DFW is promising to restore Kirman Lake as trophy brook trout fishery, don’t hold your breath
By JIM MATTHEWS
The Eastern Sierra Nevada’s Kirman Lake was once a tremendous brook trout fishery that produced trout the size usually only seen in Labrador, Canada. It was simply California’s premier trophy brook trout fishery, regularly producing brook trout from three to six pounds. A 14-inch brook trout from Kirman would weigh an honest two pounds. They were that fat.
My long-time friend Dick Dahlgren, who I fished Kirman with a number of times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, simply called the big brookes, “air-brushed footballs.” The brookies from Kirman were bigger and fatter than any brook trout from any other water in the state.
The problem with Kirman is not food supply or winter kill. The spring-fed lake has a rich foot chain and an almost endless supply of scuds (a type of freshwater shrimp) and aquatic insects in the weed beds that grow in the water. That is what allows the trout to grow so big, so fast. The springs also keep the water reasonably warm all winter, and many years it remains ice-free.
The problem with Kirman is that it does not have a place where the trout can spawn naturally. There is no stream running into or out of the lake where the trout could find moving water to spawn. That means the fishery was and is entirely dependent on plants of fingerlings or subcatchables from the Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries. And that is a big problem.
The sad reality is that brookies have never been a priority fish for the DFW in its hatchery system for the past four decades, and Kirman – frankly – was never a priority water. Even though the lake was protected with special regulations since the early 1980s (anglers at Kirman must use barbless hooks and the limit is two fish over 16 inches), the lake is also protected by a three-mile walk from the parking area.
(The Kirman Lake parking area is located north of Bridgeport just off Highway 108 about a mile past Sonora Junction (where Highway 108 and Highway 395 meet). And there is actually a road to the lake, but that road runs through private property and is closed to the public, forcing anglers to walk or bicycle the three miles to the lake.)
That meant the DFW was frequently unable or unwilling to plant the lake with brook trout, and it could go for a season or two or three without plants of brook trout. The management plan back then, as today, called for annual plants of brookies to maintain this incredible fishery, but there were times when anglers would notice one, two, or three whole year classes of fish missing because of inconsistent or small plants.
Then the DFW also started experimenting with Lahontan cutthroat trout in Kirman, and they also grew to enormous sizes – even bigger than the brookies. Cutthroats to eight pounds were caught, but they weren’t as colorful or as popular as the brookies. They also didn’t get those incredible girths the brookies sported. Kirman was just another water where there were big cutthroats, and there are roadside waters with cutts that big. The big brookies are what made Kirman unique and special. But the DFW favored the cutts because they were the native fish of that drainage (even though the cutts the DFW has planted are the wrong strain of cutthroat trout for the West Walker River drainage).
The statewide 2008 lawsuit against the state’s trout stocking program really sealed the fate of brookies at Kirman Lake, finishing off the job of eliminating the brook trout plants at Kirman the DFW had already started with its shift to cutts. Even after the suit was settled and the DFW got back to planting trout the region, brook trout were planted inconsistently and in low numbers because the hatchery system was and is switching to rearing and planting native fish.
Yet, the DFW insists brook trout “were planted annually by CDFW until 2015 when hatchery problems prevented the raising and delivering of the fish,” according to a recent press release touting their noble work to restore the fishery. That is an exaggeration, at best.
Actually, the noble work consists of moving 1,300 small brook trout removed from Silver Creek to protect a newly-established population of cutthroat trout. However, reports from on-site suggest fewer than 100 trout were actually moved to Kirman. And with the DFW eliminating brookies from the hatchery system, where future fish would come from is a serious question the DFW can’t answer.
Anglers who remember what this brook trout fishery was like hope and pray the DFW is sincere in its efforts to restore this amazing fishery (which has even been mentioned in several fly-fishing books), but anglers familiar with today’s DFW aren’t holding their breath.
Guzzler restoration project near
Bishop needs volunteers May 7-13
Volunteers are needed for a multi-day guzzler restoration project on public lands near Bishop, according to Cliff McDonald with Desert Drinkers for Wildlife (formerly Water for Wildlife). The group plans to restore six to eight man-made water catchments used by wildlife on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands north of Bishop.
Volunteers will be camping at the Millpond Campground six miles north of Bishop off Highway 395, and volunteers can camp free of charge Tuesday through Saturday nights. Meals (breakfast and dinner) will also be provided to volunteers all days they participate.
This is the group’s final project for 2019.
For more information, or to volunteers, contact Cliff McDonald via e-mail at 760-449-4820 or via e-mail at email@example.com. There is also more information on the group’s website at desertdrinkers4wildlife.com.
California Deer Association Fundraising banquet May 18: The Southern California Chapter of the California Deer Association will have its 17th annual fundraising banquet and auction beginning 5 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at the San Bernardino Elk Lodge, 2055 Elks Dr., San Bernardno. The event will feature dinner, a live auction, silent auction, and general raffle. Dinner tickets start at $75. For more information, contact Mike Bouman at 909-841-7006 or go to caldeer.org.
Lake Perris boating fees go to $10: Boat use fees at Lake Perris State Recreation Area will jump from $8 to $10 per vessal beginning May 1, according to California State Parks. This fee is charged in addition to the day-use fee of $10 per vehicle. The fee increase puts Perris at the same pricing as other state parks in the region.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.