Ca$hing In On Isabella Fishing Derby Trout

The following appears in the March issue of California Sportsman:

A happy Isabella Lake Fishing Derby contestant shows off a $100 winner. Tagged trout up to $10,000 will be swimming in the Kern River Valley reservoir the weekend of March 23-25 for the 33rd annual event. (ISABELLA LAKE FISHING DERBY)

By Chris Cocoles

Last year, when concerns about flooding and debris at Kern Valley’s Isabella Lake prompted the postponement of March’s trout derby to May, angler turnout was affected negatively.

“It was horrible. The delay really shot us in the foot and screwed up a lot of plans,” says Fred Clark, president of the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce, who oversees the trout derby as its chairman. Rescheduling the tournament to May 20 saw participation plummet to about 1,300 anglers who bought tickets.
“That’s bad for us. If you go back to 2008, there were over 8,000 anglers,” Clark said.

Granted, Clark understands that as a whole, California is down in terms of fishing license sales these days from the more robust numbers seen

in past decades, but it’s still a frustrating trend to see fewer and fewer anglers buying tickets to what has been one of Central California’s most popular annual events. The 2024 Isabella Lake Fishing Derby is scheduled for March 23-25.

“You know what, even if we hit 1,500 to 1,700 (entries), I’m happy,” he adds. “It takes roughly 1,500 anglers to break even because we still spend a lot of money before anything goes out.”

Clark cites buying fish food and renting out pens for privately purchased trout – roughly 6,000 to 8,000

fish – that are stored before being reeased shortly before the derby’s start. “Everything that we have to do with the trout that we will plant and the (tagged fish), the whole deal, we will spend between $80,000 and $90,000. That’s our problem; the costs have continued to rise. But we choose to not raise our rates. We’re trying to promote tourism, and we want families to fish. I just don’t want Dad fish-

ing. I want everybody fishing.”


Clark says that even with the beautiful Kern County location of Lake

Isabella, which has some outstanding trout fishing in the spring and fall, and the stretches of the wild-trout-filled and wild-and-scenic-designated Kern River, the Kern River Valley doesn’t consistently get heavy numbers of visitors throughout the year.

“Tourist-wise, we don’t get a lot of traffic, so there’s two big events that take place at the beginning of the year,” Clark says of mid-February’s Whiskey Flat Days in the community of Kernville, which pays homage to the region’s history of gold mining, cattle ranching and trapping, plus the highly anticipated trout derby, celebrating its 33rd edition this month.

Clark is hoping that with good weather and the fact the Kern River Valley is not only easily accessible for San Joaquin Valley residents, but just a three-hour drive from the Los Angeles area, that many anglers will buy tickets. Cash prizes for tagged trout start at $20 and include two each worth $5,000 and $10,000 to the lucky anglers who catch them.

“That’s just a good shot in the arm for all the local businesses,” says Clark, who himself runs an insurance agency in town. “They all get involved and participate and want to see it do well, because it means a lot to this community. And we need that little boost, and the derby does that. It brings a lot of visitors into the valley.”

“If you don’t get them involved, what happens to that generation?” derby chairman Fred Clark says of the push to get kids entering the derby. He adds that about 75 rod and reel combos and tackle box gear are “all ready to rock and roll” for some young competitors. (ISABELLA LAKE FISHING DERBY)


Derby tickets cost $40 for adults and $15 for kids under the age of 16, and that younger set is a key part of the Isabella Lake Fishing Derby’s target audience. About 75 rod and reel combos and tackle box gear are “all ready to rock and roll,” Clark says of getting kids who don’t have their own gear set up and able to fish, and to perhaps come back again and wet a line.

It may add to the cost of staging this tournament, but Clark sees the benefit in getting the junior generation more invested in fishing.

“If you don’t get them involved, what happens to that generation?” he asks. “That’s why we do what we do.”

Plenty of big fish will be swimming around Isabella this weekend. (ISABELLA LAKE FISHING DERBY)


While the main event is for anglers hoping to catch a lucky tagged trout, there’s also the Bobber Bowl and the Blind Bogey. Anyone who catches one of 100 donated tagged fish worth $100 will also be able to pull a random bobber out of a container that includes a couple $200 prizes sponsored by local businesses and residents, so that would allow the lucky bobber to double their prize money by pickng one of those special bobbers.

And any trout, tagged or not, caught over the three-day event will automatically enter the ticket buyer into an additional draw at derby headquarters at the end of each day. Twenty lucky tickets will earn anywhere from $25 to $100.

“It’s our way of trying to say, ‘Look, not everyone is going to catch a (tagged trout).’ Let’s give away some more money,” says Clark, who also expects most ticket buyers to have great success fishing from shore, where PowerBait is a popular option for trying to fool a tagged trout.

“We have plenty of shoreline and plenty of water to have some fun,” Clark says. CS

Editor’s note: To purchase tickets for the Isabella Lake Fishing Derby, go to You can also call the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce (760- 369-5236) or send an email to