Members of the FLW tournament committee won’t be breaking their arms patting themselves on the back, but they are glowing with pride over a job well done.
The task accomplished involved planning and hosting the first-ever FLW National Guard Western Series Tournament Sept. 22 to 25 at Roosevelt Lake and the Payson FLW Fun Day a week earlier at Green Valley Park.
Both events were overwhelming successes that churned thousands of dollars into the Payson economy, attracted some of the best professional fishermen from around the country and highlighted Roosevelt Lake as one of the West’s finest bass fisheries.
Payson committee co-chairman James Goughnour now reveals the goal of organizers at the onset of planning over a year ago was for the tournament to exceed the expectations of the FLW, National Guard and anglers and to make the event the best in the series.
“From all the feedback we’ve received, we attained those goals,” Goughnour said.
The field of nearly 100 professionals battled over the course of the tournament for a top prize of $50,000 that was won by Keith Espe of New River who was participating in his first FLW tournament.
Anglers also were vying for valuable points to qualify for the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing.
Redding, Calif. fisherman Jimmy Zanotelli won the co-angler top prize of a Ranger boat and trailer, Cabela’s Angler Cash of $1,000 and $1,401 in added money.
Goughnour stressed that committee members, as well as anglers, were elated with the “Big Fish” prize of $1,000 for the first three days of the tournament that was donated by Chapman Auto Center and Payson Concrete.
“Both pros and co-anglers were eligible and that’s kind of unusual,” said Goughnour.
Espe weighed in a four-day, 20-fish limit of 47 pounds, 4 ounces that gave him a 3-pound, 7- ounce win over runner-up Robert Lee of Angels Camp, Calif.
For Lee’s second-place finish, he pocketed $17,358 in prize money and another $1,931 in added money.
Co-anglers fished three days rather than four as the pros did and Zanotelli caught a 15-fish limit of 29 pounds, 8 ounces.
Just weeks before the tournament, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission threw out the lake’s slot limit that had been in force for more than a decade.
Payson FLW committee member Dennis Pirch believes the elimination of that rule proved to be a bonus because, “It allowed for more fish to be caught by both the pros and co-anglers and it helped showcase the lake.”
The highlight of the tournament for about 1,000 fans and spectators was the final weigh-in Sept. 25 at Chapman Auto Center where a fun zone was set up for all to enjoy.
Prior to the anglers arriving at the auto center with their bass in tow, a drawing was held for a $200 Cabela’s gift card. Every 30 minutes drawings for rods and reels donated by the FLW drew hundreds of hopefuls.
Musical entertainment supplied by the country western duo of Brooks and Yoder “was a big hit, everyone enjoyed them,” said Pirch.
The professional winner, Espe, told media members that the win was special for him not only because it was his first, but also because he lost his mom in February and his dad in May.
“It feels pretty special,” he said.
Espe also said he fished the same spot at Roosevelt the entire tournament and it was a spot that he and his dad discovered five years ago.
Payson professional angler Clifford Pirch, a member of the National Guard team, finished ninth overall with a three-day catch of 28 pounds, 4 ounces. For his finish he earned $6,062 in prize money and $1,434 in added money.
Most importantly, however, the finish earned him enough points to qualify for an automatic berth in next year’s Forrest Wood Cup.
Other Payson pros competing were Mark Kile (17th), Chris Perkes (55th), Buddy Randall (67th) and Robert O’Donnell (80th).
Among the co-anglers, longtime local fisherman John Browning had the best Payson showing taking 27th. Tracy Purtee was 33rd.
Coverage of the Roosevelt tournament will be broadcast in high-definition on VERSUS “FLW Outdoors,” Oct. 31 from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. The program is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to about 500 million households worldwide.