▶️ The Great Outdoors: Senior Fishing Derby at Walton Lake

The 28th annual Ochoco National Forest Senior Fishing Derby will be held July 26 on Walton Lake. The annual event for people 55 and older includes prizes and contests, and a fine time fishing in one of Central Oregon’s beauty spots. Brooke Snavely takes us to the derby on this edition of The Great Outdoors.

(Editor’s note: This story was first posted in August 2022. The original version of the story appears below)

Dozens of fish were caught, prizes were won, and everybody had fun at the annual senior fishing derby at Walton Lake.

The Cordoba brothers, Louie and Zenon, drove four hours from Portland to participate in the 27th annual Senior Fishing Derby at Walton Lake.

“We thought it was going to be jam-packed. It’s for one day and it’s a long drive,” said Zenon. “My brother says, ‘Let’s leave early.’ But we got here too early. No restaurants open or nothing.”

A few hundred yards down the shoreline, Mark Schmidlin from Banks, Oregon, watches in amazement as his grandsons, Wyatt and Waylon, catch fish all around him while he goes fishless.

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He says he won’t stoop to borrowing one of his grandsons’ fish to enter the derby.

“I won’t do that, but I might borrow one of their poles. Let the boys start baiting the poles for me,” Schmidlin said. 

So, it’s their touch, not yours?

“Maybe. I’m starting to think that.”

“We came up here to have a good time. If we catch a fish that does well in the derby, we would be happy,” said Richard Fields, who came from Redmond with his wife Nancy. “Mainly it’s to have a good time.”

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The senior fishing derby at Walton Lake resumed this year after a two year break due to the COVID pandemic.

“It started 27 years ago with a promotion for a fishing company,” said Joseph Gannon, one of the derbies’ early organizers. “They sent us two fishing poles and a target and told us to go have a casting contest. The prizes would be the two fishing poles.”

The derby was a hit from the start and has been ever since. 

“Today, I’d say we have about 15 to 20 people out. In 2019 they had 50. The highest ever was around 100. It’s a popular event,” said Garry Sanders, Ochoco National Forest fisheries biologist. “It’s great weather. It’s a good time to be up a little higher elevation out of the heat and people like to fish.”

Prineville area businesses have a long history of donating merchandise and gift certificates for winning anglers to claim. 

“It’s a five fish limit. We have a prize for the total heaviest catch, a prize for the biggest individual fish and for the smallest fish. We have a prize for the oldest male and female anglers,” Sanders said. “We have a prize for the longest distance traveled. And then we do a casting contest, so you can get points in the casting contest and win prizes there too.” 

I gave the casting competition a try. I hit the target on one cast, but it deflected away without going through the hole.

Another angler, who spent the day trolling behind his boat, put the lure through the target hole twice. 

Zenon Cordoba had the largest total catch of five trout that weighed just shy of three pounds. He also caught the largest individual fish, a 15-inch rainbow trout.

Richard and Nancy Fields won a prize for being the oldest couple to fish in the derby.

Even Mark Schmidlin, who got schooled by his grandkids ,won prizes for the smallest fish and the farthest distance traveled.

Walton Lake is managed as a recreational fishery. 

“What we would call a family fishery or a ‘put and take’ fishery,” Sanders said. “We do have some holdover fish that can get up to 16-to-20 inches. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, one of our partners, they stock this lake several times each year with what they call catchable size fish. Those are in the 10-inch to 12-inch range.”

Walton Lake was developed by the Isaac Walton League more than a century ago as a retreat for people in Prineville to escape the summer heat. 

At 5,100 feet elevation in the Ochoco Mountains some 30 miles east of Prineville, it’s still serving that purpose.

The Senior Fishing Derby is usually held in June or July each year. 

Keep your eyes open for fliers posted around Prineville or social media announcements from the Ochoco National Forest promoting the next derby. 


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