Tsaile resident earns first place at fishing contest

By Sunnie Clahchischiligi
Navajo Times

WHEATFIELDS LAKE, Ariz., July 4, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Gene Francis from Kirtland, N.M., throws his fishing line back into the water while fishing with his family on Sunday at Wheatfields Lake. Francis said he only caught one fish.

SECOND FROM TOP: A rainbow trout caught by Lakeside Store Fishing Contest contestant Myron Begay from Round Rock, Ariz. is held in place so that a fishing hook can be removed from its mouth on Sunday at Wheatfields Lake in Wheatfields, Ariz.

THIRD FROM TOP: Fisherman Myron Begay from Round Rock, Ariz. places some bait on his hook before throwing back into the water during the Lakeside Store Fishing Contest at Wheatfields Lake in Wheatfields, Ariz.

BOTTOM: Melcom Yazzie, 13, from Winslow, quickly pulls on his fishing rod after he sees it move on Sunday at Wheatfields Lake. There was no fish at the end of the hook when Yazzie reeled his fishing line back in.

It has been years since Eddie Mason last picked up a fishing pole.

As a child he used to fish all the time but never entered any competitions. He simply enjoyed being outdoors.

On June 29 and 30, after years of neglecting the sport, he decided to get back into the game and entered the Lakeside Store Fishing Contest at Wheatfields Lake.

Mason, a Tsaile, Ariz. resident, won the contest with a 1.63-pound trout that was 16.25 inches long. He took home a 10-foot Bass boat and trolling motor.

"I used to (fish) when I was a little kid, lately I've been working a lot. Since I had some time off I thought I'd catch up on my fishing skills," he said.

Mason started fishing at 7:30 a.m., along with everyone else and by 8 a.m. he caught his first fish, the fish that eventually won him the contest.

"It was just perfect timing, I haven't fished in a long time," he said. "I put $40 down and just got lucky I guess."

Though only one first-place winner out of 45 contestants throughout the weekend could be named, the others joined Mason in reconnecting with the sport.

Fishing and the outdoors is exactly why Levon and Rita Thomas, owners of the Lake Side Store and organizers of the contest, put on the annual series event.

This past weekend's event is one of three fishing events the store hosts throughout the summer. The other two will be held July 27-28 and Sept. 21-22.

"It brings people back," Levon Thomas said. "I'm always into helping people - people keep calling asking when's the next one - they said nobody puts anything on like this."

The event began on June 29 at 7 a.m. and continued on through the evening into the morning of June 30 and ended at 4 p.m. Contestants fished for a total of 33 hours.

Participants in the event were required to bring in any fish caught within 30 minutes. The fish had to be alive as they were brought in, and had to be weighed and measured. A photo of each fish was taken and information such as the location the fish was caught and what type of bait was used were recorded.

Homemade bait

Thomas said he has found that previous winners of the event have had more success fishing from the shore than from a boat. He said some have even managed to create their own bait that has seemed to help.

"There's a lot of fishermen here that have secrets, they make their own formula at home," he said of the homemade bait. "There are guys that (use) frybread dough, and using garlic and just using food coloring to make the color, some even throwing in glitter."

Thomas and his wife Rita opened the shop up in 1983. They've held fishing competitions throughout the 30 years they've been in business, with the exception of the 10 years the lake was dry.

The lake was drained for 10 years to repair the dam and fishing was slow.

Once it reopened the two began the fishing contest where the started giving boats away as prizes.

"We're pretty much into providing a service that our people need, usually a service you find (off the reservation). Our people go into Gallup or Farmington to fish," he said.

The lake

Wheatfields Lake is one of 22 lakes on the Navajo Nation. It is one of 11 of the 22 lakes that still has water. Thomas said according to Navajo Fish and Wildlife, 85 percent of fishing permits sold are sold to Wheatfields Lake anglers. It is considered the most used lake on the Navajo Nation.

The majority of the lake is stocked with bass, catfish and predominately trout.

Thomas said Wheatfields Lake was restocked about a month ago with 17,453 fish.

Compared to the previous years of competition, Thomas said the only thing different this year is the weather.

"Just the heat," he said. "It's rough fishing during the heat, and usually June is my most active fishing contest. I'm kind of freaking out on what it's going to be like in July, usually August is the worst fishing month."

Despite the spiking temperatures, contestants decided to show up anyway. Many camped outand brought their families.

Tuba City contestant Brent Engle, Sr., entered the contest for the first time and placed second. He caught a 1.94 pound fish that was nearly 15 inches long, and took home an 8-foot Pontoon boat.

The third-place winner Joe Trujillo took home a U-boat.

Engle said he brought along his father, son and brother-in-law.

"I've been fishing ever since I was a young kid," Engle said. "It feels pretty fun, I enjoy it."

Engle caught his fish at about 2 p.m. on the first day of the event. He said he used salmon flavored Berkley Powerbait.

Added Levon Thomas of the event, "Just being able to put a smile on their faces, it makes me feel good and it's just the love of doing it."