More than a quarter century after the Payson Community Christian School Trout Tournament made its debut, the benefit remains one of the highlights of the Rim Country fishing season.
Its popularity is partly because it marks the onset of the much-anticipated summer fishing season and also all proceeds go to a good cause — to benefit the local parochial school.
Another trout tournament, the Fall Classic, also benefits PCCS and is held in October to mark the end of the angling season on the high country lakes.
Both tournaments are hosted by Tracy Purtee, a longtime Rim Country tournament angler and former DPS officer whose wife Teresa is an administrator at PCCS.
Purtee also helps sponsor the annual Optimist Club Fishing Festival held each spring at Green Valley Park.
The 26th Annual PCCS Trout Tournament will be held from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 16 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 adult and $20 per child if preregistered before May 1. On the day of the tournament, the fees increase to $35 and $25.
Fees include a tournament T-shirt.
Tournament day registration at the lake dock opens at 5 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 p.m. in the lake parking lot.
First-, second- and third-place trophies will be given out for the largest fish and the most total weight in two divisions: rainbow and/or German brown trout and large- and small-mouth bass.
Children 13 years and younger are eligible to receive first-, second- and third-place trophies for largest fish caught, trout or bass.
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.
For more information, call (928) 474-8050 or visit paysoncommunitychristianschool.
org and follow the link.
Both the spring and fall trout tournaments were originally held at Woods Canyon Lake before Purtee moved them several years ago to Willow Springs.
In the early years, the two tournaments benefited the Christopher Creek/Kohl’s Ranch Fire Department, but now fund PCCS programs.
Following the spring tournament, Willow Springs and Woods Canyon become popular fishing and camping respites for desert dwellers eager to escape the Valley’s searing heat.
After the fall tournament, roads to the two lakes are usually closed due to winter snowfall.
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 some 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 AG&F officials won’t be using breeder fish for either tournament this year, they will stock Willow Springs two or three times before both tournaments.
A huge challenge this year will be to land an elusive brown trout.
“We haven’t had a brown caught in the past six 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.
With the spring tournament just around the corner, Purtee has a few words of advice of entrants, “please obey all the rules and have a great time.”