Big Money for Lake Isabella Fishing Derby


By Catherine Stachowiak, for Scenic 395

Nestled in the quaint, low-population area of the Kern River Valley, just an hour’s drive East from Bakersfield and three hours North of Los Angeles, is Lake Isabella where annually the local chamber of commerce holds its trout-fishing derby.

Isabella Lake Fishing Derby is going into its thirty-third year. Repeat anglers covet the competition of the prospective money-making venture.

Its location in the beautiful Sequoia Forest makes the idea of the higher elevation drive palatable.

“It’s one of the largest trout tournaments in the state of California,” said Fred Clark, president of the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce (KRVCC.) “Every year we draw people in from multiple states.”

A couple of repeat visitors are former pro ball players, according to Clark. “We have a group of guys that come from as far-east as Pennsylvania every year for this event,” he said. “We have a lot of repeat anglers, familiar faces every year.”

The coveted event is a breath of fresh air after a long season of colder weather, rain and snow. This year’s event takes place March 23- March 25. “It’s kind of the first big thing to do after you’re coming out of winter and almost getting into spring,” said Clark. A lot of people look forward to this event each year.

The chamber accommodates every member of the family, which makes it a draw for visitors with children. “It’s very much a family oriented event. We cater to the kids especially. We try to make it exciting for adults and children,” said Clark.

Every angler under age 13 gets into the event for $15. Children will walk away from headquarters, with double or triple the entree fee in fishing gear, either a rod and reel combo or tackle box full of gear.

Clark said that with kids living by electronic device these days, the KRVCC places special emphasis on recreation becoming a special memory for the children. “We will normally give them $30 to $40 worth of gear and lose money in order the inspire youth to pursue outdoor recreation,” Clark said. “We want the kids to have their own equipment. We spend a lot of money every year catering to the kids.”

Adults coming to the derby appreciate the excitement the derby creates, and the challenge of the competition of catching a tagged trout worth a good chunk of change. “We have trout valued from as low as $20 to as high as $10,000. This particular year we’re going to have over $60,000 worth of tags swimming around in Lake Isabella that will need to be caught.”

The KRVCC is expecting anywhere from 1500 to 2000 anglers, which is their average participation. The lower numbers of participants makes for fewer crowds in the relaxing atmosphere of the lake and valley, only a few miles from Kern River, and surrounded by picturesque mountain views.

The chamber is currently raising approximately 6,000 trout, which the Department of Fish and Wildlife originally delivered in November. The KRVCC raises the trout in enclosed pens at Red’s Marina, where dedicated volunteers feed the trout three times per day. The chamber plans to purchase, at a later date, additional trout from Calaveras Trout Farm Inc, to be delivered the week before the derby.

The bulk of anglers visiting prefer camping along the shoreline. “A lot of the other anglers, they might be just what I call day use guys, people that live local,” said Clark.


The Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for its 33rd Annual Isabella Lake Fishing Derby. The derby kicks off on March 23, 2024, and continues through March 25. COURTESY PHOTO


Reservations for campsites are usually fairly easy to attain. And there are many Airbnb rentals within the valley. However motels and lodges may need advance reservations. “Rooms will fill up fast. We don’t have a large number of hotels in this valley,” he said.

Fish are spread out all over the lake and every spot has an equal chance. There’s a full spectrum of places to find one’s “lucky spot” for fishing at Isabella Lake.

“This year the big thing for us - Engineer Point is going to be open again,” Clark said. “There are a lot of people that love fishing Engineer Point. And it’s been closed off for the last 4 or 5 years because of the dam project. And it will be open this year.”

There are still a couple of areas at the lake, which don’t charge day use fees. But the bulk of the areas along the lake have a day use fee, which is $12 per day.

The thought of 500-tagged trout, with money values between $20 and $10,000 is enough of a draw to make that canyon drive through State Route 178. In addition, two cash prize drawings; and three different days of Blind Bogey, where the give-aways reach $1000 each afternoon and it is valued between $25 and $100 with the chamber drawing 20 tickets, and you’ve struck a California goldmine.

“The longest trout this year will get a 32 inch TV courtesy of Barnes Bargains,” Clark said. “There’s going to be over $60,000 of tags up for grabs.”

Headquarters are located at Kern River Valley Eagles Lodge, 12251 Highway 178 Lake Isabella, CA 93240-9523. For further information please contact the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce at (760) 379-5236.