Fred Roach has this weird concept. He wants to give away every possible dollar at the three-day April 8-10 Isabella Lake Fishing Derby, and that’s a lot of money. He says it’s simple math and economics. The more people that enter, the more cash he can give away, and if there’s any money left over as profit for the Kern Valley Chamber, he just buys even more Nebraska Tailwalker trout after the derby for the season. Then he takes the remaining cash and increases next year’s derby pot of money.
WHERE ELSE can you have a three-day weekend of fun and fishing competition for $10 a day? Lake Isabella, located in Sequoa National Forest, will have all of the campgrounds open and ready for the derby, service officials have told the Chamber of Commerce. Book ahead, though. Note that many previously available spots on the shore may not be above the shoreline this year.
”We really just want to give away the money, and the more money we give away, the more people get excited, and the more people who get excited means more people the next year will be coming to visit us in the Kern River Valley,” said Roach.
It’s a fun, inexpensive event that showcases the lake and Kern River Valley, which is spectacular this trime of year, especially with all this rain. Green hills, and the surrounding Sequoa National Forest make for a beautiful warm, spring weekend backdrop. For the family, you cannot beat the price. Much of the event’s popularity comes from the fact it is a destination event in Kern Valley, and this year a big draw is the higher water levels. Entry fees are only $30 for individuals and $65 for families of husband, wife, and three children. Registration closes at 7 a.m., April 8.
Fishing Reaganomics, you might say. This isn’t a new philosophy after 10 years of running the 28th annual event, which is quite likely the biggest trout derby in the world. I don’t know of a bigger event. Roach and the other organizers are just getting better at figuring out the best way to unload all the money and make it fun for families, 70 percent of whom camp or bring RVs to campgrounds that surround Lake Isabella. The other 30 percent stay in local hotels, two within walking distance of the lake. Others have the option of staying a few miles away at Wofford Heights just two miles away, or Kernville 10 miles away.
For a few years, they tagged trout, $1,000 a fish. Damned if the fish stayed free to roam the lake after the derby.
“We didn’t want that, and so we stopped doing it, and now we give away $1,000 a day over three days in a blind bogey $100 to 10 people in a drawing. Any trout brought into Derby Headquarters will be eligible for the drawing.
THE LAKE LEVEL is at its highest allowed level, 350 acre feet. Areas on the shore available in recent years are underwater, so a campground for $10 a night is an easy, inexpensive choice. Many are being opened and ready for the derby. Check the Kern Valley website to reserve. KERN VALLEY CHAMBER PHOTOS AND GRAPHICS
Unfortunately, the last five years the water levels have been dropping, and as well as entrants for the derby from a heyday of 2009 when 8,820 entrants battled over $75,510 to last year when 1,443 anglers attended. Still, last year Roach and the derby officials gave out $29,181, topped by a $10,000 payout to Joe Newman from Norwalk who landed a 27 ¾-inch trout off Engineer Point that weighed 9.88 pounds. Let me repeat that, ten thousand dollars.
JOE NEWMAN TOOK the big fish honors last year for his 27 ¾-inch trout from Engineer Point. It weighed 9.88 pounds. Newman is from Norwalk.
This year, due to the rains, the lake level is at capacity, 360,000 acre feet, the fullest it can be for a safe level, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake could go as high as 560 acre feet, but the Army Corps has the last word.
So, the lake level is the highest it can ever be, and interest and signups are also way up, and added to the pot this year is the chance to win a Crestliner/Mercury boat package provided by Western Outdoor News and Richard’s Boat and RV Center in Lancaster. Then there was there was the cancellation of the 50th annual Blake Jones Blind Bogey last weekend in Bishop due to anticipated and unsafe high water levels. The Lake Isabella Derby committee also embarked on ad campaign in various publications, including this one, and backed that up with exhibiting at the two Fred Hall shows in Long Beach and Bakersfield the past two weeks. As P.T. Barnum said, “If you don’t market, nothing happens.”
The two tackle shows were indications the derby is back on track.
“That really helped, being at the two Hall shows,” said Roach. “People really wanted to know about the lake and derby. The story line for us is simple, the lake is up, it looks fantastic, there’s plenty of water, the most water in six or seven years, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. And it will be planted with a lot of fish. The 10,000 fish we got from the DFW are going to be released before the derby and they’re all beautiful and at about 1 pound, and we are buying Nebraska Tailwalkers, 5,000 pounds of them, 2 pounds and way bigger. We are way ahead of where we were last year in signups, so excitement is building.”
The big draws are the low cost to enter and camp, and the chance to win money in a variety of ways that involve skills and the luck of the draw. Much of the event’s popularity comes from the fact it is a destination event in Kern Valley, and a great three-day family value. Entry fees are only $30 for individuals and $65 for families of husband, wife, and up to three children.
As mentioned before, RVers and campers crowd the shoreline. This year some of those spots from previous years might not be available with higher water.
“There’s plenty of room,” said Roach, “But it would be wise to call ahead for reservations at the campgrounds because you can’t camp in many of the usual places on the shore as in the last few years. The high water this year is a good thing but it also means there will be many spots on the shore that will now be unavailable, but there’s plenty of campgrounds around the lake.” (See Map below)
As for being right on the water, the forest service is allowing the usual day use-only permit to extend to overnight, so a camper can be on the water’s edge all three days. The key is to get there early, in line by Thursday, and when it opens in the morning, the lakefront spots are first-come-first served. Then there are the campgrounds spots. It is wise to get a reservation before you come up. There are also access rods to the shore, and a map on the chamber website shows those, and those water-edge sites are open for three-day overnight stays.
There are a few restricted areas on the shore, and Keri Swindle of the Kern Valley Chamber says the Forest Service rangers will warn offenders first, and then ticket the offenders eventually. It’s rare for the derby. “Please have them call us (760-379-5236) if they are unsure of where to put their RVs or camp on the lake’s edge. “We want people to have a good time up here, not get a ticket.”
Let’s get back to the money and how it is handed out. In lieu of the state no longer allowing tagged fish, and the fact those tagged fish worth big money were often not caught, leading to criticism, there are two major ways cash will be handed out. The method that replaced the tagged fish is now based on the five longest fish. The Longest Fish is worth $2,000 and if the angler wearing the official t-shirt that amount is raised to $4,000. Second is $1,500 third is $1,000 forth is $500 and fifth is $250.
Said Roach, “This way it’s guaranteed we are giving the money, and that has seemed to solve the problem, and when I explain it to people they quickly understand, but unfortunately I usually have to explain to every person why we don’t have tagged fish.”
So, someone might ask, that top 5 payout is fine and dandy for those five top anglers, but we are talking about 2,000 to 3,000 anglers this year. Maybe more. The best method for spreading out the wealth among the masses, and keeping it fair for everyone and especially kids is a new derby wrinkle: The weigh-in/ Draw method. Each day those who weigh in fish at the tourney headquarters at the Moose Lodge by 5 p.m. will be eligible for the drawings. There are 10 drawings each day for $100 each. That’s 30 checks for $100.
Roach said there is also the “very popular” Bobber Bowl prize for anglers to win up to $300, and the Lake Trout Lotto splitting the pot for the “longest trout” guess.
Again, this is an inexpensive derby, $30 for individuals and $65 for families of husband, wife, and three children. Campsites are $10 a night. Warm weather, full lake, lots of chances to win. Maybe it’s time to take a break from watching your kids’ mind-numbing incessant soccer games that weekend. And you can’t have a phone in your hand if you are holding a fishing rod or playing in the lake.
So, again, the derby is over three days, and it’s coming up quick, April 8,9 and 10. Go to the website for more details on campgrounds and boat permits and various rules and the signup sheet. Registration can be done online at http://www.kernrivervalley.com, or by application available at the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce at PO Box 567, 6416 “D” Lake Isabella Blvd. Lake Isabella, CA. Phone (760) 379-5236. Applications received before March 20, 2017 will be eligible for the early bird prize of $500.
THIS TABLE OF teams and payouts shows the amazing numbers of teams that fish the derby when the water levels are up.
BOATERS: Lots of water this year
Boaters are going to be more plentiful this year, said derby chairman Fred Roach, and the chamber can help you plan your trip. While boats are not inspected for quagga mussels, rangers hope anglers will make sure boat’s bilges are dry.
There are two marinas, French Gulch and Red’s Marina. For example, French Gulch has 100 boat slips, secure and lighted, with a full array of boat and watercraft rentals, and they sell permits. As an example, an 18-foot boat costs $20 a day for a slip. It varies as to length of boat. Call the marinas to get all the details on bringing a bat or renting one, or renting a kayak.
There is a small boat permit for the lake, annual or three-day $45/$15, and available at the marinas, the ranger station, Lake Isabella store, and the Crossroads Shell Station. For launching, there are several ramps located at various points around the lake, including the Main Dam (which is closest to the French Gulch marina), South Fork Recreation Area, Paradise Cove, Tillie Creek Campground and Camp 9.
Float tubes and kayaks are allowed on the lake, as well. No permit is needed for anything under 8 feet. Call French Gulch at (760)-379-8774. Check the two marinas’ websites for photos and other information.
A 2017 CV 1667 CRESTLINER BOAT, 9.9 hp Mercury Motor and trailer rig will be awarded as the Grand Raffle Prize.