Fishing with Noble: The Legend of Bernie Allen

Fishing with Noble / Noble Smith

If you are having a conversation about a true fisherman, the name Bernie Allen must come up. Also known as “Belly Boat Bernie.” Named this for all the years he fished in his float tube. Spending seven days a week chasing his favorite fish in Isabella Lake, crappie.

Talk about an impressive way to get into fishing. Back in the 50s, Bernie was into spear fishing. Traveling the world, diving and fishing. He had the ability to free dive to 75 feet of water and holding his breath for a minute and a half. Now that is some up close and personal fishing.

After that, it was all about fishing for Bernie. From fly fishing for trout in the streams and rivers to busting marlin and dorades down around Cabo San Lucas. He had a taste for fishing and adventure.

Whatever form of fishing it was, he would do what it took to be good at it. As a fly fisherman, he worked hard to become an expert at casting. He could drop that fly in a bucket from a distance if he wanted to.

Fishing with a professional fly fisherman one day, Bernie noticed he was tying his own flies. Matching the hatch of insects in the area. Bernie was able to manage two fish. The pro was catching fish on every cast. That all seemed to be too much trouble for a day’s fishing. Bernie decided to move on to different forms of fishing.

Fortunately for the Kern River Valley, Bernie decided to retire from the Torrance Fire Department. He wanted to move the family to the valley and start a business. Along with his wife, Marge, and sons Dennis and Scott, they made the move.

Back in the late 70s/early 80s, Bernie opened his business. Discount Tackle, imagine that. Bernie opening a fishing tackle store. Discount Tackle changed the fishing tackle business in the valley. He offered wholesale prices to local businesses, as well as discounted prices to everyday customers. A lot more customers would come to the valley to purchase their tackle, as opposed to buying in town before coming up fishing.

Now a local fisherman, Bernie took on a true love of crappie fishing. He quickly educated himself on the ways of the crappie in Isabella Lake, most of the time fishing from his float tube. Rumor has it, back in the days of float tube tournaments, Bernie would announce before the tournament that the prize was his. Most of the time, he was right. He definitely won more than he lost.
In between all of that crappie fishing, Bernie found time to enjoy fishing all the species the valley had to offer. I guess when you fish over 200 days a year, it makes it possible to diversify a little.
To his credit, Bernie has caught a 25-pound catfish, 7-pound trout, and a 14-pound bass. One can only guess how many 3- to 5-pound crappie he has caught. Throw in a beautiful 17-inch golden trout, and that completes a pretty good resume.

Some tournament bass fishermen are probably relieved Bernie chose crappie fishing. He has caught several bass over 10 pounds and too many to count in the 5 to 10 pound range. All of these on crappie gear. If he had concentrated his efforts on bass fishing, I am sure he would have been a very good competitive fisherman.

I was able to get a few pointers out of Bernie on crappie fishing. When the crappie fishing is red hot, the bite is simple. The fish are aggressive and pretty much hood themselves. When the bite is tough, it’s time to use more of a feel technique. Bernie uses Hitec bass rods made of boron and modifies them for crappie fishing. Some fishermen have told me Bernie knows they are there before they bite. I think it’s great feel and timing that sets Bernie above most crappie fishermen.

Line size is also a big factor. When the spawn is on and the bite hot, maybe 6-pound test. Winter time slow bite, maybe 2-pound test line. Bending the hook out from normal will also help keep fish hooked better. This means a lot less lost fish. Also a 1/8 ounce Kastmaster silver or gold are the go-to lures on Isabella Lake.

All of these pointers will help you to become a better crappie fisherman. We may get a little closer to Bernie. If I was a betting man, my money would still go on Bernie.
Another thing I have admired about Bernie’s fishing: all through the years he has preached “Keep what you are going to eat, and put the rest back for the next fisherman.”

Bernie, now in his mid-80s, has slowed down a bit. He is down to 150 days a year of fishing. Always a class act willing to talk fishing with anybody any time. I highly recommend listening.

See you on the water.