Just a few weeks ago, 100 of the best bass fishermen in the West launched their boats for a week of competitive fishing on Roosevelt Lake with Payson being the hub of all the activities. This was an obvious opportunity for Northern Gila County and the Town of Payson to showcase the beauty of our outdoor back yard and the friendly folks of this area. From the responses of numerous media outlets, the anglers, and spectators, it appeared to be an overwhelming success.
The plans for this major bass tournament, the FLW National Guard Western Series, were initiated almost a year-and-a-half ago because of the previous success of a Stren-level fishing derby held on Roosevelt Lake in the spring of 2009.
The Town of Payson, under the leadership of Mayor Kenny Evans, saw the value of the Town of Payson hosting a major league bass tournament where the warm-water fishery of Roosevelt Lake would attract national attention from the bass fishing enthusiasts throughout the country. Mayor Evans teamed up with District 1 Gila County Supervisor Tommie Cline Martin and the contract was finalized for the FLW National Guard Western Series to make Roosevelt Lake one of four stops in the West with Lake Mead, Lake Shasta, and the Delta rounding out the field.
An all-volunteer committee started the planning process with the vision of making this bass tournament a true showcase event on Roosevelt Lake, the largest of the Salt River Project’s chain of lakes, which provides water and electricity for much of the metropolitan Phoenix area. This reservoir also happens to be a very productive bass fishing hot spot, especially since it has been near 100 percent capacity for two years, which certainly has had a positive effect on the warm-water fishery.
Arizona Game and Fish Department manages the fishery and it has been conducting creel surveys and other studies that indicated it was time to remove the 18-year slot limit that had succeeded in improving the numbers and size of the bass in Roosevelt Lake. With the recommendations of Kirk Young, Region 6 supervisor, Chris Cantrell, the regional fish program manager, and the commission, the slot was eliminated which was beneficial to professional anglers as they were allowed to weigh-in 13- to 16-inch fish as a part of their five-fish limit. It is important to note, that all these bass were returned to the lake after they had been weighed, to be caught again by another lucky angler.
The Tonto Basin District of the Tonto National Forest has jurisdiction over much of the land surrounding the lake, including the boat ramp, parking lot, and the recreational area where much of the activity took place on the first three days of the tournament. Kelly Jardine, the district ranger, and Troy Waskey, recreational supervisor, were instrumental in making the area user-friendly for fishermen, spectators, and FLW personnel, which is critical in an event of this size. In addition, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office had law enforcement jurisdiction and provided safety along with an escort for the five finalists on the last day of the tournament.
Many of the activities in the first three days of the tournament occurred at Cholla boat launch, where John and Janet Sneed, owners of the Tackle Box of Tonto Basin, handled the security and operations. This is quite an undertaking to launch 100 bass boats in a timely manner as well as 24-hour security for all the FLW equipment, in addition displaying five Ranger bass boats provided by Cabella’s of Phoenix.
The week began with an entertaining FLW Day in Payson at Green Valley Park, which included autograph signings, media interviews, free fishing, and an evening concert by the 2nd Shift Band who are employed by the Salt River Project. Del Taco of Payson was the signature sponsor for the day and also created sports cards of the 20 professional anglers who were in attendance for the autograph-signing portion of the day. This was all the brainchild of Cameron Davis, director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for the Town of Payson, with the assistance of town employees Mary McMullen and Deb Rose. By the response of anglers, the number of spectators and the participation of the vendors, it was a huge success as an inaugural event and can certainly be built on for future tournaments.
The Mazatzal Hotel & Casino, under the direction of General Manager Farrell Hoosava, provided the registration room for the crowd of 200 fishermen and their friends, in addition to rooms for the FLW personnel during the week. The Majestic Mountain Inn donated rooms for the anglers who came early to participate in the FLW autograph-signing day in Payson. General Manager Buck Rogers of Chapman Auto Center had loaner automobiles ready for the leadership team of the FLW and of course, the final day weigh-in festivities were made available by clearing their new car lot. In addition, Chapman Auto Center and Payson Concrete awarded a $1,000 prize for the biggest bass caught on each of the first three days of the tournament. This was a free option to all of the 200 anglers in the final series event of the season and was met with a resounding round of applause. The Majestic Rim of the Good Samaritan Society hosted a sit-down dinner of filet mignon and all the trimmings for the volunteer committee, local political officials, and FLW staff.
A special thanks goes out to all the other sponsors, with their assistance this was a community and Northern Gila County success story. The local media of KMOG, KCMA, and the Payson Roundup staff, led by Max Foster and Pete Aleshire, were instrumental in informing the public of all the events. With the detailed leadership of Jim Goughnour and hundreds of countless hours of all the other volunteers, a success story was realized on Roosevelt Lake, Gila County and Payson, where everyone involved can be proud to have been an integral part of a major bass fishing tournament.
Other sponsors include the Brooks and Yoder Band, PHS Modern Choir, Arizona Respiratory Services, Pepsi Cola of Payson, Rim Country Custom Rods and Repair, PERA Club of Roosevelt Lake, Tonto Basin Fire Department, ERA Young Realty and HPR Ammunition.
This weekend, start watching for the display of the fall colors in the Rim Country, God’s creation.