Category Archives: Upper Kern River

And Backpacking Gear Review

October 20-23, 2017

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

I have backpacked the Forks of the Kern Trail to the awesome fly fishing of the upper Kern River over a dozen times since my very first backpacking trip 7 years ago in August of 2011.  I have been in the Spring a few times and in the Summer many times.  But, I had never been able to go in the Fall; until now.  The shocking thing for me and the group of 9 guys that joined me (ages 12 to mid-sixties) was the colors.  I was shocked to see all the yellow and orange in the trees…and not just aspens.  I had never seen anything in the trees but green in the many years of visiting the Forks.  So beautiful.

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The Upper Kern River crew:

  • Sean McElroy and my son Mark
  • Aaaron Eagleton and his dad (who’s story I featured in California Fly Fisher Magazine)
  • Steve Franco (Aaron’s uncle)
  • Me
  • Martin Loef and Steve Ray (backpacking and wilderness gurus)
  • Larry French (my cousin and life long friend of Martin)
  • Not Pictured: The world famous Warren Lew who took the picture

 The most fun for me was that my son Mark was part of the group.  I have not got to fish with him in a while.  He’s a stick, toning his skills a couple years in Bozeman.  He’s 22 now and I just don’t get as much father-son q-time as I’d like.  At 22 I didn’t hang with my dad too much either.  I regret that now.

As for the fishing this was one of those trips where the fishing matched Solunar theory perfectly.  The first day the fly fishing was good; the 2nd day was average; the 3rd day was not so good.

solunar-kern

These screenshots are from the app, “Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro”.  I have mentioned this app in this blog before.  It’s a godsend.  The regular version is free.  The Pro version is worth every penny of its $2.99 cost.  I use it religiously….although solunar theory is not bullet proof, it does help.  It certainly helped on this trip matching up perfectly to the quality of fishing.  Get it in your apple or google app store.

Backpacking Gear Review

Before I get into the fishing report let me provide some guidance (from an old guy fly fisherman’s perspective) in terms of a backpacking gear review for my fellow fly fishers.  7 years ago when I started backpacking as a means to get to fly fishing I acquired gear in the exact same way many of us fly fisherman buy fly fishing gear when we start fly fishing.  When I started fly fishing 25 years ago I bought the cheapest stuff.  I bought a $60 Cabela’s rod with a $30 Cabela’s reel.  My waders were the cheapest neoprene Cabela’s waders.  As the years progressed, technology helped the fly fishing industry just like it has helped every industry. I started replacing my cheap fly fishing stuff with the latest and greatest stuff.  The best $100 I ever spent was on the Simms Waders that have the zipper.  If you are male over 40 you know what I mean…  Well, when I started backpacking I bought the cheapest stuff too.  And that means the heaviest stuff and the stuff most apt to break down quickly.  The difference, though, between backpacking and fly fishing is that the technology curve is on hockey stick growth in backpacking.  There is just only so much technology, especially electronic technology that you can throw at fly fishing gear.  But, in backpacking….the sky is the limit.  And I am a technology guy.  So I purchased 4 new backpacking gear items for this trip.  And now that it’s over I could kick myself for not doing it years ago.  Because this stuff was worth every penny.

Check out the colors on this monster Kern River Rainbow I fooled

Check out the colors on this monster Kern River Rainbow I fooled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a summary of the 4 items I purchased and used for the first time on this trip:

Osprey Aether AG 70 Backpack – The 7 years of hard use on my Gregory back pack and its eventual failure was the impetus of all these purchases.  I’d say I got my money out of that Gregory.  I bought it on SierraTradingPost.com for under $100.  The arm straps finally ripped to the point of giving out.  After doing the research I was pleased to see how technical the backpacks had become and how light they are.  From experience I knew I needed a 60-70 liter pack to handle the 1 to 5 night backpacking treks I typically do.  There was one pack and one company that really stands out at the leader in my research.  I convinced myself I deserved the top of the line so that is what I got: The Osprey Aether AG 70.  You can’t argue with “Winner of Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award for 2017” … So light (5lbs 6oz); so comfortable.  I didn’t get the pain in my shoulders after an hour hiking like I always did with my old pack.  This pack balanced perfectly and has this special technology that keeps the pack away from your back so it ventilates.  It has tons of features and gets ridiculously good reviews on the internet.  But, for me, (and for you fly fishers) the best feature of this pack is the top lid that converts to a daypack.  Yes, you snap off the top of the pack and it’s a smaller backpack big enough for all your fishing stuff, food, water, a jacket and more.  I didn’t have to bring a separate lightweight fly fishing hip pack because of this feature.  The retail for this pack is $310 and it’s worth every penny.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am with this pack.

Big Agnes Flycreek HV 2 platinum Tent –  Ok, I don’t deserve this tent like I deserve the Osprey Aether AG 70 BackPack.  This tent is pretty much way too nice for me.  I’m officially backpacking spoiled now.  This tent is expensive at a retail price of $549.95.  And there is a reason for that.  Like my dad always said, “in life you typically get what you pay for.”  It’s huge for a backpacking tent: it’s a 2 man tent with a really high ceiling.  It’s super easy to set up.  But it’s number one feature and why I’m so pleased with it: The trail weight for this tent is 1lb 10oz.  I’m not kidding.  When I handed that tent to others…and I did it numerous times, it induces shock on how light it is.  And usually a shake of the head.  My cheapo tiny single tent I have used for 7 years weighs 4 times as much as this tent at 1/3rd of the size.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am to save almost 5 pounds with this tent.

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Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System –  This little device is the best kept secret in the backpacking industry.  Buy the .5 liter version of this now at a retail price of $40 and you will thank me.  I have watched countless backpackers struggle with large bulky water filtration pumps over the years.  That is why I have been a Steripen fan for years.  I have owned two of them.  Their customer service is awesome and their device is awesome.  They even replaced the bulb in one of my older Steripens so I could get more years out of it.  I have used my steripens all over the world and will continue to.  But, for the Kern…and frankly many of the rivers in the US, the Katadyn Befree removes just as much bad stuff native to US waters like giardia.  But it also filters out everything but the water.  All the little pieces of plant material, dirt, etc. the SteriPen uses ultra-violent light to kill the bad stuff.  It’s a wand you wave in the water for 2 long minutes.  The Katadyn BeFree filters the water.  You just scoop up the river and start drinking.  No waving wands, no pumping, no hassle.  With the steripen I always carried around 1.5 liters of river that eventually got warm.  With the Katadyn BeFree you just scoop up cold water and start drinking.  That means you can literally throw away the water you don’t want.  It’s cleans really easy too. The Steripen weighs 5 ozs.  The Katadyn Befree packs down to tiny and it only weighs 2 oz.  There is a reason it won BackPacker Magazine’s 2017 Editor’s Choice Award.

Big Agnes Helinox Ridgeline FL135 Trekking Poles – The lord didn’t give me much, but, he did give me the “goat gene”.  I’m agile.  I always have been. It’s just in my genetics.  I always assumed trekking poles were for the non-agile that needed stability.  I met a young backpacker in a prior trip to the Kern, Kyle Focht, that set me straight on how trekking poles are more than that.  More than agility and stability, trekking poles also help you to power up hill.  I tried my wife’s trekking poles on a trip in august and was shocked how much they helped.  I knew then I had to get my own.  These FL 135s are my very first trekking poles, so they are good ones, but not the top of the line.  They are made from aluminum, yet less than a pound in weight.  Btw, they also serve very well as a wading staff.

When all was said and done with my new purchases, I had saved close to 10 pounds in load weight.  Like I said before.  I wish I had done this years ago.

The devishly handsome author using his trekking poles as a wading staff crossing the Little Kern River.

The devilishly handsome author using his trekking poles as a wading staff crossing the Little Kern River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Report

Friday, October 20 – We got an early start on the hike in.  We made it to camp late morning and set up tents, made wood, etc.  In the haste to set up all the beginners with dry dropper rigs and at the same time do a satellite text message to tell my wife had made it, I forgot to zip the pocket with my phone in my shirt.  When I bent over the river to put the food and booze in to keep it cold my phone popped out and sank 18” to the riverbed.  I cussed a storm because that would be the 6th or 7th iphone I have lost to a river or lake.  I was in no haste to pull it back out so I secured the food first and then fished it from the bottom.  It has happened to me so many times before; even twice in the Kern; that I knew it was toast.  At least at the time I thought it was…

We got camp set up and were fishing by lunch time.  I did well.  I swear I would have caught 20+ fish in 6 hours that day if I wasn’t guiding and tying lost flies back on the rigs of the 4 beginners we had on the trip.  In reality though, my most fun of the trip was guiding and doing exactly that.  I’d rather pull flies out of trees and guide a beginner to a fish than catch a fish myself any time.  In any event I caught a dozen quality fish in the 2-3 hours I fished.  I did get a few takes on my size 4 huck hopper.  But, I failed to hook any of them.  Most of my takes were on a large black stonefly nymph imitation.  That is a staple fly of the upper kern.

Check out the size 10 stonefly hanging out of this unlucky rainbow’s face

Check out the size 10 stonefly hanging out of this unlucky rainbow’s face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 21st – what I remember most from this day was me hooking another fish and hearing mark from a distance say, “Damnit”.  That’s not like him to be frustrated.  He was mostly hanging with his buddy Sean, guiding him because he was a beginner, for the first day and a half.  btw, Sean caught two fish on this trip.  that is pretty good for a beginner.  Anyways I’m guessing the guiding had to weigh on the frustration a little.  So, that was my opening to help him out…and spend some q-time with him.  We spent the next couple hours together and I didn’t fish at all.  I simply did the “guide thing” and made a number of suggestions and changes to his flies and approach.  Thank God for me those suggestions worked for Mark.  Mark started catching fish and was the big winner that day.  He caught 3 quality fish with me while I was with him.  And for the rest of the trip he did well.  I learned at the end of the day when we all got back together at camp that some of the other guys did not do well.  I had that dwindling solunar performance in the back of my mind and feared what the next day would bring…or wouldn’t bring.

Sunday, October 22nd – We hiked for an hour up river, over the mountain, before we started fishing.  It’s something I have always wanted to do, but never had people with me that were willing to do it…and to go with it the brutal 5 mile hike back to camp after a long day of fishing.  Frankly it’s hard for me to do this because you pass miles and miles of awesome water in the process.  They say….well, I say, “the farther up river you go the better the fishing gets.”  And it makes sense since the fish up river just don’t see the artificial flies like the ones near the confluence.  Unfortunately my fear of the solunar prediction was realized; it was slow…  I think I fished and hour without a take.  And I was getting good drifts.  That is pretty rare for me on the Upper Kern no matter what the conditions.  I wanted to say I couldn’t understand what changed in terms of hatches, but I did have that solunar theory thing in the back of my mind.  I usually can figure out what the fish are eating if you give me a couple hours, but there were few bugs in the air and nothing rising and nothing being spooked and nothing worked for me.  I went hours without a single take.

I caught up to mark and that is when I saw it and laughed; an impressed laugh.  He was standing on a huge rock, close to 10 feet above the water level.  He was in front of a long deep bend in the river.  He had a gap in the trees behind him big enough for a back cast.  So, he was making 50 foot single hauls to the opposite side of the river with a dry/dropper rig.  I wish I was close enough to video it.  It was impressive.  Plus I could see him long distance mending so I can’t imagine the drift was easy.  He sure has become a great cast.  I was still 100 yards away when he hooked up on a big fish.  He battled it for longer than what I would deem normal and brought it to hand and showed me from distance after I screamed, “Woo!” from 100 yards away.  It looked huge.  I guessed over 20”. When I got to him he said, “17”.

 

Mark Huckaby doing the 50 foot single haul to the opposite side of the river with his buddy Sean fishing the head

Mark Huckaby doing the 50 foot single haul to the opposite side of the river with his buddy Sean fishing the head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still hadn’t landed a fish that day, though.  And slowly I found out no one but Mark had either.  So, slowly but surely everyone started their long treks back to camp except for me.  I found myself at Kern Flats (which I believe is over 6 miles from our camp) in front of the famous bend which is always good for at least one fish…and nothing.  It was getting late in the day and I knew I had at least a 1.5 hour hike back to the site, skunked.  That is when I said myself, “if I am going to get skunked I’m going down with size 18 dries.”  As I walked back I found Mark and Sean in “their hole” and told them to check in with me on their walk back so I wouldn’t worry. Half of the way back to camp was one of my favorite runs I walked by earlier in the day without fishing it.  It took me a while to get there.  Mark and Sean caught me as I tied on some 5x to the end of my leader, then a light colored size 18 mayfly imitation that was similar to a random handful of naturals I had seen during the day.  They moved on, hiking back to camp.  I moved into position to cast, which meant rock hopping my way closer to the middle of the river so I could get a cast.  I stared out in front of me at the run hoping to see rises where I had seen them so many times in years past….nothing.  From my rock I had to make a simple 30 foot cast straight up stream.  First cast…whack!  6” incher.  Nice.  I fished for 10 minutes and got struck on almost every cast.  I had landed 4 to 12” before mangling my leader because of my quickly tied poor knot when I tied on the tippet.  So, I cut it off and said to myself, “if I can catch my fifth on what is essentially a 6 foot 0x leader, I’ll call it a total success and head back to camp. I had to nip the leader at an angle just to thread the size 18 hook.  Success; 10” er.  I would have loved to stay and whack 20 trout after that full day of being skunked, but walking back that far to camp alone in the dark in that part of the sierras is not smart.  So, I took off happy.  And then it occurred to me.  We had not caught a single fish in front of camp yet.  And we had all fished it hard for 3 days. That that is one of the most prolific spots on the river.  I said to myself, when I get back to camp I’ll throw 5 casts to see if I can break the skunk there.  It was a long 45 minute brisk hike back up and over the mountain.  As I approached the camp all the guys already had whiskeys and were trading the day’s stories.  I looked at Mark with a smile and held 5 fingers up.  He said, “We heard you shout.  We knew you are on.”  I explained to the guys what happened and said, I have to try it here.  So I wandered 50 feet down to the river.  First cast, whack!  I shouted “Woo!” and some of the guys ran over.   After landing the fish I handed the rod to my cousin Larry French and said, “take over”  I headed for a backpacking chair with whiskey and he got a strike too with Warren guiding him.

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

Through a matter of circumstances, I hiked out alone.  I like to do that at the Forks.  I like to push myself.  I made it from camp to the crossing of the little Kern in good time.  My goal was to hike the 2 miles and 1100 feet up and out of the canyon in under an hour.  With my new trekking poles I was pretty confident.  1:04 – that is pretty good for an old guy.

It was a great trip and fun was had by all.  The real bummer for me is November 15 and the winter looms.  That ends the fishing season for most of California until Spring.  It’s back into the man cave to tie hundreds of flies for the hundreds lost this season for me.

There were quality fish hooked, landed and there were frustrations with trees and slow times.  I honestly believe we learn from our entire experience on the river: from the most advance fly fishers like me to total beginners we are always getting better whether we are catching fish or not.

I believe a totally fun trip was had by all.  I’d love to make that an annual trip with that group.

The view of the flat water on approach to “Huckaby Camp”

The view of the flat water on approach to “Huckaby Camp”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My iPhone: You are not going to believe this.  On that first day we put my iphone in a plastic bag with the silicon desiccant packs from backpacking food and let it sit in the sun for 3 days.  It worked.  I didn’t even try to turn it on during the trip.  When I got to my truck after the hike out I plugged it in and it came right up.  When I finally got to signal an hour later in Kernville all the txts and emails flooded in.

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report – August 25-28, 2017

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report

Forks of the Kern Trail Head

August 25-28

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The Upper Kern River 3 miles upstream from the confluence of the Little Kern River

Upper Kern River Upstream from the Confluence of the Little Kern River

Well, the Fishing under 600 CFS on the Upper Kern is better than it was at 800 earlier in the month.  But it’s the simple fact that you still have to be a good, advanced or expert fly fisher to do well there right now.  In all my experience of fishing the Upper Kern from the Confluence of the Little Kern up river from the Forks of the Kern trailhead I’d saying it’s fishing at a 3 of 10 right now…. understand a 3 at the Forks is a 9 in most eastern sierras waters.  It’s that good.  And it’s my prediction that this upper stretch of the river will not fish well for everyone until it gets below 350 CFS.

You’ll do well if:

  • You are a good or better fly fisherman who can get a tough cast to soft water with a good drift.
  • You know how to and have the skills to drift a big deep hole and eddy.
  • You are fit enough and are willing to bush whack and rock hop and climb to precarious places to get that perfect cast, risking flies to overhanging trees
  • You are willing to hike the 3.5 miles upstream from the confluence over the mtn and up stream of rattlesnake creek.

You’ll do poorly if:

  • You are not an experienced fly fisher: Intermediates or beginners are still going to struggle in the high water
  • Losing flies pisses you off
  • You do not take risky casts…which ultimately means you will lose flies to overhanging trees.
  • You aren’t good at reading the water
  • You can’t get a drift in the seams of fast current
  • you don’t have a handful of casts in your arsenal
  • you don’t know what “soft water” means.

I hooked up about 20-40 times a day in the upper kern depending on the hours I put in and the hiking I was willing to do to find the soft water.  I had a dozen or so rises to my Huck hopper.  I landed a good amount of small to medium sized fish.  I lost a bunch of big fish.  Anyone who says fishing with barbless hooks doesn’t matter is fishing stockies.  When you fish barbless in the upper kern you will get shook  on multiple jumps or you will simply lose fish that bolt straight straight down stream through rapids into your backing where you have no resort but to tighten and lose them.  In this high water there is no way to chase them downstream.  You’d have to swim.  And only brad pitt does that well in movies.

I hooked a lot of these....landing them was rare. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

I hooked a lot of these….landing them is special. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it's face

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it’s face

I did, though, catch something very rare at “the site”.  I caught a 20” brown.  Browns are rare in the upper kern.   I have never caught a big one.  It was after dinner and a couple whiskeys.  It was almost dark.  I made a couple casts w’ my hopper / dropper in the big hole and my hopper went down slow.  I tightened and felt weight.  But, there was no jump.  8 times out of ten the kern rainbows jump.  It was dead weight…no head shake.  My buddy mike and I both said, “it has to be a sucker.”  When I got it in we were shocked.  I big male brown with many years behind it.  It took a flashy rainbow warrior I tie which is weird.  I must have totally lucked out and drifted it right into his face.  Clearly this was a rainbow eater to get that big.  Mike wanted me to kill it because it’s not native, but I couldn’t.

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

 

The Little Kern River Upstream from the Confluence

The Little Kern River is fishing really well right now; really well.  And it’s no wonder since it has been a trickle for over 4 years of drought.  I pulled multiple fish out of the tailout just 200 feet up from the Forks of the Kern crossing.  Quality fish too.  not just little ones. But, I did not and still have not caught any goldens out of the little Kern above the confluence.  They have all been rainbows.  I wonder how far you have to bushwhack to get to the goldens from there.  I’d love to talk to someone who knows.

But, in fishing the little Kern right now, all the bullets from above apply…. Even more.  There is no little kern river trail.  It’s a complete bushwhack, frequently requiring river travel as the only means to get up stream.  It’s small water, but raging and deep in spots.  The rocks are much more slippery than in the main fork of the Kern so fishing your way up stream is slow even for the most agile and fit.  And because of the canopy it can be dark…great for fishing, but not so much for walking upstream in current in 2+ feet of water.  I went down….water to my neck….almost broke it and my Winston rod in the process.  Was it worth it?  totally….  But, I was alone.   That is not a place to be alone.  No river trail.  No humans.  No nothing.  A bad accident there could really be bad.

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I don’t have a lot of success or experience in this section of the Little Kern River because I chose not to fish it, on guidance and common sense during the 4 years of drought: warm and low and too stressful on the fish.  But, I spent 2.5 hours fishing it and absolutely killed.  I fished about 1.5 miles up from the confluence.  I had takes in almost every stretch of castable water.   There are a lot of tailouts, pools and pocket water.  I had multiple fish runs (which I did not have on the Kern).  And I hooked some big fish in that little river.  notice I said hooked.  i am no beginner.  I have caught thousands of trout on a fly rod in my close to 30 years of fly fishing and I have never found harder fish to land than the kern river rainbows.  I hooked 4-5 big fish in that little river and landed zero.  The behavior is pretty much the same: set the hook.  The fish jumps.  Then the fish either jumps multiple times going ballistic until the barbless hook gets shook or bolts downriver into the backing.  I even had a big rainbow go so fast so far down that little stream that after snapping off, I had to walk it backwards untangling most of the 100 feet of my fly line from all the rocks and willows it tangled on it’s run.  One day I’ll hike the Forks trail and dedicate a full day or more to the little kern.  It’s not safe to do that alone.  It takes a unique fisherman to want to do the bushwhacking in small water that I love so much.

Upper Kern River – Forks of the Kern Trailhead

August 25-28, 2016

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

I met Mike Gilroy at the June 2016 meeting of the San Diego Fly Fishers Group.  He was a new member of the group and it was his first meeting.  We immediately became friends.  He’s a lifelong hunter and fly fisherman.  His story was that he just retired and moved to the seemingly barren fly fishing opportunities of San Diego from the plentiful fly fishing opportunities of Seattle area.  My takeaway was that his wife wanted to retire to a warmer climate.  You can’t fault her for that.  I did my penance up in Redmond, WA for a year serving Microsoft.  The sun never came out that year (97/98); Never.  It is true.  There is an abundance of fly fishing opportunities up in the Seattle area year round.  I always carry a fly rod up there when I visit Microsoft.  Mike was a little bummed when he described having to move away from all the fly fishing opportunities in Washington.  That is when I told him about the Upper Kern River.

One of the many Kern River Rainbow's that MIke battled to hand

One of the many Kern River Rainbow’s that MIke battled to hand

I told Mike about battling the “badest”, biggest trout in the world.  That the Kern River Rainbow is its own species and we’d have a chance at Goldens and “Gold-bows” too.  And I told Mike how you have to earn it by backpacking in to them.  Well, Mike is like me.  He took that to heart and committed immediately.  Because of my travel schedule I set dates more than 2 months in the future.  But, I had always wanted to fish the upper Kern in August and never afforded the chance because it gets hot in August; really hot.  And I could never get anyone to go with me at that time of year.  And Mike did commit.  He started training immediately with hikes.  He trained the entire time.  I trained too, but at one point I was a bit worried about a 6’5” guy north of 65 kicking my ass on the trail.  So I trained pretty hard too and although I didn’t drop that 15 I need to, I did get in really good cardio shape.  As you’ll read later I needed it.

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

I had already been to the Upper Kern over the Forks of the Kern trail twice this summer so I knew we’d see really good river conditions (low).  And that meant the chance at good Huck-Hopper fishing.  I cannot tell you how many pictures I have taken over the years of a big Kern River Rainbow with a Huck Hopper hanging out of its face.

We did a lot of planning.  Mike came over to the house and I showed him all the stuff I was putting in my backpack and told him how I hoped to be under 45 pounds.  I should have emphasized it.  I told Mike that it usually takes me less than 45 minutes to lose the 1100 feet in 2 miles to get to the crossing of the Little Kern River.   Mike set expectations with me that he would take a lot longer than that; not a problem.

Mike and I were going to meet at the Lower Peppermint Campground which is just 15 minutes short of the trailhead.  I have painstakingly created detailed directions and guidance to the Forks of the Kern that I provide to anyone who emails me.  And they do quite a bit after internet searching and stumbling into this blog.  Mike was going to travel north to fish the Kings river a couple days early and camp out of his truck.  The plan was that he’d find and camp at the Lower Peppermint campground during the day Thursday and I’d drive Thursday night hoping to get there before 12AM.  But, I got the panicked call from Mike early Thursday, “They closed the road because of the Cedar Fire.”   I told him not to give up just yet.  Mike was trying to get to the campground from the western entrance which goes right though the fire.  I called the Kern River Ranger station and they told me the roads from the south were still open…”…for now.”.  So, Mike did the long detour all the way down to Bakersfield and back up through Kernville.  But, he called me again from Kernville.  “The fire is bad here.”  I had been tracking the fire all day on CalFire.org and the other governmental fire tracking sites.  It wasn’t really close, but it was pushing towards Kernville.  Mike was seeing the smoke.  I told Mike to go on in.  It’s another 1.5 hours to the campground/trailhead from Kernville in a Northern Direction.   Way North of the fire.   I knew he’d be fine.  The problem is there is no cell signal North of Kernville so I knew we wouldn’t be able to communicate.  What I didn’t realize was what I’d run into a good 12 hours later when I got to Kernville that night.

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

I left Carlsbad at 7pm as planned to avoid the traffic when plowing through LA.  As I drove up the Kern Canyon from Bakersfield I had to pull over numerous times for fire trucks to pass me.  “hmmm…” I said to myself.  I wasn’t as worried about them not letting me through as I was leaving Mike stranded in a place he never had been before with the thought of him backpacking by himself.  As I pulled into Kernville it was Armageddon.  I could see flames at least 30 feet high to the West.  I said to myself, “My God.”.  But, I was still more worried about the road closing and stranding Mike.  Thank God I made it through.  I learned later they closed the road behind me the following day.  But, only for 24 hours.  That was long enough to prevent my buddy Grant from making it through, though.  He never did join us.  We didn’t know then we practically had the Upper Kern River to ourselves.  I pulled in just after 12am and found Mike’s truck in my favorite site easily.  I was asleep within 15 minutes of turning off my ignition.

Friday morning Mike and I said hellos, described our journey and soon our trucks were headed for the trailhead.  At the trailhead I couldn’t smell any smoke, but there was a haze in the air.  Mike weighed his pack at the trailhead and it was over 50 pounds.  “Hmmm…”  I told him there had to be something he could offload.  He maintained there was not.  That ultimately turned out to be a mistake, but much of the most important things I have learned about backpacking were from my many mistakes.

The Little Kern River Crossing

The Little Kern River Crossing – with a rope tied across to help

We hit the trail together by 830AM and it was nice and cool.  It did take a while for us to get to the Little Kern crossing; longer than I had ever done it.  but, Mike’s a big guy and a stud at 65.  I kept telling myself (and Mike), “I hope I’m still doing this at 65.”   After the little Kern crossing Mike needed a rest.  This is where I made my first mistake.  I should have emphasized (instead of just giving him the option) of finding the closest primitive camp site right there.  But, Mike was hell bent on making it to the Huckaby site that day.  And that next 2.2 miles in the heat was very physical for Mike.  With ¾ mile to go I told Mike I was going to charge forward to make sure the Huckaby site was open and double back.  Thank God it was open.  Upon doubling back I offloaded a few things from Mike to make him lighter and we made it to the site after 4+ hour very physical journey for him.  Finally at the site he took his shirt off to cool off.  “What the hell is that sticking out of your chest?” I asked.  “My defibulator.” He joked.  “What?!”.  He had a pacemaker and had by-passes and heart surgeries in his past.  Now, I was feeling really badly for almost killing him on that hike!

Half of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern RiverHalf of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern River

Mike rested a bit and I partially set up camp.  But, I was dying to fish, so I rigged up a huck-hopper dropper, walked up 100 feet to the tail out that is at the top of the site and within 5 casts hooked up with a nice 14” Kern River Rainbow that battled me all the way down to Mike.  We kept that one and ate it for dinner.

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me.  To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me. To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

My battle sent the adrenaline through Mike, causing him to rig up.  He soon landed a really nice Kern River Rainbow right in front of the site.

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the "infamous" Huckaby primitive camp site

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the “infamous” Huckaby primitive camp site

Right after that is when Mike found the best treasure in the history of my hiking in there: Two Coors nestled nicely in the river.  Since Mike doesn’t drink I got them both!  How awesome is a cold Coors on a hot day on the Upper Kern?!

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

We continued fishing and setting up camp never wandering far from the site and we did well.  We turned in early; I mean really early both because of exhaustion and because the rangers invalidated my fire permit.  No fires in the golden trout wilderness on this trip.  Which is a total drag because having a campfire riverside is one of the best parts of this trip.  It’s a shame us responsible folks have to suffer for the ways of the ignorant.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

The next day (Saturday) we fished up river for the first half of the day.  We did well too.  It wasn’t crazy good; I was having trouble getting fish to rise to my hopper and there were no bugs of significance in the air.  But, we were catching fish regularly on nymphs.  And the best part was that the river was tame enough for me to cross in a few places.  That meant Mike and I could fish together, him on the “right handed side” of the river and me on the “left handed side” as we marched up river a mile and a half or so.

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

It was getting hot and we waded all the way up to rattlesnake creek before we determined it was too dangerous to go on.  That is also where I lost a really nice big rainbow on my hopper.  I hated having to turn back after that.  But, I Did.

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever.  and i have been going there a long time

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever. and i have been going there a long time

We made the mile and a half back to camp, ate and watered up a bit and fished downriver from the site for the balance of the day.  Mike found a great run and really killed in it.  That pleased me.  We ended the fishing day by dry flying at camp as the sun went down.  We kept one of Mike’s trout this time and ate it along with the backpacking food.  But, without a campfire and the sun down it was in bed early again.

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Sunday we did a really smart thing.  We broke camp in the morning and backpacked all the way back to the Little Kern, crossed it, then followed it downriver to a site at the confluence of the North Fork (main) of the Kern and the Little Kern River I had always wanted to camp at.  I knew the fishing was really good down there.  This cut in half the big hike out of the canyon the next morning.  But, I was still a bit worried about Mike’s hike out because it is very physical hiking out of that canyon; especially in the heat.  Without setting up my tent or unpacking in any way I hit the run in front of the new site at the confluence and did really well as I worked up stream.  I walked back to camp, gathered up Mike and we worked downstream and I had battle after battle with big fish.  So fun.

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Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

As the sun set and we ate our dehydrated back packing food I had accomplished something I had never successfully managed before: We had eaten all the food; we wouldn’t have to carry any out.  But, because of not being able to have a campfire I had to pack out all the trash.  Monday morning came way too soon and I have to admit I was worried about Mike and the hike out.  Without telling him the plan I had already decided I was going to plow out of that canyon as fast as I could unload my pack, and head back down empty to offload some of his stuff into my pack.  I let him get a 15 minute jump on me because he was ready as I scrambled to pack up all my toys.  I was very pleased when I didn’t catch him until he was about 1/3rd of the way up the mountain.  That is when I unveiled my plan to him.  He probably didn’t believe me.  I made it to the truck in 50 minutes, emptied my backpack and headed back down.

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was.  It fought like crazy and it's huge.  But, alas, it's just a lowly sucker

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was. It fought like crazy and it’s huge. But, alas, it’s just a lowly sucker

I reached him about 2/3rds up the mountain and we offloaded some of his stuff into mine.  He assured me he was fine.  So I told him I’d was going to plow back up, sun shower, then have a beer while waiting for him.  And that plan would have went great until as I was enjoying my beer I heard a gun shot.  Mike was carrying a gun.  “Damnit!” I said to myself.  So without a pack and a beer in my hand I headed back down again.  I didn’t have to go far before running into him, exhausted.  It wasn’t his gun.  He made it.  What a stud.  Again I hope I’m still doing it at his age.  Great trip; great friend.

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River