As in past years the three-day derby is expected to draw more than 500 fishermen throughout the western states. It is the largest catfish derby in the West and remains one of the more popular fishing contests held each year at Clear Lake. Last year’s winner was Robert Cooker of Sacramento with a 23.72-pound catfish. The winner of this year’s derby will take home a cash prize of approximately $5,000. Second place is worth $1,000 and third place $800.
The derby pays down 20 places based on a field of at least 350 adults. The winner in the kids division pockets $100. Derby hours are from noon Friday until noon Sunday. The entry fee is $50 for adults if received before 11 pm Thursday. There is a $10 late fee for entries received after that time. The entry fee for children ages 15 and younger is $10.
Those entered must go to derby headquarters either Thursday (noon-11 pm) or Friday (7 am-11 pm) to check in to pick up their registration package before fishing. The weigh-ins Friday and Saturday take place at the public boat ramp at 12684 Island Drive in Clearlake Oaks. On Sunday, the weigh-ins take place at derby headquarters, which is the Clearlake Oaks Fire Station.
Each fisherman is allowed to weigh in one catfish. If a fishermen catches a larger fish during the tournament, that weight replaces the weight of the fish he/she earlier caught. Any type of bait may be used and that includes live minnows, cut bait and nightcrawlers. Only live catfish can be weighed in and the top three finishers must successfully pass a lie-detector test.
Clear Lake has three species of catfish — channel, white and brown bullhead. It is the large channel catfish that derby fishermen will be targeting. The lake record for channel catfish is 33.33 pounds and the world record is 58 pounds.
Catfish aren’t native to Clear Lake or even the West. The first channel catfish were bought to California from Mississippi in 1874 and were stocked in the San Joaquin River. Catfish were first introduced into Clear Lake around 1910. They are thought to have been in North America for at least 3,000 years.
Unlike other members of the catfish family, the channel catfish seeks out hollow logs or holes around submerged rocks to spawn. At Clear Lake many of the channel catfish spawn in the hundreds of submerged tires that are strewn across the bottom. The ideal water temperature for spawning is about 70 degrees and the eggs hatch in five to 10 days. Young catfish eat mostly insects, small crayfish or other small fish. They will even eat seeds
The channel catfish reaches sexual maturity at about age 5 and can live as long as 25 years. With the exception of man, an adult catfish has very few enemies.
Back in the 1960s and 70s, catfish were one of the top game fish in Clear Lake. Fishermen would spend hours anchored near Rattlesnake Island and other favored catfish holes. In those days it wasn’t unusual for an angler to catch 20 -30 fish during a single outing. The Department of Fish and Game placed large concrete culverts in the lake as spawning habitat for the channel catfish. For several years the project was successful and during the spring spawning season just about every culvert would hold several spawning catfish.
Even though the largemouth bass has replaced the catfish as the most popular fish in Clear Lake, there are still a few dedicated souls who haven’t given up on one of America’s most popular game fish. They rig up with jumbo minnows or cut bait and drift with the currents over their favorite holes looking for that big bite.
The type of fishermen now visiting Clear Lake also has changed with the times. Where once it was the catfisherman chugging out across the lake in his 12-foot aluminum boat, now it’s the bass fisherman in his high-speed bass boats roaring across the lake at speeds in excess of 60 mph.
Bass may have replaced catfish as the preferred fish in the lake, but during the annual Clearlake Oaks/Glenhaven Catfish Derby it’s the catfish that reigns supreme. Entry forms and complete derby rules can be obtained from at www.clearlakeoaks.org or by calling (707) 596-0248.