Kings River Conservation

Declining Trout Population

98.6% Drop In “Wild” Trout!
By Paul Honkavaara

In 1984 the estimated “wild” trout population in the Lower Kings River, the section from Pine Flat Dam to Highway 180, was 435 rainbow trout per mile. In 2015 that had dropped to 6 “wild” trout per mile. A drop of 98.6%!

From Kings River Conservation District (KRCD)

There are two primary reasons for that dramatic decline in the “wild” trout population.
One is the KRCD power plant that became operational in 1984. A US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) report states:

“The position of the penstocks (el. 649.3) and low-level sluices (el. 565.5) were designed to be as low as possible in order to maximize the range of power generation and water yield, and water can only enter the penstocks through that one level. During spring and early summer power generation, the coldest water is used first, prematurely depleting the coldwater reserve in the lake, and resulting in warm water discharges later in the year that are lethal to trout. (emphasis added)

The USFWS refers to those warm water temperature events that are lethal to trout
“extinction episodes”. They occur in about 3 years out of 4 and kill all or almost all of the trout in both the reservoir and below Pine Flat Dam.

A second primary problem is the water flow through the Lower Kings River. A 1992 report from Trihey & Associates, the consultant to KRCD states:

“A second major factor limiting trout populations below Pine Flat Dam is the availability of living space and stream temperatures in the Kings River near the close and immediately following the close of the irrigation season. . . . Our analysis of physical habitat conditions indicates the best streanflows for adult rainbow trout within the 26.3 mile study area are between 200 and 400 cfs.”

By contrast the current minimum flow over Fresno Weir is 35 cfs. That is far less than the 200 to 400 cfs minimum flow recommended by the KRCD consultant.
To learn more about the issues of the Lower Kings River please go to:

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The Public Advisory Group (PAG) has been negotiating with the Kings River Fisheries Management Program (KRFMP) has been making significant improvements. One recent success was causing increased stocking in the Lower Kings River.

That stocking included the release of over 11,000 lbs of “trophy” (average 4 lbs) of rainbow trout into the Lower Kings River. Some club members caught their “personal best” rainbow trout.

PAG is continuing the negotiations with KRFMP. To address the two key issues of high water temperatures that cause the
“extinction episodes” and inadequate flows PAG has requested that KRFMP agree to:

    With those two changes it will be possible to re-establish a truly wild rainbow trout population in the Lower Kings River.

    PAG has very extensive documentation available. Should you have any questions, would like additional information or would like to learn how you may become involved in PAG please contact Hank Urbach at or Paul Honkavaara at

    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

        Incubator Charging Round 2

        Hi there,

        Heidi Isner ( invites you to participate in the Doodle poll "Incubator Building -Round 2."
        Volunteers are asked to check in on young trout in egg, sac fry, or zip-up developmental stages. Volunteers should observe if the water is clear, if there is an inordinate number of dead in the raceways, that water is flowing and that operations appear normal. Dead fish & matter should be carefully cleaned using the turkey basters and nets provided. All waste should be disposed of in a closed garbage can away from the building. Please keep doors closed for eggs and sac fry when working in the building.