Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report
Forks of the Kern Trail Head
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 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.
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.
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.