March 15, 2011

Fish in a Barrel: Visiting the Kern River Fish Hatchery

NOTE: There is a slideshow at the bottom of the post.

The intent was to do some tenkara fishing on the Kern River. And while I did end up fishing, there were no fish to show for my efforts. I guess invoking Thoreau in the last post was a bad omen; the tenkara gods were not with me. It seemed, though, that other anglers were just as fruitless that weekend. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

But if the fish weren't going to come to me, I was going to go to the fish. A couple of friends and I made our way to the Kern River Fish Hatchery, which is located just north of Kernville along Sierra Way. As we walked up to the museum portion of the hatchery, Robert, a volunteer, greeted us in a gregarious manner that goes with the territory of being a good volunteer.

Though small, the museum is packed with various things fishing. From numerous examples of spinning and fly rods, various iterations of California fishing licenses through the years, and, of course, mounted fish so large that it would make any seasoned angler jealous. Also packed into the room are examples of local critters, from pheasants to mountain lion. Fish and fishing, however, are the main subjects.

As you step outside and head toward the holding tanks, you'll notice the idyllic surrounding. Large trees providing shade to the nice, green grass and picnic tables. (You're welcome to picnic here during operating hours.) You'll also notice a small stream that stems from the Kern River and which is the hatchery's source of water. While we were there, we noticed more than a handful of trout in this little stream holding their positions, probably looking for that next bit of food to drift on by. What I didn't realize is that these fish are the lucky ones that have escaped the holding tanks, presumably by jumping over the walls. If they're even luckier they'll escape the hands of hatchery workers and make their way into the river proper.

While we were there, four holding tanks were in operation for small, medium and large rainbow trout. Robert told us that the two large trout tanks were getting ready for the upcoming fishing derby at Lake Isabella in mid-April. Seeing as most of these guys were approximately twenty-four inches or larger they'll make a fine catch. A tenkara angler, though, might be fearful of one of these guys breaking their long, graceful rod.

We looped back around and talked to Robert again, this time for a little while longer. The conversation ambled from why the dorsal and tail fins seemed clipped--he posited that the cement walls and close quarters were to blame--to the recent tsunami disaster in Japan--for which he expressed true sorrow. There wasn't a kinder person we met on that trip than Robert and, had we asked nicely, he would have probably let us cast into those bountiful holding tanks.

Okay, not really but you get the idea.

Coming out of the Kern River Hatchery I realized something. There are many anglers who will cast their lines upon beautiful waters. If they are lucky they'll come away with a fish tale or two. However, the story that I suspect most anglers will be missing is the one of all the work that goes into preserving the fishing way of life. By visiting the Kern River Fish Hatchery one is able to witness the evolution of fishing, conservation efforts and the hard work that goes into stocking "tenkara perfect" waters. I'd recommend any angler visit his or her local hatchery. It's fascinating and pleasantly humbling to see that my frustrations on the river are such a minuscule part of the overall picture.

But I'm still in search of one of those tenkara perfect waters...


  1. Nice post.
    It's just the time of year, fish in California seem to get lazy much quicker than those used to the cold weather (e.g. Times will get better.
    Interesting to see the picture of the net, I think the 11th picture on the slideshow. Very round like a Japanese net.
    By the way, we got an auction going on for the relief efforts, a very rare tenkara net to help Japan:

    Tenkara USA, founder

  2. If nothing else, checking out a tank full of fish certainly is motivation that they are out there! We need to get up into some more streams as the season warms up...