Green will be sprouting up along the shores of Pleasant Valley Reservoir and banks of the Owens River this weekend in celebration of spring, the sport of trout fishing and yes, St. Patrick’s Day.
Anglers of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to suit up in the spirit of the holiday Saturday, March 17, as they head out for the 45th Annual Blake Jones Trout Derby, once again hosted by the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re hoping everyone comes out wearing green, but in case they don’t, this year’s event T-shirt has green in it,” Chamber Executive Tawni Thomson said.
Registration gets under way at 6 a.m. in the main parking area of Pleasant Valley Reservoir, about eight miles north of Bishop off U.S. 395. All fish – caught at the reservoir or open portions of the nearby river – must be checked in and weighed by 3 p.m. to be eligible for more than $10,000 in prizes.
According to Thomson, while it certainly doesn’t hurt that anglers will be able to call on the luck o’ the Irish this Saturday, the derby’s format and the Chamber’s generous pre-stocking all but guarantee widespread success.
“The contest is a ‘blind bogey’ competition, so everyone has equal chance to win,” Thomson said.
On Friday, a “secret fishermen” will be sent on a clandestine mission to catch a trout at either the reservoir or river, and that fish’s weight – also kept secret – will be recorded as the number to match on Saturday.
Each registered derby participant may enter up to five fish, Thomson explained, and those matching the Blind Bogey weight or coming very close to it will be entered into a drawing. Fifty prize packages will be awarded in adult and children’s categories.
Anglers will also have the chance to win the Biggest Fish contest in adult and children’s categories. The Chamber will also reward the fisher who has traveled farthest to the derby, and hold a raffle among early-bird entries.
Among the prizes up for grabs in all categories are fishing gear, float tubes, tackle, gift certificates and cash – all donated by local merchants and a few out-of-the-area corporate supporters.
Sponsorship through the Inyo County Community Projects grant program allowed the Chamber to plant lunker-sized Alpers trout in derby waters. Those famously feisty fish will be joined by trout stocked by the California Department of Fish and Game in anticipation of Saturday’s event, as well as holdovers from previous seasons and perhaps some wild trout that have found their way down to the Owens River from the Gorge.
According to Thomson, all the elements should be in place for another successful derby, in what could be considered a milestone year for the popular event.
“Every year is actually a milestone but 45 is a big number,” she said. “This derby is a long-standing tradition. In fact, we have some participants who have been to 40 or more Blake Jones derbies, and keep coming back year after year.”
For these anglers, the derby has become “a family tradition,” Thomson said, citing one crew in particular from Bakersfield that has been attending the Blake Jones “for decades, bringing more and more family members and friends every year.”
For other fishers, the derby’s appeal lies in its abundance of both fish and prizes.
Others, still, appreciate the opportunity to communally and competitively ply Eastern Sierra waters before the start of the regular season. “Hopefully, most people know they can fish the Owens River and Pleasant Valley year-round, but besides the Early Opener in Southern Inyo and the Blake Jones, there aren’t a lot of pre-season fishing events,” Thomson said. “Plus, it’s just a good time to get out and fish.”
She added, “What always amazes me is if the weather is terrible, they come anyway … and you get to hear some of the old-timers talk about how, ‘This isn’t cold. It was much worse in 1974.’”
Whatever it is that draws anglers to the Blake Jones Derby, they’ve remained loyal, giving the Bishop Chamber steady attendance numbers in the area of 700-1,000 over the past several years and making the derby one of the state’s largest annual single-day fishing events.
Surely, the derby’s namesake would be proud.
Along with his wife, Peggy, Blake Jones spent decades not only fishing the lakes and streams surrounding Bishop, but also promoting sport angling and local hot spots to anyone and everyone who would listen.
“Legend has it that Jones was the creator of one of the world’s first bottled cheese baits in the 1950s, which was revolutionary because it stayed on the hook even when submersed in water,” Thomson said. “Blake Jones was passionate about trout fishing and he really got ‘turned on’ by turning others on to the joys of fishing in the Eastern Sierra.”
That same spirit of sharing and ambassadorship can be found along the shores of Pleasant Valley Reservoir, Thomson said, with local anglers offering advice to visiting derby participants, or the children of different families becoming friends over a container of squirming nightcrawlers.
If it’s one thing the Chamber would like to improve on with respect to the Blake Jones Derby, it would be greater participation from locals.
“This is such a fun event and we want to encourage our local residents who haven’t come out before, or who haven’t been in years, to fish with us this Saturday,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to win some great prizes, to have family fun, and to meet new people and make new friends or catch up with people you haven’t seen in awhile. Or, there’s plenty of room to find your own quiet spot if you just want to enjoy the great outdoors, too.”
For more information about the 45th Annual Blake Jones Derby, call the Chamber at (760) 873-8405 or visit www.bishopvisitor.com .