The Upper Kings River

The Upper Kings River
By Paul Honkavaara

The Upper Kings River was in the past one of the best trout streams in the United States. Around the mid-1980s the trout fishing deteriorated dramatically. Over the years I’ve been involved in many discussions about, “What happened to the Upper?”

The “Upper Kings River” is from Pine Flat Lake to the confluence with South and Middle forks of the Kings River. The section most frequently fished extends several miles past Garnet Dike. From the lake to the confluence includes approximately 24.4 miles of stream habitat.

This section has been designated by the California Fish and Game Commission as
“Wild Trout Water”. That designation is used for lakes or streams that are "aesthetically pleasing and environmentally productive". They are to be managed exclusively for wild trout with appropriate regulations so the trout population is to be "largely unaffected by the angling process.”


The Upper Kings River from near Rough Creek upstream, including lower segments of the Middle and South forks, was declared a National Wild and Scenic River in 1984. Under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Congress established the Kings River Special Management Area from near Rough Creek downstream to the Bailey Bridge. This reach now has most of the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, including a Federal prohibition against new dams.

The current fishing regulations are:

    A 1991 report from the California Department of Fish and Game,
    Upper Kings River Wild Trout Management Plan, explains why the trout fishing in the Upper Kings River has deteriorated. The five reasons listed were:

      You may download that report at

      In explaining one of the key issues that caused the decline of the trout fishery that report states:
      Since the mid-1980’s, water releases through the Pine Flat Dam have been changed from a mid-elevation intake to an intake nearer the bottom of the reservoir.  This change was made to accommodate the generation of hydroelectric power.  The result has been that by late summer, cold water in the lower portions of the reservoir has been depleted.  With the lower volumes present, what was once a two-story reservoir (which carried trout through the summer) became two warm and dissolved oxygen too low to sustain trout.  As a result, the spring runs of rainbow trout that contributed to the upper Kings River fishery have largely disappeared.”
      If appropriate steps are taken the trout fishing in the Upper Kings River could improve dramatically and once again be one of the great trout rivers in the United States. We could make that happen.

      The Public Advisory Group (PAG) to the Kings River Fisheries Management Program is actively working to improve the fishing conditions in the Upper Kings River. We need the advice and involvement of those club members who have a passion for the Upper Kings River. Please contact Hank Urbach at or Paul Honkavaara at