RIO VISTA — So, so close.
Jakob Kristensen, a Denmark resident visiting the United States, hauled in a 32.97-inch striped bass on Friday, but it was too big to be competitive – about a half-inch over the target length set early Friday morning for the 66th annual Rio Vista Bass Derby.
When he found out, he shrugged and smiled. They’ll try again Saturday, he said. Used to fly fishing and fishing for sea bass, it’s a new experience and it’s one he’s enjoying, despite the potential loss of a $1,500 first place cash prize.
“I’m having a good time,” Kristensen said, as he stood by the weigh station at the foot of Main Street in Rio Vista on Friday.
His attitude personifies the sportsmanship attitude that weighmaster Noel O’Brien, from the California Striped Bass Association, said he likes to see. Not so much for the competition but rather for the love of the sport.
The morning started before dawn, with the targets established: 32½ inches and smaller for the striped bass; 53 inches and smaller for sturgeon and salmon is based on weight. Tie-breakers for the stripers and sturgeon will be weight and a flip of a coin will break the tie for the salmon. Prizes range from $500 to $1,500 in the striped bass category and $100 t0 $500 for sturgeon and salmon. For the youth, bass and catfish winners receive a bike and $50 gift card.
Fishing started at 6 a.m. Friday and runs through 3 p.m. on Sunday. Some fish day and night, others take that break to eat dinner and kick back in the evening.
“We stay out all day,” said Rocklin resident Robert Smith. He said he comes in at night but might not under different circumstances.
“Probably if I had a bigger boat, I’d be sleeping there,” he said, laughing.
Smith brought in a 30.79-inch striper late Friday afternoon. It’s the biggest he’s ever caught, he said. Anglers can only turn in one fish per category – and it must be done within 15 hours of the catch – so Smith and two of his regular fishing buddies will be out fishing for salmon Saturday.
“I like salmon to eat better, but the striper is easier to catch,” he said.
O’Brien said the fishing should be pretty good with the stripers coming to size about now. But the salmon, with the warmer weather, are hanging off the coast, said Rick Partlow, another weighmaster from the California Striped Bass Association. He added that the salmon like colder water but can only hang off the coast for so long until they feel the need to move up river in order to spawn.
“When it’s warm, they’re coming through here as fast as they can,” Partlow said. “When the weather is cool, they’ll take their time and they’re easier to catch.
“It’s hard to predict what Mother Nature is going to throw,” he added.
Between 400 and 500 anglers this year decided to brave Mother Nature’s unpredictability in order to catch the “big one,” or rather, the “targeted one.” Those numbers, although still a rough estimate Friday evening, were down from previous years, said Mary Thompson of the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce. Last year, 560 anglers joined the derby but in 2011 that number was nearly double, at 980.
No one could quite put their finger on the reason for the decline. Thompson figured perhaps the economy and O’Brien guessed perhaps the cutoff date for entering the derby. He said the cutoff day has fluctuated in years passed and in previous years you could enter well into the start of the derby. This year the cutoff was noon on Friday, the time the weigh station opened.
“It gives the ones out there a better chance but it doesn’t out money in the coffers,” O’Brien said. The event, he said, is good for Rio Vista.
“People not from the immediate area, they get a look at Rio Vista and maybe want to come back,” he said.
The event is a fundraiser for the city’s Chamber of Commerce and includes the festival full of games, music and fun.
For more information, go to www.bassfestival.org.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.