Mother Nature didn’t cooperate with sunny, warm spring weather, but the efforts of a bevy of volunteers, several civic organizations and the Arizona Game and Fish Department rendered the Fourth Annual Rim Country Optimist Club’s Fishing Festival an overwhelming success.
The event, which was held March 27 in cold, windy conditions at Green Valley Park, drew hundreds of aspiring anglers from throughout Gila County. Some were drawn to the event knowing it was free and chances of landing fish were good. Just two days earlier, the state game and fish department had stocked the three GVP lakes with catchable-sized rainbow trout including several lunkers which game officials call “incentive” fish.
“The kids were hauling out some nice fish,” said town parks and recreation outdoor coordinator Mary McMullen. “We drew record numbers and it turned out to be a fantastic event.”
The derby was co-sponsored by the Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, Payson Community Christian School and the Rim Country Optimist Club, which gave out free hats to the first 300 anglers to register.
“They were all gone by midday,” McMullen said.
For novices hoping to pickup a few angling tips, volunteers from the Mogollon Sporting Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Payson Flycasters, Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, The Tackle Box, Arizona Wildlife Federation and Star Valley Veterinary Clinic were on hand to provide expert help and demonstrate how to properly clean the fish.
“The Mogollon Sporting Association (also) helped purchase an extra stocking of trout,” said AG&F Wildlife Manager John Dickson. “We also received donations from Walmart and The Tackle Box.”
For those who didn’t have their own personal fishing tackle, the game and fish department had on hand more than 100 loaner poles and reels.
The purpose of the annual festival, McMullen said, is to introduce children to the sport of fishing and provide residents of all ages a free opportunity to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities in the Rim Country.