August 14, 2020
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RP’s 36th annual fishing derby

  • Catching the first fish at the 36th Annual Rohnert Park Fishing Derby wasn't enough for Emily Hansen, 7, she wanted to continue fishing in hopes of catching more fish. Emily loves to fish and was excited to participate in the fishing derby that was held at Roberts Lakes Sat., May 25. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Lanny Lowery
May 31, 2019

A beautiful, sun filled Saturday morning, May 25, saw a few hundred Rohnert Park families line the western and southern shores of Roberts Lake.  Two hundred kids registered to participate in the 36th Annual Rohnert Park Fishing Derby.

An age-old story of grandparents and parents helping children rig their fishing poles in anticipation of the 8 o’clock hour that would kick off the two-hour event.   Alfonzo Domingues gave pointers to his grandson, Christian who attends Evergreen, about how to clear his line.  Domingues loves spending time fishing with his grandson.

On the southern shore, Rancho Cotate’s Angela Scardina watched with her husband, Craig, as their daughter Isabella, a ten-year-old student at Monte Vista waited patiently with line in the water to catch her first fish of the day.  Isabella wanted to celebrate her father’s birthday at Roberts Lake because “Dad loves to fish.”

The family affair goes far beyond the contestants.  Organizer Ken Zschach, who has run the derby since 2003, had his wife, Lawrence Jones teacher Jill Zschach, working the registration booth assisted by daughter Rachael, recent SSU graduate, and son Craig, a science major at SSU, along with sister-in-law Angela and niece Amber.  Zschach credits his family and many friends for putting on this event.  “Overall, I couldn’t do this event without all my great sponsors and volunteers.  If it weren’t for my family and friends, I wouldn’t be able to put on this event.”

Important to add, the derby is privately funded and depends on its many sponsors.  It takes about $5k to support each derby.  At least 20 donors contribute $250 each to make this event happen.

Zschach, a local realtor, took time to explain the event and its history.  It began in the mid 1980s and continued without a glitch for the next 26 years.  In 2010, Fish and Wildlife was sued for fish eating the red and yellow-legged frogs.  Zschach was not cleared to stock the lake unless he could prove that no such frogs lived in Roberts Lake.  He would need a certified wildlife biologist, at the cost of $20k to clear the lake.  

Zschach then tells the story of how the Community Voice became his favorite paper as it printed his article which said, “I hope one of your readers is a certified wildlife biologist who wants to help kids.”  Zschach, less than seven hours after the paper came out, received a call from Brian Pittman, a certified biologist.  Pittman offered to sit for free on the lake for 40 hours, 20 at night, to determine that no such frogs inhabited Roberts Lake.  Zschach told me, “We have the derby today because of Brian and the Community Voice.”

Zschach handed me a light blue t-shirt that shows a fish happily jumping out of the lake as a boy in a red baseball cap smiles while watching his line.  The shirt, designed by Abigail Willson, proclaims her to be the “Artist of the Year” and cites as the location of more information about the derby including how to enter for “Artist of the Year” for 2020.

Every kid who catches a fish will receive a medal saying, “I caught a fish at the Rohnert Park Fishing Derby” If it was their first fish ever caught, they receive a certificate saying, “I caught my first fish at the Rohnert Park Fishing Derby” and will include date, size and type of fish.  Zschach wants every kid to remember their first fish because he doesn’t know when he caught his first fish.

The excitement builds around the lake as the nearly 200 entrants are registered and 8 o’clock approached.  Just to the left of the Roberts Lake mini pier, 7-year-old Emily Hansen, using wax worms, makes her first cast.  Parents Tim and Denise watch as a small blue gill strikes Emily’s line.  She pulls up the first fish, weighing one and a half ounces.  Emily remarks, “I feel really good because I have caught the first fish at the derby!”

During the next two hours, kids catch 82 fish, just under one fish every two minutes.  Matteo Gullick caught the biggest fish, a bass weighing 3.18 pounds.  Zschach reports that during his 17 years of running the derby 1,784 fish have been caught.  Most of the fish are caught and released.

A great beginning to the 2019 Memorial Day weekend, the Fishing Derby not only allows a bonding of generations, but it adds to Rohnert Park’s building and keeping of traditions with its own lore.  Who doesn’t love a good fishing story?