Who else but an angler like Kernville fly-fishing guide Guy Jeans has the patience to wait two decades for a government project — especially one that not long ago appeared close to finally coming together — only to watch it fall victim to delays once again?
The work in question is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's attempts to renovate the 93-year-old Kern River Hatchery and equip it to raise pure-bred Kern River rainbow trout.
After three years of extensive improvements to the Kernville facility, the hatchery finally reopened in early 2019. But then, 20 months later, it shut down and additional repairs were ordered.
There's good news to report: Since the facility's closure in December the CDFW says it has found the money it needs to finish the job.
But it's not time to celebrate yet, as construction hasn't started and there's no word on when the hatchery will again reopen to fish, tourists and school buses filled with students on field trips.
Somehow Jeans, owner of Kern River Fly Shop, finds the perseverance of spirit to remain not only hopeful but enthusiastic about a renovation project he calls "a big deal" for fishermen anxious for a self-sustaining population of one of only 10 breeds to native California trout.
"It's been going on for over 20 years so we've all been excited about it for a long time," said Jeans, who also owns Kern River Fly Fishing Guide Service. "It's just something that, you know, it just takes a while to do."
Things seemed to be going well when the 15-acre hatchery at 14415 Sierra Way threw open its gates two years ago. That was after the state removed old raceways, which are the large tanks that hold young fish, and new equipment was put in such as a backup electricity generator, a recirculating aquaculture system and a screen for filtering out debris.
But it soon became apparent the 50-year-old pipeline that supplied fresh, cold water to the hatchery would have to be replaced. More than once water levels dropped so low that fish-tank temperatures dipped to dangerous levels and baby trout had to be released into the nearby Kern River lest they die in the hatchery's lukewarm water. In fact, about 5 percent of the hatchery's fish did die during that period.
Last month the department reported it had found money to replace the pipeline. It said the construction work would take at least two years, during which time the agency hopes to move forward with additional improvements, assuming it finds money for those, too.
On Friday CDFW Fishery Program Manager Gerald Hatler said by email that early planning work has begun but no reopening date has been set. He was unable to estimate how much the project would cost, where the money would come from or how much has been spent on the hatchery's renovation so far.
What makes the project exciting for the fishing community is not just that the hatchery for years provided trout to recreational fishing areas from Bakersfield to Lake Isabella, but that it was gearing up to breed genetically pure Kern River rainbow trout.
The idea was that the CDFW was going to gather the purest specimens of the trout it could find and then raise them at the hatchery. Although it puts Kern River rainbow trout in the river twice or more weekly as it is, they are not genetically pure and are unable to reproduce.
In the meantime, the CDFW continues to rely on other hatcheries in the region to provide trout to local fishing areas.
Clay Rutledge, co-owner of Bob's Bait Bucket in Bakersfield, said the hatchery's closure has strained supplies of fish available for local anglers to catch. He added that most people have no idea about the hatchery or the plans to outfit it for raising native trout.
But he said he does think fishing enthusiasts will take notice once the new breeding program takes hold, based on the response when so-called lightning trout were introduced at Buena Vista Lake.
When that happened last season, he said, fishing activity picked up substantially because of the trout's gold, white and orange coloring. The Kern River rainbow trout may not be as striking but it's also impressive, he said.
"So obviously, if there's a new fish that people have not seen or not caught, then yeah," he said, "people are going to get excited about that."
Regardless, it'll be good to see the old hatchery reopen, he added.
"It's going to be great to get the hatchery going again. The hatchery is a neat place to go," he said. "It's a neat place to take kids."