By Deb Murphy
Locals and anglers from far and wide will have to wait for 2018 to celebrate the iconic Blake Jones Fishing Derby’s 50th anniversary.
Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Center, the lead organization for the derby, made the grim announcement at last night’s Bishop City Council meeting. “It’s a safety issue,” Bishop Chamber Executive Director Tawni Thomson said.
The safety issue stems from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s plans to send mass quantities of water through the system in early March, making room in Crowley Lake for the onslaught expected with the spring thaw. The department issued a press release on Monday, also announcing the derby would move to a well- and quickly-stocked Millpond.
However, Thomson explained Millpond won’t be open to anything but warm water fishing by the March 11 derby date. Efforts were made to see if some sort of variance to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife regulation could be accomplished. Council Chair Joe Pecsi explained the regs are set by the F&W Commission and there simply wasn’t enough time.
At the end of her monthly report to the Council, Thomson said the Chamber met with LADWP staff last Friday. “The department rescinded our letter of permission. They offered to help financially with the stocking at Millpond” but the change of location squashed that last hope.
“We’re not mad at anybody,” Thomson said. “But unless there’s an 11th hour miracle, the derby’s cancelled.”
“We don’t take this lightly,” she said. The Blake Jones Derby brings approximately $400,000 into the community. “We’re already trying to figure something out for the fall, maybe, to help make up for the economic impact on the community.”
While the time is too short to save or re-locate the derby, there was enough time to notify pre-registrants.
“We need to stress that the Pleasant Valley Reservoir and Owens River aren’t closed to fishing,” Thomson said. “It’s just a safety issue.”
Following is the press release issued earlier Monday by the LADWP:
Heavy Water Flows Expected, Public Advised to Use Caution
BLAKE JONES TROUT DERBY FISHING LOCATION CHANGED TO MILLPOND
BISHOP, CA – Beginning in early March and continuing through the fall, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) advises that water flows will be increased throughout the Owens River Gorge and along the upper Owens River.
Due to unusually heavy snowpack and runoff levels this year LADWP must make room in Long Valley Reservoir, also known as Crowley Lake, to avoid spilling over the Long Valley Dam. In order to free up this space, the Department will be releasing water south of Crowley Lake causing above average water flows throughout the Owens River Gorge and within Owens River south of the Pleasant Valley Reservoir to Tinemaha Reservoir.
These increased flows will result in extremely high water levels and cause strong currents in the Owens River south of Pleasant Valley Reservoir, as well as in the Owens River Gorge. The swift current poses a safety hazard to the public.
These heavy water flows may cause some areas of the Gorge to be inaccessible and unsafe for the public. Signage will be posted at all Gorge access points notifying the public of the safety risk.
Further, LADWP urges the public to exercise caution when recreating near any body of water in Inyo County, as water levels will be much higher than in the past several years and will be flowing at a much higher velocity.
To further ensure the public’s safety during this period, the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and LADWP have selected an alternate fishing location for the Annual Blake Jones Trout Derby on March 11, 2017, since water levels will be exceptionally high along the river. Millpond, located seven miles west of downtown Bishop, will serve as the new fishing location and will be heavily stocked with trout prior to the event. Millpond is easily accessible and provides a safe alternative for family fishing. Registration and the awards ceremony for the derby will remain at the Tri County Fair Grounds in Bishop. A free shuttle will run between the fairgrounds and the Millpond recreation area all day. (Note: This year’s event has been cancelled)
“Public safety is our top priority,” LADWP’s Los Angeles Aqueduct Manager James Yannotta said. “We urge all members of the public to exercise extreme caution when recreating near water and will work with local organizations where possible to help further ensure the safety of residents and visitors.”
“We understand this year’s winter storms have created epic amounts of water and challenges for everyone. The Bishop Chamber of Commerce is grateful for cooperation and support of LADWP, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Inyo County. Everyone really stepped up to help save the 50th Annual Blake Jones Trout Derby,” said Tawni Thomson, Executive Director of the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.
LADWP will continue to provide updates to the public regarding impacts due to the high runoff and our water gathering operations in the Eastern Sierra.