Lake Isabella Fishing Derby: Pride Of The Valley

By Chris Cocoles

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I consider myself to be an adopted stepson of the San Joaquin Valley. I’m a Fresno State Bulldog (BA in journalism, Class of 1994) who, spanning college and my first job after graduation, spent almost eight years living in Fresno. Now that I’ve lived around both San Francisco and Los Angeles, I realize how much different life in the Valley was compared to the NorCal and SoCal experiences I’ve had. When I first got to Fresno, I was told the city was a Midwest town trapped in California. And maybe years ago the Valley went all Wizard of Oz on everyone and was Dorthy-ed in a twister, leaving behind  acres of farmland and Main Streets in Wisconsin, Indiana or Iowa; the whole region was lifted west into the land of fish tacos, Kardashians and Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m getting off track here. But I think about Valley pride all the time, and that was reminded to me when I chatted with George Stahl of the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce about next month’s Lake Isabella Fish Derby. This is a huge event for the area, located about an hour east of Bakersfield. And I could tell in Stahl’s voice how much it means to the folks there that so many anglers in California will flock from near and far to try their luck with $100,000 worth of tagged fish and additional prizes, including a most valuable rainbow worth  a cool $25,000.

There were whispers the drought conditions affecting Isabella, as it has so many lakes in the state, but after weighing both sides of the issue, the chamber of commerce decided the lake was in better shape than many other lakes of similar size. And the event just means too much to the town of Lake Isabella and surrounding businesses to cancel the derby. I agree. You can’t control the lack of rain. It’s not like proceeding forward is akin to leaving a faucet running.

“We’re not talking about irrigating land or anything like that,” Stahl said. ”

The footprint from Sacramento to Bakersfield takes a lot of abuse from the Bay Area and Los Angeles folks, whether it’s the unemployment rate, the air quality (although downtown L.A. doesn’t have much of an argument there) or the blistering hot summers or fog-shrouded winters (hello, San Francisco!).  Being a passionate fan of Fresno State’s sports teams, if I had a nickel for every opposing fan of our biggest rivals like San Diego State, San Jose State, Nevada and Hawaii who referred to us at Fresneck State…

So when Stahl told me this week for a preview story of the derby running in April’s California Sportsman, I couldn’t help but nod my head and think about the Central Valley as a whole:

“People are just used to seeing something one way. And when they don’t see it that way anymore, they have a tendency to think something devastating is happening,” Stahl said. “I’m not trying to put down the drought. But at the same time, we use what we have available to us.”

Kudos to the Kern Valley River Chamber of Commerce for going ahead with its big event.

Note: The derby takes place April 12, 13 and 14. Online registration is currently available at the derby’s website: Further information is available by calling 760-379-5236.