One of the Kern River Valley’s most popular events is the Isabella Lake Fishing Derby, which has become the world's largest amateur trout derby. The derby is fast becoming more popular and widely known as prizes skyrocket to epic proportions. The event takes place annually the weekend prior to Easter weekend, and is hosted by the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce, offering over a quarter million dollars in prizes, most of it cold hard cash.
Each year approximately 15,000 trout are delivered to Isabella Lake in November that are reared in pens at the French Gulch Marina. There are Kern River and California trout, as well as Alpers Trout, the Holy Grail of the California anglers fishing experience. The Kern River trout, although less colorful than the native Golden Trout of higher elevations, are farmed right here at the Kern River Hatchery and are silvery with a reddish lateral band and covered with spots. The California Rainbow trout are farm raised in Central California, and the Alpers trout are farm raised in the eastern Sierra Nevada at Owens River Ranch. The family owned ranch, operated by Tim Alpers and his father was started in 1971 with the goal of growing farm-raised trout that came as close to wild trout as possible in terms of their appearance, strength, and fighting ability. According to their popularity among California anglers, they have succeeded.
Isabella Lake was created by a dam on the Kern River and was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers starting in 1948. Many of the residents of the Kern Valley were in shock when they were told their homes were in the way of a new lake. The entire towns of Kernville and Isabella were to be under water when the dam was completed. The work, consisting of two side-by-side dams, was finished by 1953. Some of the residents of Old Kernville moved north to what was the Burlando Ranch and started a new Kernville; some moved south and west to the Irvin Wofford Ranch and created Wofford Heights. Isabella moved south to what was historically known as Hot Springs Valley and became the town of Lake Isabella, thus adding to the formation of the Kern River Valley.
The fishing derby began in 1989 by the local Visitors Council to help bring tourist into the Kern River Valley. One of the council members, local banker Bob Bibby, was presented the idea after a long time resident Pat Norris had returned from a derby at Bass Lake. Pat thought an event like this could help bring tourists to the valley in what was a drought year, to help the economy. The first headquarters was set up in front of what is now West America Bank with teller Sandy Elderbaum taking registrations. Bob convinced the regional office of then Community First Bank to give the Visitors Council a loan for $10,000 to purchase fish and food and put on the event. Much to Bob and his committee’s surprise, they were able to repay the loan and made enough to start the kitty for another derby. The event went from a one time economy builder to an annual derby. It has grown into a very successful and fun event for individuals, families and serious anglers.