Latest event, the 27th, draws nearly 600 to recently rejuvenated lake

Cachuma Lake was full, the sun was shining, and the fish were biting on the weekend of April 20-21 as nearly 600 anglers fished for fun, and prizes, at the 27th annual Neal Taylor Nature Fish Derby.

The derby is the major fundraiser for The Neal Taylor Nature Center at Cachuma Lake, a nonprofit organization serves as the center of activity for Cachuma Lake, with events and programs meant “to encourage public understanding, enjoyment, and protection of Cachuma Lake, the Upper Santa Ynez River, and the San Rafael Mountain Range Watershed,” according to the center’s Mission Statement.

The derby was held from 6 a.m. on Saturday until 12 p.m. and Sunday, and offered cash prizes amounting to more than $5,000 plus thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise prizes awarded in many categories and to anglers of all ages. Certain prizes were designated for children and for teens.

Also, part of the derby was an area in front of the Nature Center where children could do arts and crafts with the help of the center’s volunteers, a Books and Treasures Sale at the center on Saturday, and live music at the lake’s marina.

All of it was music to the ears, and pleasing to the eyes, of Nature Center Executive Director Julie McDonald, who has seen quite a few fish derbies during her tenure.

“It really good to see everybody out and enjoying this,” McDonald said at the Nature Center. “For one thing, we were wondering about the weather, because we’ve been getting rain on the weekends, but the sun’s come out and it just beautiful today.”

The derby has weathered through a difficult stretch, being put on hiatus due to COVID, and the water levels of the lake had caused concern. However, the pandemic restrictions are longer prevalent, and increased rainfall over the past year and a half has filled out the lake.

“Just a couple of years ago, the water was very low, and we had people fishing off the shore, but now that’s been filled,” McDonald said. “And now we have people coming up over the hill again, and we have such a great turnout today.”

McDonald’s favorite aspect of the event is the people that she sees coming back year after year.

“I have people telling me they’ve been coming for over 20 years and telling me ‘I came here as a kid and now I’m bringing my own kid'” she said. “I love hearing those stories.”

Over at the lake’s marina, there was plenty of activity as anglers of all ages were bringing in and setting off boats, getting gear and supplies, and bringing in fish to the weighing center to enter it in for the derby.

One coming to the weighing center was 11-year-old Chloe King of Solvang, submitting a bass she caught. The fish was weighed out at 1.72 pounds. That bass, which she threw back in the lake after the weigh, would win her $50 for the third heaviest fish caught by a girl in her age group (11-15).

And to prove Chloe, who came with her father Shane King, was no slouch at this fishing thing, she also caught another bass, this one 2.34 pounds, which would win her another $75 for second place in that category.

“I hope I can win something, but I’m just having a good time,” said Chloe. “My dad and I like to come at least once a month to do some fishing.”

While many were turning in their catches for the derby, there were some, like Shawn Johnson of Lompoc, who were just there for the fishing in general.

“Actually, I’m coming back next weekend [April 27-28] for a bass tournament here,” said Johnson, who was bringing in his boat with his fishing companion Andre Gossellin of Santa Barbarba. “I go to the bass tournaments a lot, and I like to do a pre-fish.”

Johnson was also pleased that the fishing conditions at Cachuma Lake are getting better.

“Since the water conditions have improved and the lake’s more full, it’s great,” he said. “It really opens up the fishing a lot more when there’s more water to explore.”

A list of the Fish Derby winners:

Heaviest trout: 1. Ernest Brentwood, 60, Grover Beach (6.61 lbs., $599); 2. Jason Anderson, 70, Cambria (5.16, $300).

Heaviest bass: 1. Aydin Gomez, 13, Santa Ynez (3.44/18.25″, $599); 2. John Flynn, 54, Santa Ynez (3.44/18″, $300).

Heaviest crappie: Terrance Cochran, 60, Gardena (2.03, $599); 2. Lorraine Pulido, 57, Carpinteria (1.98, $300).

Heaviest catfish: Matthew Hurzaeta, 52, Moorpark (5.07, $599); 2. Philippe Parsy, 38, Santa Barbara (4.85, $300).

Heaviest carp: 1. Pete Dasis, 50, Lompoc (10.09, $300); 2. Becky Dasis, 52, Lompoc (7.23, $150).

THE Neal Taylor “Young Angler Award”

First Catch by an angler 15 years or younger

Saturday: Cash Franco, 14, Lompoc (2.42 bass, $50).

Sunday: Jose Mendoza, 14 (1.54 crappie, $50).

Heaviest Fish caught by Girl 11-15 years old: 1, Paisley Mitchell, 15 (2.47 bass, $125); 2. Chloe King, 11, Solvang (2.34 bass, $75); 3. Chloe King, 11, Solvang (1.72 bass, $50).

Heaviest Fish caught by Boy 11-15 years old: 1. Aydin Gomez, 13, Santa Ynez (3.44 bass, $75); 2. Camden Emery, 12, Fillmore (3.17 trout, $50).

The Dutch Wilson Prize (fish caught by the oldest angler): Gust Balla Sr., 95, Santa Barbara (2.20 trout).

$25 and new fishing rod each given to first 10 kids 10 and under to catch a fish: 1. Jack Siebenaler, 10, blue gill; 2. Rosalie Shaw, 10, trout; 3. Duke Harmony, 6, from Goleta, blue gill; 4. Luca Kaddatz, 8, bass; 5. Joaquin Kaddatz, 5, bass; 6. Andrew Parra, 6, from Santa Maria, blue gill; 7. Abigail Belluz, 5, from Lompoc, bass; 8. Waylon Estes, 7, from Sisquoc, crappie; 9. Presley Hamby, 7, from Lompoc, trout; 10. Leonardo Sandoval, 9, bass.

Feature Image: Chloe King, 11, of Solvang, shows off one of two bass she caught April 20 in the Neal Taylor Fishing Derby at Cachuma Lake. This fish, weighed at 1.72 pounds and another bass she caught at 2.34 pounds, were the third- and second-heaviest fishes caught by a girl aged 11-15, which won her $125 total. Photos by Mike Chaldu