The Willow Springs Lake Fall Trout Tournament has for the past 13 years marked the unofficial end of the spring and summer fishing season just as the spring tournament in May signals the onset of the season.
For about as long as most anglers can remember, Tracy Purtee has worked as tournament director of both frays that originally benefited the Christopher-Kohl’s Fire Department, then the Payson Christian School and today the Let’s Talk Fishin’ show that Purtee hosts Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings on 98.5 FM KCMA radio.
This year’s tournament will be held from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6 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. The first 50 entrants will receive T-shirts.
Tournament-day registration at the dock 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.
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. at the dock.
As longtime tournament director, Purtee has plenty of fond memories of past events including the early years when the tournament was held at Woods Canyon Lake.
Among his most cherished recollections is 1996 when the Arizona 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. “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.
In the October 2005 fall tournament, Purtee remembers it took the creative juices of a grandmother to catch the largest trout.
Pam Bumbalow, who entered the tournament only at her granddaughter’s request and because it was a charity event, caught a 21.2-ounce lunker with a 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 fish in either of the benefit tournaments. The youngster reeled 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.
For more information about the upcoming Willow Springs Lake trout tournament, call (928) 978-3659 or log on to firstname.lastname@example.org.