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Rio Vista Bass Derby a classic fishing festival

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Posted: Saturday, October 12, 2013 6:57 pm

Gorgeous blue skies. Open, sparkling water. Smiling, suntanned fishermen and women. These was not the stunning shores of the Mediterranean, but the banks of the Sacramento River during the 2013 Rio Vista Bass Derby. 

The event was sponsored by the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce. It’s the oldest bass derby on the west coast, dating back to 1933. 

Fishermen were searching for the striped bass closest to the target length of 32.5 inches from mouth to tail. First place earns $1500, second earns $1,000 and $500 goes to the third place winner. Measuring tasks were up to volunteer members of the Isleton/Delta Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association. A digital scale and measuring device stood ready on card tables under a white pop up tent. 

Going for a target length instead of weight is better in the long run for fish populations, said Ken Richardson. 

“If we keep killing off the big female spawners, then my kids’ kids won’t have anything to fish,” he said. 

At 3 p.m., Jeannie Wallen tied up her boat at the Rio Vista dock and toted a black plastic garbage bag to the team at the weigh-in station. The Brentwood woman unveiled a salmon weighing 15 pounds. 

She’s fished since she was three, and she said her husband is used to her catching all the fish. 

“Today, when I reeled it in, he picked up the radio and said, ‘Jeannie did it again,’” she said. “I just had a feeling that I was going to catch a fish today.”

It’s not just longtime anglers bringing home fish from the derby. Kids could try their hand at fishing at the youth trout pool run by the Trilogy Fishing Club. 

The Department of Fish and Game brought about 250 rainbow trout from the Sierra, said Maurice Carey. 

Kids fish for free, and take home a fresh trout. 

“It’s great for the kids, and these are good eating,” said Carey. 

Zach Cullen, 11, caught one by hand as the tank was drained for the day. His friend Taylor Carter, 11, got splashed with some of the fishy tank water, but was grinning as he toted home a freezer bag of four trout on ice. 

A generous portion of the crowd wasn’t fishing at all. Instead, they were enjoying the weather, the festival atmosphere, and the streets of Rio Vista. Front Street, the avenue following the water, and Main Street were blocked off to traffic. Instead, festival food vendors, pop up shops and midway games lined both sides of the road. Dozens of pre-1974 cars and trucks filled either side of Main Street up the hill. 

Back at the dock, a couple and their black lab were coming in from a pleasure cruise, waiting for the tide to turn. Bill King, and his wife Luanne, remember the derby drawing quite a crowd in years past. But this time, there were more fishermen on the hunt for salmon upriver than striped bass. 

“But the dog loves it,” he said. “She’ll jump in any boat.”

Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com

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