Teach a kid to fish, and he can eat for a lifetime – after possibly winning up to $600 in prizes at the annual Hayfork Lions Club Fishing Derby.

The application of this slightly-amended ancient wisdom brought generations together at Ewing Reservoir Saturday, June 1, for the 24th year when local families continued a tradition of teaching kids to be self-sufficient and enjoy Trinity County’s outdoor beauty.

While this year’s derby had fewer than 40 participants, there have been over 100 competitors in years past. Tournament volunteers believe the activity’s merits go far beyond fun competition.

“The Hayfork Lions Club started this fishing tournament to teach kids how to feed themselves,” said Rhonda Rothwell (derby coordinator and former Lions Club president.) “We also wanted to show them that there are things to do here besides sitting in the park or causing trouble.”

Fishing here is more than a recreational pastime; it’s part of our cultural history. The “Hay Fork” confluence of a bountiful river and cool mountain streams created an ecosystem that supplied the ancestors of some this year’s tournament participants with food year-round.

Derby prize winner 4-year-old Cooper Rourke is at least the sixth generation of his family to fish the waters of the Hayfork Valley.

One thing the kids’ indigenous or pioneer forefathers did not have was Power Bait. Many hungry trout were enticed this year by the green or orange goo that resembles Play Dough. The fish also bit on marshmallows and other combinations that some families wished to keep proprietary.

Within the competition boundaries around Ewing Reservoir during the derby, turtles floated offshore and watched competitors’ grandparents, parents, friends, and other family members instructing kids on the finer points of baiting hooks, setting and reeling, hook removal, and stringing their fish. Per tournament rules, however, children had to physically do most of it themselves.

“Fishing is great bonding time,” remarked Christen Hutchason, lifelong Hayfork resident and fisherwoman. This year, in addition to a stringer of five fresh trout, her son Jimmy (age 13) took home tackle kits, camping chairs, and a fishing pole for winning all the categories in his age group. Sadly for him, 2020 will be his final year to participate in the Hayfork Fishing Tournament as the derby is only for kids age 15 and under.

Able to participate several more times are two of the morning’s biggest winners:  Zaelie Morris, who landed the biggest fish, and Azella Osborn, who caught the smallest fish. Zaelie’s prizes included a new fishing pole, tackle kit, flashlight, camping chair, fly rod, bait/fly holder, and an ice chest. Azella’s prize package was a new pole, tackle kit, flashlight, and chair.  

The free tournament began at the sound of a honked truck horn at 9 a.m.. and ended precisely at noon. Every time a fish was caught, volunteers around the shoreline radioed each child’s competitor number to the matriculation table where the time of catch and fisherman’s name could be recorded. Prizes for each age group were given for first through fourth Fish Caught, First to Catch Limit [of 5 fish], and the Last Fish Caught.

All competitors were treated to sights of a bald eagle and an osprey catching young trout surfacing on the lake recently stocked by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Sponsors, who donated for prize packages and food, included Ernie’s True Value, Larry Smith, the Stoddard family, and the Kroll family. The Hayfork Lions Club would also like to thank Trinity County Waterworks, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the many volunteers who made this year’s derby a success.

While this service club will no longer be able to offer Bingo due to low membership, the Hayfork Lions Club will continue to focus efforts on maintaining their calendar of family events, such as the fishing derby, Halloween carnival and roller skating rink. If you would like to donate for one of the events, or if you would like to volunteer for a single event or become a member, call Rhonda at 351-4693 or stop by Ropin’ Rhonda’s in Frontier Village, Highway 3, Hayfork.


2019 Fishing Tournament Winners by age categories:

3 & Under: Ryder Belongia and Stella Hill.  

4 & 5: Adalee Belongia and Cooper Rourke.  

6 & 7: Zaelie Morris and Jeremy Slovik.  

8 & 9: Vinnie Carini, Joshua Dionne, Aria Beck, Chaos Sevall and Stormy Ashby.   

10 & 11: Kayden Davis, Ty Rourke and Devin Nanez.  

12 & 13: James Hutchason.  

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