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Eastern Sierra fishing tradition returns Saturday

March 12, 2014

Scott Puhl of Los Angeles won first place in the big fish category of last year’s Blake Jones Trout Derby with this 7-lb., 14-oz. beauty. File photo

Sunny with a high of 67 degrees – that’s the weather forecast for this Saturday’s 46th Annual Blake Jones Trout Derby held at Pleasant Valley Reservoir.
The weather plays a major role in this event, named after a Bishop resident who not only fished area waters but was an apostle, spreading the word to all who would listen that the Eastern Sierra represented the Holy Grail of trout. According to April Leeson, chamber events coordinator, anglers turn out in droves, between 800 and 1,000, depending on the weather. If the weather website is any indication, the road that runs along the 115-acre reservoir will be jammed with bicycles, walkers, wagons, coolers with wheels and happy campers with big fish on impressive stringers.
Reagan Slee of Reagan’s Sporting Goods provided a checklist for baits, lures and flies that are landing those impressive stringers. Berkley Gulp pink eggs is getting good results at the reservoir, especially with the addition of a little garlic marinade. Regular garlic PowerBait has also been effective.
For lures, it’s the tried and true, according to Slee: Kastmasters Gold, Thomas Buoyants and Tasmanian Devils. For fly fishermen headed to the Owens, blue wing olive flies and the caddis hatch are the best choice in mid-day, with assassins and tungsten pheasant tails dangled below the surface in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Center puts on the Blake Jones derby every year with a cadre of volunteers and even more sponsors. Fishing is limited, probably an inappropriate word as the fishing opportunities are fairly limitless, to the reservoir and Owens River, with the exception of the well-marked Wild Trout section south of the campground.
In addition to regular stocking by the California Department of Fish and Game, the Chamber arranged for a plant of $3,000 worth of Alpers trophy trout, ranging in size from 1 lb. to a whopping 8 lbs. All the stocking was completed in the first week of March, giving the trout a chance to acclimate and come out of hiding, just in time to grab at that dangled PowerBait.
While anglers drive up the Owens Valley from all points south, locals have made the second Saturday of March, or the weekend after the Fred Hall Sports Show in Long Beach, an excellent reason to break out the fishing gear and get a jump start on the official fishing season. Many a vertical trail has been carved out of the reservoir embankment leading down to the water by local fathers and sons, whole families, couples and fishing buddies. The derby is an extended family tradition in Inyo County.
The locale offers something for nearly everybody, from those who enjoy the party that is fishing en masse to the fly fisherman with the stamina to make it to the top of the reservoir and the idyllic river banks winding out of the Gorge. Or the fly fisherman with no stamina can hop on the shuttle that rolls up and down the roadway hauling truck-loads of gear and people.
Even in derbies past when the wind howls up from the valley or down from the Gorge, or both, with a chill factor that brings a near-polar experience, the crowds have come. Even when the clouds hang so low as to obscure the horizon and threaten to dump icicles, anglers have brought in their catch to the legions of volunteer weighers at the Chamber Derby headquarters just below the reservoir. Even on March mornings when no amount of coffee will get rid of the chill in the bones, fishermen have handed over their catch to be prepped for the skillet by the Round Valley 4-H club members. Just imagine the chance to fish the Owens and Pleasant Valley in bright sunshine with the temp in the 60s.
If just the pure joy of fishing isn’t enough of an incentive, the Blake Jones Trout Derby offers more than $10,000 in prizes that include Shakespeare rod and reel combos, float tubes, coolers, and every type of tackle and fishing gear imaginable. Anglers will have five shots at coming up with the Blind Bogey prize this year. Each participant gets five “fish cards” and the opportunity to enter up to five fish (the legal limit) in the Blind Bogey contest. Every angler whose fish matches the Blind Bogey weight will win a prize.
Other prize categories include kids and the farthest traveled.
Cost to register is $15 for adults, $7 for children 12 and under. Raffle tickets are $1 each, six for $5 and 12 for $10.
For more information, contact the Chamber at (760) 873-8405, visit the website at or just show up at Pleasant Valley Reservoir early Saturday morning.

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