Tracy Purtee might be the finest angler to approach for a few precious tips on how to catch and weigh in a string of prize-winning lunkers at the 28th Annual Spring Lake Trout Tournament set for May 12 at Willow Springs Lake.
He’s a good choice to go to mostly because he’s an expert on tournament affairs having served as director for more than a decade. Also, Purtee willingly doles out advice unlike some local fishermen, who guard their secrets as if they contained the winning lottery numbers.
His first tip is to be sure your tournament tackle box is stocked with Ford Fender Trolls and a supply of worms
Ford Fenders, which were fashioned more than 70 years ago from the headlight reflector of a Model A Ford, are Trolls with a rich history. They are also one of the most popular options among Arizona’s high country anglers.
“I like to use a worm with the Fender,” said Purtee.
Purtee also recommends the Berkley Power Bait for catching rainbows, saying it is one of the best trout lures.
When using Power Bait, however, many anglers say to choose and ultra light rod and reel combination with less than a four-pound test line.
While there are a number Power Baits available, one of the most popular might be the Berkley Gulp, which is a traditional dough bait molded on the end of a hook.
In past years, Purtee has also used cowbells, crank baits and crick hoppers.
No matter what lure is chosen, a common strategy among those who frequent Willow Springs and its sister lake, Woods Canyon, is to troll or cast and change baits and lures until finding one that is productive.
At almost every past tournament, finding fish was a hot topic and while there are those entrants who have their favorite honey holes, Purtee contends that there are no consistent hot spots on the lake.
“It’s pretty much equal all over and you can catch fish whether you are in a boat or on the shore,” he said.
About 100 anglers are expected to join Purtee in the angling showdown that for the past 27 years has unofficially signaled the start of the fishing season on Rim Country lakes. The Willow Springs Fall Classic, of which Purtee is also the tournament director, traditionally marks the end of the fishing season.
The past two years, the tournament has benefited the Let’s Talk Fishin’ radio show that can be heard on 98.5 FM.
The rules and schedule
This year’s tournament will be held from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the 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 $40 per person and $30 for children under 13 years of age. The first 50 to register will receive souvenir T-shirts.
Tournament day registration at the lake store opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 7 a.m. Those who preregister must also check in before beginning to fish.
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.
Participants must fish Willow Springs Lake only and there can be no prefishing from April 28 to the day of the tournament. The minimum size trout that should be kept is 8 inches. The benefit will take place regardless of weather conditions.
The post tournament weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. and closes at 4 p.m. Since the weigh-in will be held at the dock house, fishermen can opt to catch and release. Awards and prizes will be given out at a ceremony beginning at 4 p.m. by the dock.
Registration forms are available at the Payson Roundup, 708 N. Beeline Highway.
Forms should be mailed to: Tracy Purtee, 504 W. Ashby Drive, Payson, AZ 85541. For more information, call (928) 978-3659 or e-mail email@example.com.
When Purtee took over as tournament director more than a decade ago, it was held at Woods Canyon.
Several years ago, Purtee moved the tournament site to Willow Springs saying it could accommodate more anglers and was better suited for competitive fishing.
It’s also a very scenic lake and very popular among Valley anglers that traditionally make up about 90 percent of the tourney field.
As tournament director, Purtee has plenty of fond memories of past events. Among his most cherished recollections is 1996 when the Game and Fish Department stocked Woods Canyon just days before the tournament.
“They had cleaned out their breeder pond and put the fish in the lake,” he said. “There was 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.