Feature Article: Lake Cachuma Fish Derby

Water’s up, fish aplenty for upcoming Cachuma Lake Fish Derby, April 22 and 23

BY BOB SEMERAU AND BLAKE WARREN/WON Staff WritersPublished: Apr 20, 2017

Beefy trout continue to show for anglers in lead-up to event

SANTA BARBARA — With rainfall at 123 percent above average this season, Cachuma Lake is all set for this year’s 22nd Annual Neal Taylor Nature Center Fish Derby. Cachuma’s water level is now up over halfway to full pool, the lake is looking great and good fishing has seemingly been the general rule ever since the seasons flipped to springtime.

Now into its third decade of existence, the Cachuma Lake Fish Derby will be held later this month on Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23. The two-day derby is the primary fund raising event for the Nature Center, which was founded by Neal Taylor, in 1988. Taylor continued to be highly active with the Nature Center, leading various fishing workshops at the center and conducting the annual Fish Derby every year until his passing in 2011, not long after which the Nature Center was renamed in his honor.

In the here and now, things are definitely looking up at Cachuma Lake – and for its anglers alike. Water levels are up big time, the lower launch ramp is open for business and there are plenty of biting fish. And after already dumping over 4,000 pounds of healthy trout into Cachuma’s waters over the course of recent weeks, an additional 2,000 pounds worth of rainbows is set to be stocked in the days prior to the Derby to further ramp up the bite and provide ample swimming targets for anglers.

tenyearoldTEN-YEAR-OLD Anthony Orozco with his Cachuma Lake 2016 Neal Taylor Nature Center Annual Fish Derby prize-winning trout.

An increased total of over $5,000 in cash prizes in various fish categories will be awarded (see cash and prize awards below), along with troves of new gear to be given away, so most everyone participating stands a good chance of going home a winner in some way, shape or form. Registered individuals must be 4 years or older to participate.

Each registered angler is eligible for various door prizes to be given away at the Awards Program on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at the Fireside Theater (door prize winners must be present to win; cash prizes will be mailed if the winner is not present at the Awards Program). Entry fees are $40 for adults, while youths 4 to 15 years of age may register for just $10 – all anglers 16 years and older must possess a valid state fishing license. Registration forms can be picked up at the Nature Center or downloaded on the web at – entry fees may be paid by cash, check or credit card (Visa or Mastercard) and must be mailed or delivered to the Nature Center (Neal Taylor Nature Center, 2265 Highway 154, Santa Barbara, Calif., 93105). All entrants registering for the event from now until the Derby must pick up their registration packets at the “Will Call” table at the event headquarters anytime from noon on starting Friday, April 21. Anglers may also register for the Derby in person at any time during the event beginning at noon the same day.

The top categories for this year’s Fish Derby include heaviest fish and second-heaviest fish in various species, including trout, bass, crappie, catfish and carp.

The cash prizes are primarily alotted to for the two biggest fish in each species category. The heaviest trout, bass, catfish and crappie will be good for a cash award of $599, while the second-heftiest fish of those four categories will earn a healthy $300 second-place sum as a sweet consolation. The carp category offers $100 for the biggest and $50 for the second largest carp.

Tagged rainbows will also be a big part of the event – the biggest tagged trout caught will garner $599 and the angler who plucks the second largest tagged trout from Cachuma’s waters gets the tidy sum of $300.

There are also plenty of ways for youngsters to win at the Fish Derby, with a “Kids Only” category just for the short rods. An 11- to 15-year-old division will award $75 for first place in both Boys and Girls categories, with the second biggest fish in those divisions earning a $25 payday. For kids 10 years old and under, the top-5 fish will be good for $25 and a rod-and-reel combo, while children netting fish 6 through 10 on the leaderboard will each earn a rod-and-reel combo themselves for their catches. There is also the “Neil Taylor Young Angler Award” in the mix for anglers 15 years old and younger, where the first catch of the day on both Saturday and Sunday of the event will score a bonus $50 just for striking bright and early. Not to be left out, the oldest registered angler to record a catch will also score a $50 payday.

RENE SANDOVAL BAGGED top money with the heaviest trout in the 2016 Derby.

Should “all-day” fishing become too much for the family, various free children’s arts and crafts activities will be organized on the lawn in front of the Nature Center on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Parents and kids alike will have a great time with plenty of fun activities at this free outdoor event.

Folks are also encouraged to visit the Nature Center during the event or at anytime prior. The center’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. until noon on Sunday – admission is free. Knowledgeable docents and volunteers will gladly show visitors the exhibits featuring plants, animals and other topics. There are many hands-on displays for children to experience and enjoy.

Two-hour wildlife cruises on the lake, led by the park naturalist, are $17 for adults and $7 for children 4 to 12 years of age. Reservations for the cruises are recommended. For reservations, call (805) 686-5051, or call the main gate at (805) 686-5055 – you may also visit the main gate in person to secure your spots.

The “Books and Treasures” sale will also be held at the Nature Center from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, what is yet another great fund raising event for the center. Visitors are encouraged to peruse the hundreds of books and along with bargain shop amongst the many unique items that will be on sale – visitors are also encouraged donate to this unique educational facility.

Visitors may also purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a host of valuable prizes beginning at noon on Friday, April 21 and ticket sales continuing through the weekend until Sunday at noon. Winning tickets will be drawn at the Sunday Awards Program (beginning at 1:00 p.m. at Fireside Theater; winners do not need to be present to win the raffle drawings).

DANIEL VEGA TOOK home a Fish Derby prize in 2016 in the 10-year-old big fish category.

The official Derby fishing begins with a flare gun start at 6 a.m. on Saturday, and the event runs right through the night until the final flare is fired off at noon on Sunday to officially close the fishing for the 2017 installment of the derby.

Call the Fish Derby Hotline for up-to-date information at (805) 693-8381 or visit the event website at

While the water in the lake having dropped as low as 7 percent as recently as 10 months ago or so, the current lake level is at around the halfway mark and there’s more water in Cachuma than there’s been for years, the lower ramp is in full operation and there will plenty of new areas to fish. Loads of newly flooded structure will surely provide the finned quarry lots of places to hide out and grab a bait or lure.

The recent bite at the lake has been pretty encouraging for Cachuma anglers across the board.

Rental boats are available at the marina. Kayaks and canoes may be launched, however, float tubes are currently prohibited. As a reminder, all boats launching at Cachuma Lake must be inspected for Quagga mussels and face a 30-day quarentine period except for those with Cachuma tags.

The Longfin Tackle Shop
The Longfin Tackle Shop