High lake levels and good fishing at the derby

By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun

The Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce is optimistic for the upcoming 28th annual Isabella Lake Fishing Derby. According to Fishing Derby Committee Chairman Fred Roach, this year’s application numbers are up from the previous two years. With rising water levels and gorgeous weather, it’s not hard to see why. This is great news for the valley; the chamber takes all excess funds made during the Derby and puts them back into stocking fish in the lake and encouraging tourism, something that has dwindled as a result of the drought.

Those who have not participated in the Derby recently may not know that the Derby committee has stopped tagging fish, but rather begun awarding prizes by size to guarantee prize payouts. This began a few years ago when the committee discovered that out of about 1,000 fish tagged, only 10-20% were being caught, and even these were smaller cash prizes. The larger payouts were rarely made, and fewer participants were winning. The committee changed the process to make Derby prizes more accessible, and because the drought increasingly required them to rely on fish loaned from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) that are not allowed to be tagged, so continuing this process was an easy task.

With $32,800 worth of prizes this year, $3,619 more than the 2016 Derby, fishermen now have multiple chances to win. The five longest trout will win prizes ranging from $250 to $4,000, but this year will also include Bobber Bowl and Blind Bogey prizes. The Bobber Bowl involves a fish tank full of bobbers sponsored by local businesses. Each bobber is worth $100, with the exception of a $200 and a $300 bobber. Those who catch a trout measuring within an inch of the fifth largest contender will have a chance to pick a bobber and receive a cash prize. The Blind Bogey, which is new this year, allows participants to bring any size trout to Derby Headquarters at the Isabella Moose Lodge and receive a ticket in return. At 5:00 p.m. on each day of the Derby, 10 tickets are drawn, and each pick wins a $100 cash prize. With so many options to choose from, many Derby participants will not go home empty-handed.

“We want to guarantee that we’re giving out money,” said Roach.

The younger participants are going to see quite a few prizes as well, as the committee has worked hard to keep the Derby fun and accessible for children. They have collected about $1,000 worth of rod and reel combos, and have been donated $500 of merchandise each from Isabella Market, Mt. Mesa Market, Sierra Gateway Market and Golden State Surplus to give out to young participants as children’s prizes.

As far as the fish are concerned, Roach expects the lake will be stocked with about 25,000 trout for Derby weekend. The committee has been raising about 2,000 pounds of Rainbow trout at Red’s Marina since November that were loaned from CDFW and are expecting another 5,000 pounds of Tailwalker Rainbow trout to be brought in from Chaulk Mound Trout Farm in Nebraska. The CDFW “loans” these fish to the derby committee to raise for the event and upon planting, they are considered returned. While the committee intends to plant the raised fish in the vicinity of fishermen throughout the weekend of the Derby, the weather will determine where planting will actually occur.

Roach is thankful for the community’s help in bringing the Derby together. With about 35 volunteers helping feed and raise the fish, around 40 working for Derby Headquarters and the Derby’s generous local sponsors, the committee has been able to prepare for what they hope will be a solid event.

“We cannot do any of this stuff without our sponsors and volunteers,” said Roach.

For those who will be bringing RVs to the Derby, Roach recommends camping in campsites maintained by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) when possible, as this year’s fluctuating lake levels may make staying on the shoreline a risky choice. He also reminds both visitors and locals to be mindful of their cleanup and USFS’s new “no glass” policy on the lakeshore. However, overall, Roach says the most important thing he wants Derby participants to remember is to have fun, enjoy their family time on the lake, and enjoy the beautiful weather this spring is offering the valley.
For more information on the Fishing Derby, registration options and camping, visit http://www.kernrivervalley.com/our_property.