By Gene Garaygordobil
Hundreds of people won't necessarily wake up early to catch the worm anymore.
But throw in a chance to win $1,000 while fishing with your family, and the Taft Chamber of Commerce's annual Trout Fishing Derby starts looking awfully appealing.
About 700 people packed Lake Evans at the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation area southwest of Bakersfield last year to do just that, and enjoy a good day of fishing.
Event coordinator Shannon Jones said that $1,000 will be given to the proud fisherman holding the heaviest trout caught between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday.
And that person could win up to $20,000 if the fish's weight matches an already pre-determined number, she said. It hasn't been given out in a while, "but it is always possible."
There will be three different age categories, with first, second and third prizes given in each one, she added. The breakdown is up to 7 years old, from 8 to 13 years old and 14 and over, which includes adults.
You can pre-register, or sign up on the day of the event until 10 a.m., Jones said. Many people do pre-register and begin lining up at the lake's front and back gate to make sure to get a good "fishing spot," beginning around 2 a.m.
"Most get there around 4 a.m.," she said, "and we are out there making sure they have wristbands."
Gates open right at 6 a.m., with most people getting to the lake by 7, Jones said.
The lake will be stocked with 2,000-pounds of trout on Thursday, and will then be locked up tight until Saturday morning, she said. The good thing is that once the derby is over, participants can continue -- along with the rest of the public -- to fish.
"Most of the participants are repeat fishermen, and it is a good event for families," she said. "It's cool to see the different generations come out."
Despite not being a fisherman herself, fishing does run in her family.
"My husband, Taylor, will be out there with his dad, Rick, and our 4-year-old son, Hadley," Jones said. "It's my son's third year at the derby. This year, he has a Spiderman fishing pole.
"They have been practicing in our driveway for it," she said. "They are definitely ready."
The chamber's executive director, Kathy Orrin, joins in the fishing madness, helping pre-register folks on the day of. She says it pales in comparison to the chaos of her previous occupation -- junior high principal.
"That makes me able to handle the crazy stuff," she said. "These are kids who are honest, but also don't know who they are. So if you can work with junior high kids, you can really work with anyone."
Orrin has worked with the chamber in her current job for only a year and a half, but has been working as a volunteer and ambassador since the 1990s, when the fishing derby began. The Taft Chamber of Commerce has been around since the 1920s, and has always been a central part of the community, she said.
"It's in a real important position to be a welcome wagon for the community," Orrin said. "We serve as a bridge between the city and its citizens."
She said when a lake is stocked, people are willing to get up early to fish.
The majority of participants come from Bakersfield and beyond, Orrin said.
"We make a few bucks on it, but it's not a landslide," she said. "We do it because people like it. It's cool to see dads with their kids, and families out there having fun together."
The Taft Chamber has about 200 members, said administrative assistant Jessica Miller, with many different year-round sponsors for all the events they put on.
"We also have a car show, a Rocktober Fest event, and a golf tournament," Miller said. "We had one of the guys get a hole-in-one, and he won $20,000. That was pretty exciting."
The chamber is also working with the newly re-established Greater Taft Economic Development Authority, Miller said. "We are pushing economic growth, retail shops and all that good stuff."