On the shores of our highly productive ancient lake, the little town of Clearlake Oaks transforms once a year when the best catfishing tournament west of the Mississippi draws hundreds of fishing enthusiasts and their families into town for the ever-popular Catfish Derby.
The traffic along state highway 20 through the Clearlake Oaks community gets heavy at times but increases substantially at Derby time as trucks hauling fishing boats line up to check in for the 3-day Derby.
“It gets pretty congested, but nobody complains,” said Dennis Locke, the Catfish Derby Committee Chairman. “It’s like a festival setting in any small rural town, where people gather and excitement builds in anticipation of a grand finale. In the case of the Derby, the grand finale occurs on the last day at noon, when the announcement ceremony draws a huge crowd.”
After a scaled-down tournament last year, event organizers are ready to resume the signature fund-raiser for the Clearlake Oaks-Glenhaven Business Association, who sponsors the event. “All proceeds from the Derby go right back into the community,” said Association President Alvaro Valencia.
In its 38th year, the family-oriented event brings people in from all over the State and beyond who shop, stay in hotels and resorts, and enjoy dining and other opportunities found on the shores of Clear Lake. “It’s fun and benefits the entire Lake County economy,” Valencia said. “Last year, after missing a year due to the pandemic, we raised over $30,000. We’re hoping to do even better this year!”
“We’re expecting about 1,000 entries, adults and kids,” said Locke. “Signups are going very well. It’s great to see some of the regulars, like the Lanes who have been coming to the Derby for years – all the way from Oregon. They signed up early.”
The fishing contest begins on Friday, May 13 and concludes on Sunday, May 15 at noon. As in past years, the event will be at the Northshore Fire Protection District 75 station on 12655 State Highway 20. Locke explained that although the first day of fishing begins on Friday, event volunteers are set up the day before, Thursday, when many anglers arrive to check in early to begin fishing at noon on Friday.
“Due to low lake levels, Derby contestants will be weighing in on Friday and Saturday at the Clearlake Oaks public launch ramp, 12684 Island Drive,” Locke said. Registrations, Sunday weigh-ins, and the awards ceremony will be at the fire station.
As anglers bring in their best catch, volunteers weigh the fish and record the information on a large billboard at the boat launch for all to view. The data is also entered into a database and results are posted on the Derby website and social media sites including Facebook and twitter, which have become popular with participants and followers who enjoy keeping up with the latest results. “Many of the posts and comments we see on these social media sites are from family and friends of Derby contestants who want to stay current on how their friends and family members are doing,” Locke said.
A total of $10,000 in cash prizes will be awarded in the adult and kids categories combined. The prize for the biggest catch is $5,000. Kids can participate in the adult division but must pay the adult entry fee of $50 compared to $10 for the two kids’ divisions.
In addition to the cash prizes $2,500 in raffle prizes are awarded throughout the event. Derby t-shirts, food and beverages will also be available for sale Saturday and Sunday.
“The last day of the Derby is open to all and always draws a big crowd. In addition to the anglers and their families, people from around the county show up to celebrate with the winners and enjoy the great food and camaraderie.
The Derby committee is supported by volunteers from around the County. According to Locke, the main committee couldn’t put on the event without the fantastic locals – about 50 – who show up throughout the 6-month planning process to help with everything from stuffing envelopes to checking in the contestants to weighing the fish as anglers bring them in.
Most of the volunteers come from Clearlake Oaks, but the Derby is also supported by volunteers all around the lake. “Mary Heare Amodio has been driving in from Lakeport for years to help out as has Russell Jonas from Clearlake, to name just a few,” Locke said. “We are greatful to all, including the support from Northshore Fire Chief Mike Ciancio, who provides the venue.”
For details about entering the Derby, fees, and other information visit www.clearlakeoaks.org/derby or call 707-596-0248. There’s still time to sign up for the Derby online or in person at the Derby beginning at noon on Thursday, May 12.