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FISHING DERBY CONTINUES TO CATCH FLAK

The name has changed, but the game remains the same.

If you want to call it a game, that is, which critics do and sponsors don't.The former "Strawberry 10,000," now the "Rainbow 10,000," this week grew in notoriety - as fish frolics go - as questions surfaced over whether the controversial and still-pending event is a form of gambling.

The Oct. 1 tournament, which if held would award $10,000 to whoever catches the biggest rainbow trout from Utah public waters, was scuttled last week when the U.S. Forest Service withdrew permission for the contest to happen exclusively at Strawberry Reservoir.

Public outcry forced the cancellation as opponents, including state wildlife experts, said it would endanger the delicate fishery, in its third year of recovery. The Division of Wildlife Resources in 1991 sterilized the popular Wasatch County reservoir with poison and reseeded it with cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon and rainbow trout, hoping to create a sportsman's paradise free of "trash fish."

The sponsors of the "Strawberry 10,000" - Allied, a company that owns four sporting-goods store in northern Utah, and radio station Z-93 - responded by shuffling the rules and announcing the "Rainbow 10,000."

The 3,500 people Allied says will officially take part in the contest can now fish whatever public waters they want.

"This will disperse some people," said Steve Brown, an Allied spokesman.

"It doesn't change anything," retorts Allen Ryther, a member of the Stonefly Society, a local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Ryther said because Strawberry has more rainbow trout than anyplace else within 60 miles of the Wasatch Front, that's where contestants will go, a worry shared by Tom Pet-ten-gill, the sport fisheries coordinator for DWR.

"It's where most people feel they have the best chance to catch a big rainbow."

Opponents last week approached Murray City Attorney Craig Hall to ask whether prosecutors could block the event on the grounds it breaks Utah's strict gaming laws. Hall said Wednesday he will meet next week with lawyers from the attorney general's office to request an opinion. Murray is the site of Allied's biggest store.

Though critics say insistence by Allied and Z-93 on sponsoring the event is a shameless advertising-and-money grab that shows little respect for Strawberry Reservoir, Brown says it's all in the best interest of angling.

"There's an intrinsic value in having a day when the whole family can go out and fish," he said, adding that the gaming argument is "specious."