The olive-green waters of Rancho Seco Lake reflected Sacramento’s rich ethnic mix this weekend as anglers from Laos, Thailand, Ukraine, China and Latin America cast their lines alongside kids from Orangevale and Cameron Park in SMUD’s annual Trout Derby.
The 160-acre lake was stocked with 2,000 pounds of trout, some of them trophy size, attracting many father-and-son teams who proved yet again that fishing is one of America’s great levelers. To catch fish, it doesn’t matter how rich or how old you are, where you come from or what you do. Those who scored big Sunday relied on luck, skill, good bait and, above all, patience, something many children seemed to be teaching their parents.
“It’s relaxing and fun,” explained Pavel Sokyrko, a 13-year-old Ukrainian American from Fair Oaks who started at 6 a.m. Saturday and had reeled in half a dozen trout, including a 3.76-pounder, by noon Sunday. “The secret is jigging a little plastic shad under the dock.”
Pavel and his older brother Andrei had been dropped off early in the morning by their uncle Roman Makarus, “who doesn’t like fishing,” Pavel said with a grin. “This is a good spot for trout, but I’d rather fish at Lake Natoma and Nimbus Dam, where I caught a 36-pound salmon.”
The trout started biting at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, when Edison Vang, a 12-year-old sixth-grader from Sacramento, landed a glistening 4.36-pound beauty using PowerBait with garlic glitter.
“It’s fun throwing it in,” he said.
“Wow, nice!” exclaimed judge Jose Gutierrez, who’s helped run the trout derby for 22 years on the lake about a mile from the twin towers of the long-defunct Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in south Sacramento County. In addition to trout, the lake is home to bass, bluegill, catfish and others.
Gutierrez, a Sacramento Municipal Utility District employee, was helping weigh fish for those angling for prizes. The adult grand prize for the heaviest trout was a 14-foot aluminum boat, trailer and electric motor, provided by Gregor Boat Co. and The Fish Sniffer magazine. For kids, the grand prize was a fishing kayak. The derby also awarded more than a dozen cash prizes, ranging from $10 to $100.
After Edison weighed in, his dad Gene Vang said, “Now it’s my turn to fish.”
Edison was followed to the scale by Garet Baldy, 13, lugging a 4.25-pound trout. “I use ‘mouse tails’ – you have to cast it out really far,” explained Garet, who said he’s been fishing since he was 5. “I like the adrenaline rush you get when you get a fish and you feel it trying to go against you. This is the first one I’ve got in nine hours. We fished yesterday from 8 to 4 p.m.”
Garet arrived from Cameron Park with dad Darin Baldy.
“He’s got more patience than I do,” Darin said. “He throws it out and just leaves it, while I’m reeling in every 10 minutes.”
The most excited angler on the lake might have been 5-year-old Vandon Rister of Orangevale, who almost dove out of the family’s aluminum boat to show grandpa Earl Bode the 1.44-pound trout he’d reeled in solo.
“I caught it with my lure and I had fun fishing,” Vandon beamed. “Dad, aren’t you so proud of me?”
His dad, Andrew Rister, said Vandon’s been casting with his Shakespeare rod and reel for two years.
At the end of one of the piers, Bill Deng of Canton, China, and 9-year-old son Tommy played out a scene that’s always driven anglers crazy: unraveling a hopelessly tangled mess of fishing line. Deng watched as Tommy patiently worked to solve the puzzle.
The Trout Derby competition featured a large contingent of Hmong Americans, some of whom spent time in Wat Tham Krabok, the last Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, which closed in 2004.
Mai Lee, a Hmong mom from Sacramento, laughed as her son Tuly Yang, 15, two nephews and a brother-in-law clambered aboard an orange pedal boat her sister Pahoua Yang had rented for the occasion.
“They’re all good fishermen and each has already caught a trout,” Lee said. Her sister, Yang, who came from Wat Tham Krabok, explained her fish-cooking secret: boil water, gut the fish, cut it in small pieces and add mint, cilantro, onion, green onion, lemon grass and chili paste.
Nearly all of more than 200 attendees Sunday were male.
“There should be more women. It’s empowering, you’re out in nature and you catch your own food,” said Rebecca Roberts, 25, of Sacramento. “I love fishing; I’ve been coming here for about 10 years.”
One of the few girls, 8-year-old Elena Burnaham of Cameron Park, baited her hook with orange PowerBait and a bug, cast out and sat down on the pier as her parents began to pack up.
“I’m gonna fish until I catch a fish,” Elena declared.
On Monday, SMUD announced the winners: Gregory Sanders of Wilton landed a 5.46-pound lunker for first place in the 18-and-over category and the overall grand prize, a Gregor 14-foot aluminum boat.
Vang’s 4.36 pounder earned him a fishing kayak, the grand prize for 11-to-17-year-olds.
In the 10-and-under age category, Roseville’s Brianne Whiteside brought in a 2.94-pound trout that won her a $35 prize.
Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.