Kernville’s Fishing Takes Rough Punch

Jack Dempsey didn’t need this. Like his namesake, he has always been a fighter, but he has fought a lot of battles, endured two angioplasty procedures in the past year, faces surgery on his feet this winter, and now they’re going to close the Kernville Fish Hatchery on him.

Fishing has been a good reason to visit Kernville. It’s a proud, clean, quiet little town with a feeling of being ignored not only by the state bureaucracy but unappreciated by Southern California lovers of the great outdoors for its fishing, hunting, whitewater rafting and general schmoozing with nature, despite the efforts of an active Chamber of Commerce and citizens such as Dempsey.

It’s closer to L.A. than Sequoia or the Eastern Sierra, but is off the heavily beaten tracks of the Central and Owens Valleys that bracket it.

Dempsey and partner John Spoon own Sierra Sporting Goods in Kernville, on the east bank of the river that splits the town and flows into Lake Isabella a few miles downstream. In recent years, Dempsey has led successful fights to extend the fishing season and to eradicate the squawfish that preyed on the trout, but when the California Department of Fish and Game announced this month that it planned to close the hatchery after Labor Day, it was about the last straw.


Now Dempsey and Spoon are seriously considering closing their tackle store. If there aren’t going to be any fish, how can they sell fishing tackle?

Kernville is the only one of 15 state trout hatcheries scheduled to be closed in a 20% cutback mandated by DFG Inland Fisheries Chief Tim Farley for each of the state’s five regions. Why Kernville?

The reasoning is that Kernville really doesn’t grow catchable rainbow trout, anyway, but serves as a way station for planters transferred from the San Joaquin hatchery near Fresno. Kernville has concentrated on restoration programs for golden trout and Kern River rainbows--programs that will be terminated or, at best, placed on indefinite hold.

Kernville has two full-time employees and one fish truck. Closing it will save $130,000 a year.


“They’re talking about peanuts for something that’s providing a lot of recreation to a lot of people,” Dempsey said Tuesday.

The DFG says it will continue to plant 180,000 trout a year in the Kern River and Lake Isabella directly from the San Joaquin hatchery, although it might not be every week.

“They say they’re going to,” Dempsey said. “But past experience shows us that that deteriorates and it just gets worse.”

And the DFG concedes that it won’t stock the Kern’s remote tributaries at all anymore.


A couple of years ago, the DFG also proposed closing the Mojave River hatchery at Victorville, which serves Big Bear Lake and other major inland fisheries. But politicians and angler organizations raised such strong objections that the DFG found a way to keep Mojave open.

Dempsey doubts that Kernville, lacking such a power base, can make enough noise. As he told the Kern Valley Sun, the main reason the DFG is closing the hatchery is, “They know they can get away with it.”


HUNTING--Eight days before the opening of dove season Sept. 1, devotees of the state’s most popular game bird are keeping their fingers crossed. California Department of Fish and Game Warden Rusty McBride in Winterhaven said, “I have never seen such tremendous dove populations.” While such comments are typical this year, summer desert storms could scatter the birds at any time.


MEXICAN FISHING--San Diego long-range: Phil Lobred, general manager of H&M; Landing, reported that bluefin and yellowfin tuna are 65-70 miles out--an overnight trip--and “moving in closer and coming up under kelp paddies, with larger fish coming in behind them.” The three landings are running 35 boats among them. The bluefin are running 100 pounds or more, the yellowfin 20-25 pounds. Catches during the weekend also included two marlin. Cabo San Lucas: Most notable catches of the week were a 446-pound black marlin landed by 13-year-old Rofino Vega of San Jose in a six-hour fight and a 156-pound blue marlin taken by Terry Fahey of Boca Raton, Fla., on six-pound test line in 3 hours 45 minutes. Michael Forte of New York City took a 480-pound blue. Fish, including bluefin and yellowfin tuna, wahoo and sailfish, are plentiful, if a bit finicky, and temperatures have been in the 80s, with flat seas. East Cape: Jim Down of Castaic led a group of 28 to Playa del Sol for a week that netted six blue marlin 140-180 pounds, 40 tuna up to 86 pounds and 70 dorado up to 40 pounds.

MISCELLANY--A mountain lion killed in Mendocino County last week was rabid, according to tests by the California Department of Fish and Game. The animal first attacked a large collie that was with two couples at a remote mountain cabin, then bit off the thumb of one man until another stabbed him to death. . . . Sierra pack guide John Williams will speak to the Fly Fishers Club of Orange County Thursday, 8:30 p.m., at the Revere House in Tustin. Details: (714) 373-2721.