A Kernville tourism staple that has provided fish for local anglers since 1928 recently reopened with ambitious plans to reintroduce native fish to the Kern River.
After closing for renovations three years ago, the Kern River Fish Hatchery opened to visitors March 25 with expanded abilities to take in, raise and grow trout.
The California Department of Fish & Wildlife's roughly 15-acre facility at 14415 Sierra Way will continue to receive catchable-size rainbow trout raised by the San Joaquin Hatchery near Fresno. But starting this summer, it will also spawn a type of native fish that's highly prized by anglers.
Hatchery Manager Tony Holland said a team of state employees and volunteers plan to hike in August to a remote creek somewhere in the southern Sierra Nevada in search of genetically pure Kern River rainbow trout.
He said specimens will be gathered up and flown by helicopter to the Kernville hatchery, where they will be raised and, within a few years, released into the river.
"Simply put, we take the fish out in the mountains, we make little fish out of them and then we propagate that into something bigger," he said.
The Kern River rainbow trout is among fewer than a dozen types of "heritage fish" in California. Some anglers make a point to seek out each species across the state.
For now, Holland said, the hatchery will supply fish to local bodies of water: Brite Lake, Hart Park, the Kern River, Lake Ming and The Park at Riverwalk.
During the three years the hatchery was closed, old raceways — large, tank-like structures that hold young fish — were removed and new ones were installed. Large "round tanks" were also put in as part of the preparations for raising Kern River rainbow trout.
Other new equipment at the hatchery include a backup electricity generator, a special screen for filtering out debris and a recirculating aquaculture system that, for the first time, allows the facility to recycle water.
Holland said groups of local schoolchildren visit the hatchery regularly to observe the hatchery's operations. Visitors from Southern California also stop by frequently, he said.
The facility is staffed by Holland, technician Ed Michel and seasonal employee Jim Greve.