The following story is available in the May issue of California Sportsman:
By Chris Cocoles
Ken Konopa remembers those days spent on his dad’s boat, casting endless hours for Southern California bass.
Now all the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office deputy wants to do is get his colleagues hooked on largemouth fishing. It’s why Konopa is still tirelessly working to put on his department’s 11th annual bass tournament, which is scheduled for May 7 and 8 at Clear Lake. It’s become a labor of love for Konopa to organize this event that’s open to police and fire department employees, plus public safety workers and the military.
“Of course I have helpers who do a lot to help me, but ultimately it’s kind of my baby,” Konopa says of the event, officially known as the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association Bass Tournament (sonomacountydsa.org/bass-tournament-2015.html).
“It kind of started small and it’s gotten large – well, pretty large.”
And given his background in fishing, that’s just the way Konopa wants it.
FISHING WITH DAD
Konopa is originally from San Diego and had the genes to be an outdoorsman. His father, Don, spent 45 years in the boat-repair business.
“There wasn’t a lot of hunting (in San Diego) between all the buildings,” Konopa says with a laugh, “but my dad was always a fisherman. We went out and fished in the ocean a million times. We’d go to Mexico all the time, and my dad also owned a lake boat, so I grew up fishing.”
The deep sea excursions were full of excitement with friends who also tagged along. But the more intimate experiences were when father and son hitched the lake boat and caught bass together.
“When we were out on the ocean there would be four or five of us on the boat. It wasn’t quite the same experience,” says Konopa, who has a bass fishing theme as his home email address. “But when we were bass fishing, you were always doing stuff – you’re always changing lures, always trying to figure out the fish. And you’re always moving around. Ocean fishing is pretty much putting the food on the table. Trolling all day for eight hours gets a little boring to me.”
Such a demeanor was also beneficial to how Konopa chose his profession. Many law enforcement careers are based on genealogy, with sons and daughters of cops following in their family’s footsteps. Not in this case; no previous generations of Konopas served in the field.
“When I went to the academy on my very first day and we talked about our backgrounds, there were 50 people in the class and I was one of two who didn’t have family backgrounds in law enforcement,” he says. “It was just one of those things where it was something I always wanted to do.”
Essentially, if his passion for a certain genre of fishing was going to parallel his career choice, Konopa didn’t want to pursue a job equivalent to simply dunking a nightcrawler and waiting for something below the surface to bite it as he sat back in a lawn chair. He wanted something more.
Wanting to go north for college, Konopa chose Sonoma State and earned a degree in criminal justice. His first job was with the nearby San Rafael Police Department before eventually settling in with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, which he’s been with for almost 15 years now.
“The whole cop thing – I like to be challenged. Being a cop and bass fisherman is kind of the same thing, in a way,” he says with a laugh.
BRING ON THE TOURNEY
After few years on the job in Sonoma (he works out of that city, while the department’s home base is in Santa Rosa), Konopa and three fishing buddies teamed up and split themselves into two boats for a friendly competition on a local lake.
“We said, ‘All right, we’ll all throw in $20.’ We did it and (my team) ended up winning. That following year, I started thinking about and wondered if we could put together a bass tournament,” Konopa says. “There were guys who bass fished at the sheriff’s office. Cops like to bass fish, and so do firemen and we’re all public safety. So we could probably get more people if we add firemen.”
That first tournament saw all of nine boats take to the waters of Clear Lake, just northeast of Sonoma County. Lakeport’s launching facilities and the tournament’s official hotel, Skylark Shores Resort (800-675-6151l; lakeportskylarkshores.com) have made for convenient places to hold the event. The hotel essentially closes up for the two days and leaves blocks of rooms for the participants.
“The excellent bass fishing plus the amenities (is hard to pass up),” Konopa says. “They take care of us.”
At the height of the tournament’s participation, before the recession in the last 2000s, 59 boats were entered. Still, most years the boat totals remain impressively around the high 30s.
The tournament previously lasted just a day, but the consensus seemed to be to add a day and make it a getaway overnight trip, and that has been popular. Vacation time gets planned around this event, which takes place on a Thursday and Friday this year. But participants will have the flexibility of fishing both days or just for one day.
And the turnout now includes probation officers, local and state fire officers and prison guards. Military personnel are being officially invited as well this year. Mostly, the anglers hail from offices in the Bay Area and Northern California, but there is a diehard group that makes the trek down Interstate 80 from Reno every year.
“We’ve even had guys who’ve come all the way from Seattle (Police Department). So we have some coming from pretty good distances, and they were saying, ‘It’s great to come down for the tournament, and since we’re driving all this way, why don’t you make it two days?’” Konopa says.
Most years the fishing has been outstanding for the participants. Konopa remembers one tournament where wind and heavy rain slowed down the fishing, but there are high hopes for the norm, when plenty of fish in the 10-pound range have been part of the daily weigh-in. A 14-pounder-and-change is the largest fish caught in the 11-year run.
“I get a lot of people telling me it’s by far the most fun tournament they’ll do all year,” Konopa says.
HAVE FUN FIRST
This idea wasn’t designed to create a police vs. fire department competition or its own version of fish wars. It’s always been meant for a fun, couple days for law enforcement types to catch some bass, enjoy some good food and take a break from their hectic and stressful occupations.
“So many of these tournaments are crazy-competitive and nobody’s having fun because you’re trying to win. Of course people want to win some money. But we’re all good guys; we’re all in public safety, so it’s all about having a good time,” Konopa says.
“We get a lot of bad press (in law enforcement). And doing the job has changed dramatically. We have a lot of Sacramento guys who come down who say they aren’t able to do anything else together. They work in the same department, and they’re friends. Yet this tournament brings them all together every year. Stuff like that is really cool.”
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Association has partnered with a nonprofit organization, Casting For Recovery (see Editor’s Note on page 13) that receives proceeds from an annual raffle during the tournament.
Konopa knows that when the time comes to do the heavy lifting and planning for the event, it can be time-consuming to make phone calls, secure donations for the raffle and fill out the piles of paperwork – law enforcement officials are no stranger to that last chore.
He purchased a new bass boat 1½ years ago, but with a wife and two kids, plus a demanding work schedule, getting out on the lake for more than twice a month on his favorite fisheries like Lake Berryessa is unrealistic. So despite the grunt work required to put this tournament together, it’s well worth it for the end result of F-U-N.
“I get so many emails asking me, ‘When’s the tournament?’ So there are plenty of days when I think, ‘Man, this is so much work.’ But again, it goes back to supporting Casting For Recovery, hanging out with my buddies and so many people that I know now. I’ve had people for 11 years coming here, so there’s no way I can stop now.” CS
Editor’s note: To see more photos from past tournaments and for more information, go to http://sonomacountydsa.org/bass-tournament-2015.html.