard Western Series tournament.