Anglers of all ages were determined to hook a trophy-class freshwater fish up for grabs over the weekend at Lake Cachuma.
The 22nd Neal Taylor Nature Center Fish Derby on Saturday and Sunday lured more than 600 adults and youths to the recently replenished reservoir in the Santa Ynez Valley. The youngest competitor was 4 years old.
In preparation for the annual derby, the 3,100-acre lake was stocked with thousands of pounds of catchable trout.
Fishermen and fisherwomen cast their lines from both shoreline and boat during the two-day event in hopes of catching some of the 10,000 pounds of fish swimming about.
“This is a family-fun and community event,” Neal Taylor Nature Center executive director Julie Anne McDonald told Noozhawk. “People camp and make it a weekend trip.”
Event organizers expected up to 4,000 campers and day-use visitors at the lake over the weekend, with a majority of that total being made up of families from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties and elsewhere in Southern California.
The derby was more than just about catching rainbow trout, however. The freshwater lake is also home to bass, carp, catfish and crappie.
Cash prizes and merchandise worth more than $5,000 were awarded to the anglers in multiple fish categories.
The first place heaviest trout, bass, catfish and crappie winners received $599 awards.
For Lompoc resident David Martin, the event has been a family tradition for more than 15 years. He was keeping a close eye on the results at the official weigh station.
Martin was cheering on his 4-year-old grandson, Fredy, who caught the first fish on Saturday under the warm and sunny skies.
“We have been doing this forever,” he said. “It’s fun for everybody, and a good time.”
Special cash and merchandise prizes were awarded to children ages 16 and under to promote an interest in outdoor and nature-related activities.
Among the approximately 300 youth competitors was Noah Goodheart, who traveled with his dad from West Hills in the San Fernando Valley.
“Fishing is my favorite thing,” said the 9-year-old student at Welby Way School.
Thanks to the recent rains, the lake was at a higher level compared to last year’s fishing derby and the lower boat launch ramp was open.
The lake level has risen more than 39 feet since mid-February and reached 50.4 percent of capacity as of March.
The winter rain has transformed surrounding hillsides to shades of green from the brown that visitors had become accustomed to.
The derby was a fundraiser for the Neal Taylor Nature Center facility. Located within the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area at 2265 Highway 154, the center offers exhibits on Lake Cachuma, the Upper Santa Ynez River and the San Rafael Mountain Range Watershed through hands-on displays for all ages.
Money from the fishing derby and related sponsorships help move the nonprofit organization closer to raising the $110,000 required to operate the center annually.
The center was founded in 1988 by the late Neal Taylor, who served as a naturalist for the Santa Barbara County Parks Department for more than 18 years before his retirement in 2001. He was known for his love of fly fishing, humor, storytelling skills and involvement with youth groups.
After Taylor’s death in 2011 at age 78, the Cachuma Lake Nature Center was renamed in his honor.
Event organizers also thanked this year’s sponsors, donors and volunteers.
Charlie Alva made a $30,000 donation in memory of Vera Ralston Alva, and additional sponsors included Dr. Sey Kinsell of Santa Barbara and Rocky Mountain Recreation Co.
Click here for more information about the Neal Taylor Nature Center, which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. It is closed on Monday. Click here to make an online donation.
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.