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Pat McDonell's Blog

WONews Column by Pat McDonell

Pat McDonell is the Editorial Director of Western
Outdoors Publications and has fished and hunted all over the world, from Brazil’s famed peacock bass waters to Morro Bay for albacore.

A graduate from San Diego State University in Journalism, he coordinates the staffs of the weekly newspaper and magazine. He was a founding member of United Anglers of SoCal. He’s an avid saltwater and freshwater angler and hunter. He is also the director of the annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament held each November in Cabo.  McDonell, 52, is married with two daughters and resides in Carlsbad.

One of the best ever
There are few trips that are perfect. Where everyone on a charter gets a big fish, and most get a personal best. Where the fishing, the weather, the conditions and the personalities of the crew and anglers come together for an unforgettable experience. Believe me, I’ve had some great experiences on the water hosting trips for WON over three decades. This one is right at the top, or near it.

THE CHARTER GROUP the evening of the second day. From left, Malcom Bryce, Dave Howard, Wendell Nagao, Dave Norman, Peter Ramsland, Eddie Abate, Richard Macias, Jessica Koerner, Brett Leffew, Terry Uchida, Victor Locklin, Greg Santistevan, Pat McDonell and Aaron Sims.

There were 14 of us on the Constitution on one of those Puerto Vallarta tuna trips to the Tres Marias Islands. We returned to port at beautiful Paradise Village Marina on Thursday shaking our heads. Now, our WON charter trip was not wide open. These trips rarely are. As I understand it, on these 5-day trips with three days of fishing, you can count on 1 day of slow fishing, a pick on another and outstanding tuna fishing on one of the three. It’s about changing conditions.

The previous three trips had been tough. Two trips had one or two or three fish. The charter before ours had 7 fish over 3 days, signaling a positive change. Our trip saw the cow tuna herd bust loose again. Right time, right place, right conditions and tuna that wanted to play.

Let’s just go over the numbers. Forget the great weather, the crew, the food and the group of 13 people who were on the charter. All great, and some interesting folks. A Hollywood lighting guy. An alligator hunter. The first day we had three fish to 160 pounds, two on the balloon rigs by Wendell Nagao of Orange that was 148 pounds and Dave Norman of Granada Hills of 145 pounds and the other on a flylined caballito by veteran long ranger and Puerto Vallarta guy Terry Uchida of Cardiff. That was a 160 pounder, and was the first official yellowfin hooked and landed for the trip. That was the slow day. I was next on the balloon rig, and I held that reel for 10 hours over two days.

That night after our first day, we made a handful of jumbo 14-inch squid under the lights, and the second day turned up a day we will all remember. Now, keep in mind, this is all big tuna. Nothing under 100 pounds, not even close. But on this second day, after Capt. Evarista Rodriguez (He goes by “E”) moved the Constitution to a spot he felt would give us better all-day action, the big fish came out to play.

RICHARD MACIAS OF Glendora with his 340 pounder on the second day, hooked on a live squid under the balloon rig.

Victor Locklin of Corona was on the boat a month ago and got a cow and could not get enough, so he booked two more trips — ours and another that leaves this weekend. Locklin hooked one on the flylined squid and it was huge. Meanwhile, I was still waiting for a big tuna to hit the squid under the balloon when Victor lost the fish right at gaff. The leader broke, likely from a line nick on a boat contact during the fight. I asked how big it was and Capt. Rodriquez looked at me and held up three fingers, signaling 300 pounds. Victor did feel better later, getting the trip’s third biggest fish, a 233.

A minute later, my balloon dropped to the water indicating a bite. I reeled like a madman as the line tightened, then line ripped out. It was a big one and E was determined not to lose this one. He guided me through lines, around the anchor, grabbed the rod when it got squirrely and believe me, I would NOT have caught it without the help of E. It was estimated at 250, but taped out the next day at 220. My fifth 200 pounder, not a personal best, but I was satisfied, and I was mercifully off the balloon duty. I took a lot of good-natured ribbing over 10 hours. The wait is usually not that long, but the reward is worth it.

Then things got interesting for those flylining squid and also on the balloon rotation. The cow tuna wanted to play. While some of us had caught big tuna before, most of the group’s personal bests were under 100 pounds, or 150 or so. These trips put you in a position to get a cow tuna over 200, or a super cow, on a short trip. You fly to PV nonstop, get on the boat, fish three days, fly home that night if you choose.

I will have more on this trip, but when the day ended, we had lost two at 300 pounds and one over 200, but we landed eight fish over 160, three over 200, and the big brute of the trip, a 340 pounder on the balloon by Richard Macias of Glendora. It was a personal best by over 200 pounds. He nailed that fish on the rail rod like he’d done it 20 times. He studied the technique, used it and had that fish on the deck in less than 20 minutes.


VICTOR LOCKLIN OF Corona caught third biggest fish of the trip, this 233 pounder. He’s already been twice this year and going back to PV on the 29th for another shot.

“It’s what we came here for,” he said after the fight. The next day his girlfriend, Jessica Koerner of Chino, would get a 257, securing the day-three jackpot, and they gave the crew the money. The two biggest fish for two amazing people. Not a jealous person on the boat as they hooked and handed off a fish each to a few guys late the third day so everyone in the group could get a nice fish.

All told, we had the three the first day, 8 the next day and finished midday the third day with 16 fish, four over 200 and one 340 pounder and two over 180 pounds. We also lost three fish, two of them clearly over 300. It happens, and heartbreakingly in the final minutes or seconds.

There’s more to the trip, and the people on it, for a future issue of WON. Stay tuned. In the meantime, think about booking one of these trips. This season is about over as the sportfisher will be heading back to San Diego for the summer season. Go to for the 2018 schedule.

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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the annual Cabo Tuna Jackpot, Nov. 1-4.

DAVE HOWARD OF Thousand Oaks claimed a personal best of 128 pounds. He says he’s coming back for that cow!

RICHARD MACIAS AND Jessica Koerner with the row of big tuna. There were eight fish landed the second day, three over 200, topped by a 340 by Macias. Koerner would get the trip’s second biggest fish, a 257, the morning of the third day.

Failure to Launch -- on time
Shelter Island launch ramp 9-month 
construction delayed until May 1 startup

THE SHELTER ISLAND RAMP and basin construction has been delayed two months during an extended bidding process. On April 11 the Port selected the contract from five bids, and construction will begin May 1. The ramp will have one narrow “walled” lane open during summer months, Port officials said. The 9-month minimum construction time frame will have heavy impacts for those launching boats. ART AND PHOTO COURTESY OF PORT OF SAN DIEGO

The busiest ramp in the state needs an upgrade, and the pains for boaters will be felt throughout the region; contractor is chosen for low $7 million bid


WON Staff Writer

SHELTER ISLAND – More than 50,000 boat launches a year take place at the Port of San Diego’s facility at Shelter Island. It could be higher than that estimate with an improved economy and better fishing these past three years. It will be far fewer launches than that when the dilapidated ramp and basin gets its overdue makeover. 

No question about it, the facility will be a huge improvement. A larger basin area, more dockage, a lighted walkway. And best of all, it will remain free to use, and park. On the down side, it will be a brutal waiting period for boaters. 

On April 11 the Port commissioners selected the contractor among bidders for the project that originally was expected to begin Jan. 27. It will now start May 1, and be completed sometime in March, 2018.

There were five bidders, from a low of $7 million to $14.1 million. The money is coming from grants, $6.1 million from the California Division of Boating and Waterways, and $3.3 million from the California Wildlife Conservation Board. Any “extra” costs will be borne by the Port of San Diego. Which is likely because most people think the $7 million bid accepted according to lowest-bid Port protocol – will not cover the cost. Not by a long shot. Not when barges and cranes costs $25,000 a day. Any cost overrides will be borne by the Port. Boaters and businesses in the area don’t care about any of that. They just want it done fast.

At the meeting April 11, the vote did not go without some terse comments. Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos said he was "very disappointed" that the company, R.E. Staite Engineering Inc., was being awarded a $7 million dollar Port of San Diego contract to update the Shelter Island boat ramp when the federal border wall contract the company is seeking "flies in the face of everything San Diego is about." He said he would vote for the contract and “hold his nose” while doing so.

Castellanos’ comments on the Barrio Logan contractor won’t have any bearing on anything. The contract was duly awarded and the Barrio Logan-based contractor who won the contract had no comment after the meeting, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. There was enough time for some grandstanding, but there is no time to waste in starting the 9-month project. The Port must complete the project by March 31 or the state grant funds will be pulled.

The bidding process took two months longer than expected. Several companies bid on the project to rebuild the aging facility that is the busiest launch facility in the state because is free to launch and park, is close to the bay entrance and live bait operators and there are few public ramps on the bay considering its vast size.

Nevertheless, the project will go forward, and there will be some huge pains by trailerboaters and tour operators. The ramp will have one narrow lane open in the summer, but it is a bad gamble for boaters. Even if open, long lines are expected and flared tempers. The amphibious “Seal” tour boats have priority to the ramp due to their lease with the port, but if not for them, there would not even be one lane open. Note to fishermen:  You may think you can use that one lane on off hours to go offshore fishing, and you certainly will be able to get the boat launch in the summer, but when you return home and have to put the boat on the trailer in the afternoon on any given day, the wait could be hours. Don't do it.  

There are other ramps in the bay, Glorietta Bay on Coronado Island with limited parking, and two beautiful public facilities in Chula Vista and National City. Mission Bay’s ramps, and there are several, are far better choices, and expect those to be jammed up as well due to the impact of the nine-month construction.

The biggest tournament of the year in San Diego is the annual 150-boat San Diego Anglers Bay Bass Open in January. It draws 500 anglers, guests, family and workers to the ramp and grass areas. Co-Director Dwayne Patenaude told WON other sites in the back of the Bay have some size and safety issues due to shallow water, and that Mission Bay as a one-year alternative site has its issues as well, mainly permission from the City of San Diego and parking. They are looking at their options.

It is possible, Patenaude said, the massive one-day tourney will be delayed a few months, and when the ramp is completed, the delayed   tourney at Shelter Island could be an unofficial opening to the public. For now, May 1 is the start time for construction, and boaters should be aware the ramp is not a viable option for nine months. The San Diego Anglers Club will be the last club to use the event for a tourney before construction, when the 25 teams from the Bay Open collide in the Champions Tourney April 22. A week late, construction begins.  

The construction will certainly impact business on the bay. Fuel, restaurants, live bat, and clubs like the Marlin Club a few blocks away will have a tough time promoting its several tournaments, many of them geared to skiffs. That is a concern to me, for sure, as I just joined the club to fish the events and use the bayside facility. 

One a final note, the Port’s contractor must stop work if a sea mammal enters the basin’s work area, and cannot start until the mammal has left on its own. Do not feed them live bait from your tanks at any time near the site.

Pat McDonell is a longtime editor of Western Outdoor News, and uses the launch ramp 20 times a year on average. 


BILL MELTON, project engineer for the Port of San Diego, speaks at the Day At The Docks on the seminar stage, answering questions about the time frame, costs and impacts and availability of the one lane that will remain open to launching. WON PHOTO BY PAT McDONELL

First, not the last
It was the first for the SoCal fleet, but it won’t be the last. In fact, Capt. Rick Slavkin of the Oceanside 95 is fully expecting a 300-pound bluefin to be landed this season. Maybe several. For now, he is savoring the catch of the first 200-pound bluefin of the season among all boats in 2017.

STEVE WELSH OF GARDENA put the wood to this 209-plus pound bluefin (taped) on Wednesday at Hidden Bank on an overnight trip out of Helgren’s Oceanside Sportfiishing At right is Anthony Criscenti and at left is Dan Tyler. Second ticket Bob Ruper stopped on a meter mark at 5 a.m. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPT. RICK SALVKIN.

It came on Wednesday at the Hidden Bank. Here’s the basics: Steve Welsh of Gardena put the wood to a 209-plus pound bluefin on Wednesday at Hidden Bank on an overnight trip out of Helgren’s Oceanside Sportfishing. He finished off this brute in 35 minutes, on a Okuma Metaloid 5N11 two-speed reel, 65-pound braid, 50-pound flouro leader, 8-foot Phoenix rod, with a sardine on a 1/0 hook sent down on a rubber/banded 4-ounce torpedo sinker. The sardine at gray light was inhaled after 20 seconds on the drop.

“We had a lot of bluefin over 100 pounds last season, 50 to 100 over 100 pounds, the biggest a 175 pounder, but no 200 pounders,” said Slavkin. “This was our first 200 pounder. It made our day, and it really made our season; already we have a 200 pounder. I think these fish are going to be bigger this year and we will catch a 300 pounder.”

As for Welsh, a sportfishing regular on the coast, Capt. Slavkin had nothing but praise for his skill.

“He fished different than you would normally for a big bluefijn, partly because we didn’t know it was that big; we thought it was a 70 to 80 pounder, so he was really grinding on it, thumbing the spool, really put the wind to the fish and got it in around 30 to 35 minutes. “

That, folks, is super fast on 50-pound leader, but it shows what good tackle and aggressive technique can do on big fish.

THE OCEANSIDE 95 out of Helgren’s Sportfishing on Wednesday scored a bluefin at Hidden Bank on an overnight trip, the fish taping out at 209 plus pounds. It is the first 200 pounder caught this season by any SoCal boat. It was caught by Steven Welsh of Gardena with Capt. Rick Slavkin at the helm but he credited 2nd ticket Capt. Bob Ruper who stopped on the mark at 5 p.m. PHOTO BY RICK SLAVKIN

Slavkin and his crew have fished those Hidden Bank grounds four times and each trip they saw several schools of bluefin, but just not the bigger grade, and all the fish seen above and below on surface boils and meter marks have been reluctant to bite, typical of bluefin. Because they had not seen sign of the bigger bluefin, the crew (Dan Tyler, 2nd ticket Bob Ruper, Anthony Criscenti and Capt. Slavkin) all thought the tuna was in the 60- to 70-pound class.

“When Bob stopped the boat just before dawn in the dark, the second time we stopped, Steve came out and asking for a rubber band. I thought, ‘A rubber band?’ These fish have been getting caught on Flat Falls and other jigs, but I’m glad I didn’t talk him out of it, because after he sent that sardine down, it was picked up about 15 or 20 seconds later.”

Slavkin thought he’d get more pickups, but they didn’t, ending up with 76 yellows and one other bluefin, a 30 pounder on the troll by a kelp paddy, for 21 guys that Wednesday, April 12.

“It was great Steve caught the fish because he was truly appreciative of what he’d done,” said Capt. Slavkin. “Steve told he’d spent $1,000 the last two weeks on trips along the coast trying to get a big seabass, and he finally decided to go after tuna. He spent a lot of time on boats last year and never got a 100 pounder. He had a 90 pounder as his biggest last year, but nothing over 100, and now he has a 200 pounder. He just sat there and shook his head, saying it was like a dream. He did great on that fish.”

The bluefin was a fatty, packed with with red crab, which is why many biologists are saying any bluefin in our waters last year that stayed are probably still feasting on the layers of red crab, chock with high protein, and will be 30 percent bigger this year. Biologist estimate that a bluefin requires about 30 pounds of intake a day, and with the mount of red crab still in the water, so of course, why would they leave?

Slavkin said the fish taped out at 66 inches in length and 48 inches in girth. Slavkin said the tape and formula estimated showed the fish to be 209 pounds, but it looked and felt like a 225- to 250-pound fish. Likely was at least 220 with the red crab in the belly. Stay tuned for more of these, but mark this down. Slavkin and his boys – and Steve Welsh, had the first 200 pounder for 2017.

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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the 19th annual Cabo Tuna Jackpot Nov. 1-4. . He can be reached at

Third time's a charm
Avid tuna fisherman encounters big yellowfin on the Constitution, and Capt. Keith Denette stays with it and Victor gets his cow tuna.

VICTOR LOCKLIN WITH his cow tuna that taped well over 200 pounds on the Constitution.

It’s always great to see a friend catch a big fish, especially a tuna over 200 pounds. Victor Locklin has been fishing the Cabo Tuna Jackpot for about 15 of the 18 years the event has been held, and has won some money, and he’s always in contention.

He’s a burly dude and likes the challenge of pulling in a big tuna. A test of strength and wills, one I always appreciate until I’m actually agonizing at the rail with a big yellowfin. Last year in Cabo, I got a 223 on Mike Tumbiero’s Renegade Mike, and I’m up for another round of punishment. I’m headed to PV for a WON charter April 17 on the Constitution. To that end, with an eye on these big bluefin already showing in our waters, I recently invested in four new Makaira reels (12, 20, 30, 50) and a new Calstar 7470XXXH beefstick and I’m ready.

Until then, I’m listening and reading other accounts, and I’m feeling like, “Hey, leave some for me!”

Facebook accounts like Victor’s are filtering in from Puerto Vallarta. I saw Victor’s post last week and messaged him to send me some details, and frankly I expected the usual description. “I was hooked, the crew helped, the fight was tough, but I got the big fish in. It was a personal best!” Victor, though, gave me a blow-by-blow account, and when you read it, understand that a Tres Marias Islands tuna bite is a waiting game, with the chance to hook a big fish coming once a day or even once a trip. You have to be ready, and at the rail, and rigged for bear.

Victor’s fish came on day two of the three-day run to the islands.

“Capt. Keith was cruising in the far south zone of the Outer Banks,” said Victor. “It was approximately 7:10 a.m., the morning rising sun began setting to the east. Temperatures were in the mid-80s and off the stern of the boat, we could see huge yellowfin crashing off the water.”

As they got closer, anglers began flylining live caballitos off the right side of the boat. Victor was on the balloon rig on the rotation, a great place to be in this situation.

“The balloon which was rigged with a double 200-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, two Mustard Sea Demon 4x 8/0 circle hooks and two live big cabbies baits,” said Victor. “As I began flylining these baits on the left side of the boat, approximately 150 yards away, large yellowfins tuna started crashing on the surface of the water around the double-rigged baits. Suddenly my line was hit with a pulling force like a rocket in full speed. The large balloon was taken down underwater. Capt. Keith looked toward my direction and begin yelling ‘Reel the line Victor, reel the line!’”

As he began, the line immediately snapped. And just like that the huge yellowfin prevailed and got away with the two hooks, the fluorocarbon leaders and the two baits.

“The crew quickly re-rigged me up new tackle, as I mentioned before,” said Victor. “I quickly put live baits back in the water as large cow tuna continued to stay around the boat. The other flylined anglers on the right side of boat had two hook-ups going. Again I immediately got hit by a large cow tuna, and the impact from the hit was with tremendous force and as I began to reel the fish, it pulled with so much force he snapped the complete line again and took off with the leaders and the bait again.”

That was a shocker. Two break-offs — on rigs that don’t break often. These were huge, aggressive fish.

“I’ve caught a lot of large yellow­fin, however, it’s always been on a troll because that’s what I specialize in, trolling lures on the kite for fish. This balloon style is all new for me, so now I’m beginning to feel bad for the other anglers who are waiting their turn on the balloon.”

He went on, “Keith examined the braid and determined that the line could be weak from previous use, so he took that rod out of commission. The deckhand reloaded it with all new braid line. The crew again set me up with all new leaders, hooks and live baits. In a matter of minutes, I’m hooked up to a large cow that pulls me around the boat about three times.”

The deckhand coached Victor every step of the way as he fought it “old style,” strapped to the reel with a harness.

“He told me I have to fight the fish using the rail,” said Victor, “but I found this very difficult to do because I’m used to standing up, muscling the fish to the boat. After a 45-minute battle, I was successful at landing the big cow over 200 pounds.”

A third time was all it took, and credit the Constitution crew for sticking with the program. Big fish are tough, and at that size, have some big teeth. If you are interested in this kind of fishing, trips out of Puerto Vallarta are short runs, affordable and gaining in popularity.

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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo Tuna Jackpot, slated for Nov. 1-4. He can be reached at

Isabella Derby: Biggest in the state
Giving it all away at Isabella

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, 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.

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