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Feature Article: Irvine Lake Open

It’s official: Irvine Lake reopening to shore fishing Saturday, Aug. 17

BY BLAKE WARREN/WON Staff WriterPublished: Aug 06, 2019

Popular watershed open to the public on weekends on one-year agreement for now, trout stocking expected in the fall

SILVERADO — It’s been a long time coming to say the least, but she’s finally back on the menu. Irvine Lake will reopen to the public for shoreline fishing at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17 for the first time since the lake closed its gates at sundown on Feb. 28, 2016, it was announced this past Wednesday by Orange County District 3 Supervisor Don Wagner, Orange County Parks and James Event Productions Co., the new concessionaire at the lake moving forward.


In the short term, Irvine will be open Fridays through Sundays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with hopes that enough early use and demand for the gem of an Orange County resource will be high enough to justify further expansion of public use in the future beyond the already agreed upon one-year deal between the county and Serrano and Irvine Ranch water districts. In the meantime, anglers will assuredly be lining the banks of the Silverado Canyon watershed come dawn of Aug. 17, hoping to get a taste of what the lake has had to offer since first opening in the early ‘30s, and getting “first dibs” on bass, catfish and panfish that haven’t seen a — legally fished — bait since late winter of 2016.


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IRVINE LAKE WILL have just under two miles of fishable shoreline along the west and east shores when it opens Aug. 17. For more info on regulations and what to expect, visit ocparks.com.

A considerable amount of work has been done in a joint effort by Orange County Parks and the new concessionaire to ready the lake for fishing, including clearing brush along the shoreline and parking lot maintenance, along with getting the bait and tackle shop stocked and up and running and adding a new fish cleaning station. Work along the shoreline will continue leading up to the 7 a.m. ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 17, and signage is going up in the coming week to let anglers know where they can fish and the regulations that will be in place.


“We’ve walked it off and it’s nearly a mile each direction from the parking area, about .9 miles each way,” O.C. Parks Division Manager John Gannaway told WON this past weekend regarding the shoreline access anglers will have come opening day.


Since Serrano Water District currently has an aquaculture permit in place, anglers won’t be required to have a state fishing license while fishing Irvine, however, all California Depart­ment of Fish and Wild­life regulations will be in place and O.C Parks Rangers will be patrolling the lake and providing visitor services, Gannaway said. In addition to CDFW regulations, the following regs will also apply at Irvine: bass are catch-and-release only, catfish 24 inches and larger must be released, five-fish limits and anglers are limited to one rod per person maximum. No live bait will be allowed beyond worms and no boats or float tubes will be permitted at this time.


The lake concessionaire will have a “standard selection” of tackle available at the bait and tackle shop, along with drinks and snacks, said Gary James at James Event Productions. “We’ll have everything everybody needs and we’ll expand as needed,” he said, “and there’s lots of parking around the tackle shop. O.C. Parks has been stellar and the county’s been great to work with. It’s been a good collaboration.”


Speaking of parking, folks attending opening day at the lake and beyond are urged to not stop or park along Santiago Canyon Road prior to the lake gates opening, as all vehicles that are parked on the road will be subject to possible citation. Gates open to parking at 6 a.m. and access to fishing will kick off at 7 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Supervisor Wagner. At 8, there will be some free giveaways along with food and drinks.


On the fishing side of things, there have been no official assessments of the fishery since the lake closed in 2016 by all accounts, but the lake is expected to still be holding a good population of bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill and carp. As far as trout stocking goes come late fall, it seems a very likely possibility, according to Supervisor Wagner.


“Absolutely, we plan on stocking trout in the fall when it’s appropriate to stock for trout,” Wagner told WON. “The county will take that on and we will definitely be stocking trout when the time is right. The most immediate next priority would be bringing boating back to the lake, and further clearing some trails to maintain so people can do some hiking out there.”


The biggest hurdle to reintroducing boating to Irvine Lake lies with future negoti­ations with Serrano Water District and Irvine Ranch in regard to what limitations or concerns they may have concerning public recreation on the lake, along with future compensation for the lake water’s recreation rights and potential liability issues. “Insurance is a big part of it,” Wagner said, “so it’s important to minimize any potential risks and have the proper insurance for any bad things that could possibly happen.”


In the interim, the weeks following the reopening of Irvine are going to be a test run of sorts. “It’s kind of a shake­down period for now to see just how much demand there will be for shoreline fishing at the lake and then we’ll just go from there moving forward,” Wagner said.


Gannaway told WON that O.C. Parks would be mon­­itoring the fishery side of things going forward and that avenues are being explored for potential fishing derbies and fish stockings in the future. “It’s going to be somewhat of an experiment the first few weeks to kind of evaluate the number of people who want to come out and fish at the lake, and that will allow O.C. Parks to better evaluate what’s needed to best facilitate shoreline fishing at the lake in the short term going forward.”


It’s now just a little over a week out from lines in the water once again at Irvine Lake after nearly 3½ years of going without. The wait is finally almost over. We shall see what the weeks ahead bring at the storied lake, but for now, she’s back on the docket at least.


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