A dearly-loved spring tradition will be drawing anglers to High Sierra waterways again this month for pre-season fishing, competitions and prizes.
The 46th Annual Blake Jones Trout Derby will be held at the Pleasant Valley Reservoir and nearby Owens River Saturday, March 16.
“Since the event lands the day before Saint Patrick’s Day this year, (we) hope to have “good luck putting on the biggest and best derby yet,” said Tawni Thomson, executive director of Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, which is hosting the derby.
“Even though the weather was less than ideal, over 700 people registered last year,” said Chamber Events Coordinator April Leeson. “We expect over 1,000 this year.”
Registered derby anglers can wet their line, hone their skills and perhaps win big prizes, Thomson said, as they fish waterways just below the Pleasant Valley Reservoir about six miles north of Bishop and along lower Owens River – with the exception of clearly-marked, catch-and-release, wild trout areas.
Derby fishing is only allowed in the reservoir and along the river – all other waters are closed until the General Trout Season Opener on Saturday, April 27.
Prior to the event, derby waterways are “always well stocked” with Alpers trout by Inland Aquaculture Group and with Department of Fish and Wildlife trout in anticipation of hundreds of derby anglers, Thomson said.
Anglers are invited to bring their catches to be weighed by long-time derby volunteer Hal Reuter and his crew at derby headquarters on Pleasant Valley Road, past Pleasant Valley campground. Weigh-in starts at 6 a.m. and ends by 3 p.m. at the latest. “Preferably before that because it gets very busy,” said Leeson.
Once their fish are weighed, anglers can enter the Blind Bogey. Each derby participant may enter up to five fish – the legal limit. Fish that weigh the pre-determined Blind Bogey weight are good for a variety of prizes for lucky anglers who will also be entered into a later drawing.
The winning weight is determined when a “secret” angler catches and weighs a fish a few days before the derby, Thomson explained. That becomes the winning weight. “The Blind Bogey fish last year weighed 11 ounces.”
Another derby prize will be the grand prize raffle. This year, one fortunate angler will take home a Dave Scadden Escape pontoon boat, valued at more than $1,000, said Thomson. The prize is co-sponsored by Erick Schat’s Bäkkery.
There are more opportunities to haul away a share of this year’s $10,000 treasure trove of prizes, which includes custom lures, rod-and-reel combos and other fishing gear; float tubes; lodging, dinners and gift certificates.
Derby prize categories include: Kids, Blind Bogey, Biggest Fish and the Farthest Traveled to the Derby. There will also be a drawing for anglers who completed their early-bird registrations by March 1, as well as a 50/50 cash drawing, which exceeded $1,800 last year. All prizes have been donated by local and national businesses and friends of the Bishop Chamber.
Derby registration costs $15 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under. Raffle tickets cost $5 each or 5 for $20.
Raffle tickets and derby entry forms are available at Culver’s, Reagan’s and Mac’s sporting goods stores; McMurry’s Sports Bar; Rusty’s Saloon and Grill; and at the Chamber, located at 690 N. Main St. Derby entry forms may also be downloaded at www.bishopvisitor.com .
The Blake Jones Trout Derby was named after the angler who introduced the convenience and staying power of modern cheese baits like PowerBait, explained Thomson. The bait was “unique when it was introduced back in the 1950s.” Prior to that, anglers used cheese spreads or small chunks of cheese, easily lost when submerged. “Blake’s special cheese bait stayed on the hook even during heavy casting.”
Jones was a legendary Bishop-area angler who fished the breadth of the High Sierra. He and wife Peggy were also famous for teaching “hundreds of people” to fish High Sierra lakes and streams. Long-time local Don Barrett said, the Joneses “would never hesitate … to hand someone a jar of bait and show them how to use it. They were just that way.”
Son Marvin Jones agreed. His father always wanted to be sure others “always caught a fish.” Furthermore, Jones was a “serious fisherman … He went to a lot of work to fish.” Marvin said Jones was also a “good public relations man,” who with Peggy edified anglers at Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Francisco trade shows. “With his charismatic personality, Jones became an outstanding spokesman for Bishop and the Eastern High Sierra and helped turn Bishop into a vacation destination,” states the Chamber website.
That influence shows at this “good, old-fashioned, fun day for families that love to fish,” said Leeson.
Some of those fishing aficionados include repeat customers.
The Blake Jones Derby is a tradition for Alan Garner of Las Vegas, who regularly attends with some of his sons-in-law and 13-year-old grandson, Jarod. Soon, Garner plans to include 6-year-old granddaughter Eliza. “Whether I catch anything or not, I don’t care. Our idea of a good day is being out on a sunny day, under a tree on the river somewhere.”
Larry Hartsell of Montclair, who attended his first Blake Jones about 20 years ago, is a bit more competive. “I usually go with friends and my nephews since I don’t have kids, usually in a big group. One time, me and my nephew, Joe, both were hanging on to big rainbows at the same time. I had a five-pounder and his was four … Two years ago, I came in second and my friend Clyde came in third. I’d like to try for the big fish again this year.”
Bill Simily of Pasadena said, “I always register for the Blake Jones even if I don’t make it – if the cold nights and howling winds don’t keep me away. I plan to be there again this year.”
Everyone is invited to join alumni, newcomers and those in between at the Blake Jones Trout Derby.
For more information, visit the Chamber or call Leeson at (760) 873-8405.