Forks of the Kern – Upper Kern River – August 15th, 2019

In my years of hiking into the canyon to fly fish the Upper Kern River by way of the Forks of the Kern Trail I don’t believe I have ever gone in August. It’s always hot; brutally hot in Kernville in August. Trout don’t like hot. In the drought years the river was just too warm. But, in all honesty in the one of, if not the biggest snowpack years in recorded history, I had been waiting since April, watching the flows almost every day, for that river to back down enough to be fishable. I literally waited 4 and a half months. I can’t believe I have gone in there in April in the drought years and had to wait all the way until mid-August in a big year. It’s going to be a short fishing season on the Upper Kern in 2019. But, August means big hoppers. And there were tons of naturals. I noticed that the majority of them were grey. I have never tied Huck Hoppers in grey. As a result of this trip I now do. BTW, there we also a significant population of yellow grasshopper naturals: Both in wing and body color.

Abby with what looks like a monster…. a little trick i do with the camera.  That trout is 6″

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joining me on this 3-nighter were two of my sister’s kids: my niece Abby, 17 and my nephew Tommy, 15. Tommy went in a couple summers ago with me. This was Abby’s first backpacking experience. Both are beginners as fly fishers.

The river was between 750-650 CFS.  That means the Little Kern River Crossing was easy for me; about at my thigh. But, I’m a “goat” and have 30+ years of wading experience.

Tommy Crossing the Little Kern River.  He’s taller than me for sure and it was over his knees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The key to this hike in and out was going early because of the heat. We left their house in Pasadena at 4am. That got us to the trailhead in time before it got super-hot. Note: the sign at the dirt road turn to the Forks trailhead was broken in both poles and propped against a tree. Very easy to miss.

When we got to the trailhead there were two young fly fishermen hiking out. Since they had fly rods I approached them and asked how the fishing was. After just chatting for a couple minutes one of them said, “Wait, you are Tim Huckaby!” I laughed. His name is Casey and he thanked me for giving him guidance in email. I do that so much I didn’t even remember. Great kid. Passionate about fly fishing. He was in the middle of the California Heritage trout challenge. We need more fly fishing kids in the world.

So we said our goodbyes to the kids and the 3 of us took off before 9am. By the time we got through the Little Kern Crossing I could tell the both of them were losing steam. This is the xbox generation and let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of training by them before the trip. I said to them, “We only have 2.2 miles to the Huckaby site. But, there is a chance that there will be people in the Huckaby site. There are plenty of other good sites before it. But, we may have to double back; to get to the ones after it, it’s another couple miles and over the mountain. And I don’t think we’re up for that today.”   I could tell there was relief by looking at their faces. Well, the last good site before mine is the one with the long cement picnic bench and the remnants of a cabin that burn down many years ago. When we got to it I could tell they were exhausted and hot. I told them, “I have camped in this site before. It’s a good one. Why don’t you guys stay here and I’ll hike to the Huckaby site to see if it’s open. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.”   Again, I could tell by their faces they were relieved. So, I picked up the pace and hiked towards the site I have been working on for years. And sure enough a large family was in the site I developed. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. We only saw 2 groups the entire 4 days in there and one of them was a big family in the Huckaby site. We had not seen a sole until I ran into this nice family. They were super nice people. mom, dad, grandma and 3 teenage kids.   They were going to be in the site 2 of the 3 nights we were going to be there. Not a problem. I love that people use that site. Many take my guidance and improve it. Many have added to my “not so secret cache.” We talked about fly fishing and I offered a ton of guidance. Eventually the dad said, “Wait, you are the guy with the blog! I love that blog.” I smiled and said, “Yea, I’m Tim Huckaby.” He said, “Tim Huckaby, Yes! I need to buy your flies while you are down here.” I said, “You will not buy my flies. But, I will give some to you.” Which I did, of course….twice…the 2nd time with him wandering into our site at night begging me for more of my green crippled caddis nymph and convinced it was the only fly in the world that was working.

Tommy Fishing the deep pools from a high advantage point

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I doubled back to Tommy and Abby and we set up camp in the “picnic table site”. Little did we know what we’d be barraged with over the next 3 days: 5 separate visits by rattlesnakes. At least 3 of them unique snakes. Two of them I had to shoe out of the site with a tree branch. The irony was that on the hike in I said, “I once saw a rattlesnake here. I know they are in here, but I have only seen one over the years.” My guess is because of the big winter we were one of the first to camp in that site this season and the snakes simply moved in when it got hot in June. After seeing humans I doubt they’ll hang around long.

One of the 5 rattlesnakes that came to visit us in the picnic bench site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is always a calamity backpacking. Little mistakes become calamities backpacking because you cannot easily fix them being so remote and such. And this trip had two of them. The rattlesnakes was the first one.

After setting up camp I started stringing the rods. The first two were rods I use as loaners. It’s not smart to let teenagers pack and fish with expensive fly rods. But, when I opened the reel case for one of them I said to myself, “oh no…” It was a reel with a sinking line on it. In a case that said “floating”. I lent it out and it came back in reverse and I didn’t check before leaving. Normally that wouldn’t have been a crisis. But, I didn’t have any streamers with me!   Honestly it turned out great because we had 2 rods with floating lines, and sure one was a $900 rod being used by a teenager, but it survived. And I guided 95% of the time which is the right thing for Uncle Tim to do in the first place.

Another big Kern River Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hiked upriver and both kids caught fish. Abby was the first on the board. What is it with females? They take instruction so well. By the time we left Abby was not only proficient with a fly rod, but figuring things out about how to move into position to get a good drift that I didn’t even tell her about. Both kids landed 3-5 Kern River Rainbows each of the 3 days we fished. There were a lot of missed sets and long releases as you’d imagine with beginners. Abby caught the most (most likely because I spent the most time with her).

Abby with one of her Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy caught the biggest fish: a 17” football. I still can’t believe he landed it because it shot downstream after he hooked it. I rock hopped over to him. he was standing 10 feet above the water on a rock so I couldn’t instruct him to chase it. There was nowhere to go (safely). I was thinking the entire time, “…barbless hooks…” But, he stuck him good. I told him, “Tommy, see if you can swing him into the soft water against the rock. Only there will you have a chance to pull him back.” And sure enough he did. Awesome fish.

Every day we saw good fishing until about 11am. And then it just shut down for them until around 4pm. I have seen lulls in the upper kern before, but not that long. It’s august after all. Well, because of the lull these two tuckered out (or just got bored) each day by about 5pm. That is when I snuck in an hour or so to fish by myself while they rested in camp. And I just killed. All dry flying. I can’t tell you which huck hoppers worked the best because they all worked in all colors in all sizes. There is always a late afternoon wind there before the sun goes down so I imagine that has a lot to do with it.

Tommy battling a monster…and losing it downstream…until i coaxed it all the way back up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every night we’d have appetizers, then S’mores in that order before dinner. We’d cash in early too exhausted from a long day of hiking and fishing. These teenagers slept so long I ended up doing a ton of work on the “picnic table site.” I cleared the entire beach. At one point I had climbed one of the trees and was sawing off the branches that impeded casting. But, I failed to catch a trout right in front of the site. It was not for lack of trying. The water was just too high and ferocious there.

On the first morning I woke up with the sun and after a coffee I decided to see if my secret cache was in tact. I needed the tools to clear the picnic table site. When I got to the Huckaby site that entire family was sleeping. And the cache made it another year! In fact it was in great shape.

On the 2nd day we hiked up stream to fish all day….Beyond Rattlesnake (the mountain crossing upstream from the Huckaby site). We were easily 3 miles up river when two kayaks floated by. I could not believe it.   I was so shocked I didn’t have a chance to say hi. I said to Abby and Tommy, “I have no idea how they got in here. They must have been dropped off by a helicopter.” I later learned that you can float the entire section of the Kern from the Eastern side by Mount Whitney to the Johnsondale Bridge with a brutal 2 day hike carrying a kayak. Hiking back, as we looked at raging rapids and waterfalls one after another we kept say, “I can’t believe they Kayaked this.”

Over the mountain there are numerous fallen trees blocking the trail. It’s pretty obvious that not a single pack of horses or mules had been on the trail yet this season. I guess there were just not enough resources in the budget of the forest service to clear the trees. I wish I could figure out how to help.

Abby, Uncle Tim & Tommy – those are good looking anglers….

 

 

Fly Fishing Romania

June 8th, 2019

Check out the European Grayling i C&R’d from the Somesul Cald River in the Apuseni Mountains of Romania 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Exactly 2 months in advance of my trip to Cluj, I did an internet search and found Fly Fishing Romania info@flyfishingromania.com at www.flyfishingromania.com. I immediately got an email response back from Smaranda Neagoe. We went back and forth trying to figure out a day that I could fly fish because of my crazy schedule while in Cluj. Smaranda wrote beautiful English so it was easy to plan. I didn’t learn until I got to Romania that Smaranda was a female. That “S” is really soft in the Romanian language so her name pronounced sounds more like “Maranda”. Smaranda (and everyone else involved at fly fishing Romania) made the entire experience one of the best out of country fly fishing experiences I have ever had. And get this. The costs of fishing guided for a full day (9am to 7pm, btw) with two hot meals was less than ½ of what it costs in Montana.

check out that loop!  i am always the one taking the picture so i was really pleased that Alin Hiriscau took some

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My goal was to catch my very first European Grayling. Check that off the bucket list. I think I caught 30+ of them.
All in all, I think I caught 50+ fish. I caught 20 or so brown trout (the ones that are actually native and wild to Europe). And one fish that my guide, Alin Hiriscau, called a “lake trout”. But, it didn’t look like what we in the states call a lake trout at all (which in the US is a huge char). It looked like a rainbow or land-locked salmon (kokanee).

clearly this is a trout…not what we would call in the states a lake trout, which is a char.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It got ridiculous at points; fish on every “cast”. Granted, many of them were tiny. But, European Nymphing, like Tenkara, is wildly effective. It’s like raking the river inch by inch. I’m not totally bought into the European nymphing thing yet. The drifts are so short so you end of “casting” thousands of times. it can be tiresome lifting the rod and rolling a 10 foot “cast” over and over so I frequently changed hands. …and quickly learned I’m a terrible set with my opposite hand. In Euro-nymphing, you use a 10 foot rod or greater. The casts are not as much casts as they are flips of the leader; only 10 feet out of the rod tip up stream to about 45 degrees. The goal is to dribble your “euro-nymphs” across the river bed while trying to keep tension on the line. Yes you are hooking fish just 5-10 feet in front of where you are standing. These fish are not spooky to wading.
But, I barely knew anything about European Nymphing. That is until I met my guide Alin Hiriscau . Alin picked me up at my hotel in Cluj and drove me all the way out to Doda Pilii (a tiny city) in the Carpathian Mountains in Apuseni National Park to the Somesul Cald River (translated as Warm Somes River…which it is not). 2 hours both ways. It was a beautiful drive.

absolutely beautiful river as the sun is going down. credit my my guide and new friend Alin Hiriscau for the picture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alin and I had a great time talking nature and fishing all the way out to the national park. As it turns out Alin Hiriscau is an accomplished competition fly fisherman. Competition fly fishing is not so big in the US at all (although we have a team that I’m told by Alin is pretty good), but it’s huge in Europe. Most of what I have read about competition fly fishing in the US magazines is negative because the competitors end up nymphing only with squirmy worms and mop flies. There is certainly no fly-fishing integrity in that type of fishing. But, Alin on the other hand is a naturalist with huge knowledge of not only the fish and where they lie but also the entomology. That I do respect; I learned a lot from him that day.
After stopping at the local game warden’s house for a fishing license, we wadered up by Alin’s car and hit the water. The river was beautiful and its size was exactly my type of water: crossable almost everywhere.

The Somesul Cald River in Romania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where he had me start casting was a shock. Right at the put in; 6 inches of water in a tiny riffle on the edge of the river. I thought to myself there is no way in hell fish are holding in that water so I figured maybe he wanted to practice the euro-nymph “cast”. But, sure enough I got struck immediately and did the trout set I’m used to….snapping the fish off. hmmm… I asked him “is this smaller than 7x?” as if it wasn’t my fault; which it was. And he told me “We don’t use that 3x / 5x thing here in Europe. We do it by diameter.” I stared closely at the tippet. My guess: 7x. I just screwed it up by setting hard like I would on 3x in Montana. but, within a couple more casts I backed down my adrenaline and had caught, landed and released my first small grayling.

My first European Grayling… just the beginning of 30+ more that day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that is the big trick of success for the European Grayling: Reading the water. I’m terrible at it. I still can’t figure it out. But, Alin told me where to cast and that is where I did. And every time I said to myself, “you are kidding?” and every time I did. And every time he was right. The European grayling held in the most bizarre stretches of water. In many cases we ignored what I would call typical water that held trout completely and fished slow moving, skinny riffles.
Well, it wasn’t 20 minutes before we saw a rise. I brought my custom Jack Duncan made Winston B3 LS 5 wt and much to my pleasure Alin tied on a parachute adams. I made the 30 foot cast and within minutes we had a grayling to hand. My first grayling on a dry. There was some hooting, hollering, and fist bumping from the both of us on that one. That is when I knew the day was going to be special. We carried two rods (one for dries and one for euro-nymphing) and every time we saw a dry we switched: The tell-tale sign of a good guide. An awesome day for me.

check out the parachute adams hanging out of this grayling’s face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were around 3 hours into fishing when Alin got a call. it was Smaranda. Of whom I had not met yet. The group of six Englishman that she was guiding were not doing as well as me.  So, Alin asked if he could go help them up river and I gladly agreed. I was looking forward to a little alone time with the knowledge I gained from Alin. He pointed out the places I should fish while he was gone so I did…and I did well. we were supposed to meet at the bridge up stream but, by when I got there no one was at the meeting point at the time we agreed. Not a problem. that was an opportunity for me. I fished up stream of the bridge and absolutely killed. Fish after fish after fish. So fun.

Yea, there are tons of small brown trout in the Somesul Cald River too

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Alin did catch up with me, It was time to do lunch and I had already caught so many fish I could have called it a day easily. We hiked back into Alin’s car and then drove up stream to “the lake”. That is when I learned the river, was not a tailwater, but a headwater that drained into a huge dammed lake. We pulled up on a gazebo on a gated house property and walked up to 6 Englishman sitting at a picnic table drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and cigars. It was too perfect. When I got within 20 feet I said something like, “Is a lowly American allowed to hang out with you guys?” that got the expected laugh and within seconds I was handed one of their beers. …which quickly became two… and they were “tall-boys”. Does that sound like me or what?

left to right: Smaranda, me, “The Englishmen” and Alin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, these 6 Englishmen, a bit north of me in age were the most fun group of guys I have met in years. they were on an annual fly fishing guys trip they had been doing for some 45 years. They were all from Northern England; the Norfolk area. And their accents were so strong many times I had trouble understanding them. I’m sure I sounded funny to them too. With some form of awesome home-made soup and bread for lunch we laughed and laughed to the point where I could comfortably call them limely bastards and you can imagine the trash talking I was getting from them about being American and our current president. We weren’t in any rush, but Alin (and I) wanted to start the afternoon session so Alin told me we were going up stream farther than before. On the way though he stopped for a car going the other way. so we got out to say hi. I didn’t figure it out immediately but, it was Smaranda’s husband Liviu (spelling?). She had mentioned she was hoping we could meet so I was pleased. Well, we immediately hit it off. He has the same excited fly-fishing passion I do. But, he was needed to help guide the Englishman so off he went back to the lunch site to gather them up.

Ok, maybe a few too many trophy shots of me holding the dorsal fin of a grayling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alin and I hit the river. Well we tried to. it was a bushwhack…which I normally love. But, I didn’t bring my simms G4Z waders (heavy duty). I brought really cheap light weight wading pants which I love…but are too fragile / thin for bushwhacking. I was careful as I could be not to rip them as I followed Alin, hopping trees and and ducking under branches. I guess they had quite the storm in the winter that knocked down many of the trees. When we got to the water it was not like anything we had seen earlier… it looked much more like trout water of the west, heavily forested with pools and pockets. Alin and I did well; on both nymphing and dries.

Look closely at the colors. so different from a trout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was time for him to help the Englishmen again. This time he told me to fish up stream alone…that I was headed towards great water and that he’d circle back in an hour or 2 to track me down. Awesome. I get to fish alone in a beautiful forested river. And the trout are rising. He left me with both rods and frankly I should have told him to just take the euro nymping rod with him because I had done so well there was no reason not to dry fly for the rest of the day….which I did. and I did well without him.

just amazing colors of the European Grayling….with a European nymph hanging out of it’s face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could see a fisherman working his way downstream towards me about 200 yards up stream. That was a surprise because I literally was in the middle of nowhere. I did see a rise upstream and targeted a 45 foot cast. Whack! It was a bigger fish that rose to my dry. And I quickly realized it was going to be my best battle of the day. because of the way it fought I could tell it was a big grayling. When I did get it close it did something really non-trout like that almost caused me to lose it. it stopped fighting then lunged at me and circled around me from the back. That motion from fighting on the left to behind me without me turning to fighting on the right had to look really awkward to the fisherman working his way towards me. but I did manage to land it and release it still pissed off. I’d say 14-15” which is big for that river.

another grayling railed on a dry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I looked up the fisherman was waiting about 100 feet up doing that polite fly-fishing thing we do not to spoil my water. It was one of the Englishmen! It was then that I noticed another rise out of the corner of my eye on the left. I called and motioned him to me. I have more fun guiding than fishing so I told him, “There is a fish right there rising. I want you to catch him.” He fought me on it. Which is expected from the gentlemen that are fly fisherman. But, I handed him my dry fly rod and insisted. But, it was going to be a tricky, truly expert cast, to hit a 4 foot drift protect upstream by a plunge pool guarded by rocks and downstream by branches in the water. So I emphasized how difficult the cast would be and not to worry about the flies. That I had hundreds of them. His first cast worked. Unfortunately I don’t believe he had the confidence that a fish would rise because when it did he wasn’t ready and set just a split second too late. To me that is a win so I was hooting and hollering and screaming “Woo!” I think I said something like, “I bet we can get him to rise again.” And man we worked it hard. He made a number of casts. Some good; some not so good. We may have lost a fly or two to the bushes and branches. I don’t remember, but I would have tied another one on quickly. And sure enough he did get the fish to rise again and this time his downstream set was fine. But darnit, sometimes that hook just comes out pointed inward and doesn’t catch. I was still hooting and hollering because it’s hard to get the same fish to rise twice. But, I could tell he was disappointed. I was not. I called that a win. I think we casted at it a few more times, but that grayling was not dumb enough to be fooled 3 times so he went downstream; I went up. and we agreed to toast to it later at the house.

Me and Alin, competition fly fisherman and great guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I worked my way upstream I caught one more on the dry. I was approaching water that Alin told me was the best in the river. It was a plunge pool. deep for this river. It was truly nymphing water, but I wanted to stick to my self-agreement of dries only for the rest of the day. It didn’t work. and that was fine. It wasn’t long after that Alin tracked me down. We fished our way upstream bit and did well. It was now 7pm. He said, “We can fish until it’s too dark to fish if you’d like.” Can you imagine a guide from Montana saying that?! I could have easily. I had the stamina and my guess is the rises would get better. But, we were invited to dinner and cocktails with the Englishmen and that seemed the like the right thing to do. As it turned out it was the fun thing too. They poured me their gin and we ate and laughed and told fishing stories. Me and Liviu talked forever about rods and fishing. we are “two peas in a pod” me and Liviu. As it turns out he’s actually a surgeon in Zurich and does the fly fishing business on the side with his wife because of his love for it. The clock was ticking, though, and we had a long drive back to cluj. So I shook hands with the Englishmen. I hugged Smaranda and Liviu promising to return (I will) and telling them that they are welcome in our house any time and that I would take them to the Sierras.
If you find yourself in the Cluj area on business or on vacation I strongly suggest you contact Smaranda at Fly Fishing Romania info@flyfishingromania.com / www.flyfishingromania.com. I give my day 14 hour day a 10 out of 10. I learned there that they have cabins they rent and are building in the area to provide a full lodge like experience. So, the next time I go to Cluj I’m definitely going to book a house with them and do a long weekend with Kelly and our Romanian friends in Cluj. Alin told me there are so many more rivers there I need to fish….

Smaranda’s car – I just love that logo

My fly fishing 101 article in Backpacker Magazine

I gotta’ tell ya’ I’m pretty proud of my article, “Backcountry Fly Fishing” in the current (May/June 2019) issue of Backpacker Magazine.  I have written hundreds of published articles and 3 books.  But, those were all in technology.  Being able to write for Backpacker; now that is the big time.

I stepped into the REI in Seattle yesterday and after futilely searching for the magazine I asked one of the guys working there, “Where do you keep Backpacker Magazine?”  He walked me to the magazine aisle.  I grabbed 3 copies and he immediately said, “Why do you need 3 copies?”  So, I started into my story with “For my wife, son, and daughter and if you’ll oblige me I’ll show you why.”  Within minutes I was like a celebrity handshaking the manager and such.  So funny.

The editing process was brutal.  So different from anything else I had ever written professionally.  But, it was fun at the same time because of the attention to detail by my editors.  I had never ever experienced that before.

Because I landed in the skillset section of the magazine the space restrictions made it ridiculously hard.  Trying to describe how to do the overhead cast in a few hundred words….

That had to be the toughest thing I have ever written.  I literally could write the entire content of the magazine dedicated to learning how to fly fish.  I got two pages.  Dominated with pictures and graphics.

I have got a ton of positive comments from my fly-fishing buddies and friends who are also subscribers.  And I have say right up front that the reason is looks so good is that they gave me a professional photographer and a professional graphic artist.  The “Read the Water” graphic is so good I have never seen a better one in any fly fishing magazine.  And I subscribe to a lot of them.  the pictures of the hand full of flies in recommended sitting in the water…. Epic.  Again, I have never seen better pictures of flies.  So, really the credit goes to those two talented creatives.

The most fun part to write was the “It happened to me” section.  It’s my favorite section in every issue of the magazine.  Every subscriber knows it.  it’s where an expert admits making mistakes and barely avoiding (or not) total calamity.  Well, I told my lightning story.

 

 

 

That magazine is so meticulously put together.  I have been a subscriber forever, but I have a new appreciation for those brilliant people at Backpacker.  They must have one hell of a party after they publish, they work so hard.  So thanks to Dennis (the Editor in Chief) for the opportunity and the Casey and Zoe for all the help in editing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to subscribe to Backpacker Magazine go here

Lower Madison River and Glow in the Dark Huck Flies

January 14, 2019

Who in their right mind fishes mid-January in Montana in 36-degree water with 28-degree air temperature?!  Well, me, my son Mark and my buddy Eric do.  And the best part is: we had success!  We fished two different stretches of the lower Madison River.  if you are familiar with the Lower Madison, we first fished the launch at Warm Springs which is close to the entrance to Bear Trap Canyon.  And then we tried a session farther downriver by the bridge.  We only fished 2.5 hours or so; mostly because we waited for the warmest part of the day.  But, also because it was so frickin’ cold.   I swear by the time it was done not only were my feet numb, but the numb went up all the way up to my knees.

If you are a frequent reader to this blog, you are well aware that one of my top 5 fun things to do is fishing with my son Mark; now 23.  Mark is a stick.  He reads the water well and his overhead cast matches up to the best of ‘em.  And he’s only 23!  Well, the reason we were in Montana is that Mark has moved back to Bozeman to complete his degree at MSU.  Clearly that is pure joy for me because visiting him is such a “sacrifice” for me.  😊   I drove with him in his car with all his stuff all the way from Carlsbad, CA to Bozeman.  1200 miles in two days.

Rounding out the group was my buddy Eric Schmidt who is quite the stick himself.  I met Eric on a fly-fishing trip to the Bighorn a few years back, put together by a mutual friend, and we have been friends ever since.  Eric lives in Bozeman.  He’s a professional photographer and filmmaker and director.  By staring at the pictures in this post you can see why that makes sense.  Check out Eric’s work on his site here: Eric Schmidt Photography

I wish i was 23, good looking, an expert level fly fisherman with a season pass at Bridger… Photo by Eric Schmidt https://www.ericschmidtphotography.com/

I only saw one rise all day.  Eric saw a handful of heads.  I really tried to induce a rise, but with 36-degree water temperature it just didn’t happen.  Interestingly enough we did experience a midge hatch; just not the rises that went with it.

There’s one thing I’ll never get used to when fishing in Montana in January: sheets of ice floating down the river, smashing into me, and startling the bah-Jesus out of me.

Glow in the dark flies

Part of the reason we caught trout in mid-January on the Madison river had to do with some conventional fishing reading I stumbled into on the internet over the holiday break.  Long story short, conventional fisherman, especially in salt water, have been using glow in the dark materials in their lures with success for 50+ years.  I thought to myself that glow in the dark would translate to fly fishing; especially in winter when the trout are hunkered down in deep pools.  So, a little internet research later I had made a number of glow in the dark materials purchases; from flash-aboo, to larva lace, to foam, to blah  , to the actual tying thread.   And I started tying the flies I already knew worked in winter (like the Huck-midge cripple and the Huck-bow warrior with glow in the dark wing cases and abdomens.  And guess what?  After sending samples to some guides and advanced fly-fishing buddies they proved the glow in the dark flies worked in the field and practically begged for more.   In addition, on the Madison in January we proved that glow in the dark huck-nymphs kill. So, after some more perfection through testing i will probably offer those on my site.

But the story gets better.  I read about fly fishing constantly.  I’m obsessed.  And I love learning.  I read that all in the fly-fishing competitions the professional fly fisherman from all over the world only use squirmy wormy patterns in competition because they are so effective.  Like a San Juan Worm, a squirmy is a pattern that imitates a worm; just with a more realistic worm like material.

Trout love worms.  We all know this.  We were all kids at some point.  Now, I’m not a big fan of making fly fishing into a competition in the first place… especially if none of the professionals are throwing flies that imitate bugs on top or below the water.  But, if every professional is fly fishing worms then what is the point?  I guess that is a discussion for beer. But, being that said, when the fishing gets tough, especially with beginners, I don’t know a single guide (including myself) from here in California to Montana and everywhere in between that doesn’t turn to a san juan worm when things are slow.  Or when a river is blown out.  Or even more effective, the squirmy wormy.  This is why I’m afraid to unleash what seems to me like cheating: A squirmy Wormy tied with glow in the dark materials.

Here is how it went down: On the interweb, I stumbled into a company in china that makes what looked like the squirmy wormy material, but really bright green glow in the dark.  I figured for 10 bucks if they stiffed me it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  When the material came from china I almost fainted.  It took it into a dark room… my God.  It is awesome.  My next dilemma was finding or inventing a squirmy wormy pattern that I like.  The problem with fishing Squirmys is that they are one fish flies.  They just are not durable at all.  in many scenarios, for me, that is acceptable.  But, for many guides durability is important.

All the flies I sell on my site I have invented either with my ideas or by taking a grouping of techniques from the masters, adding my own ideas and calling it good.  Well, the Huck-Glow-Squirmy is very close, if not identical to a pattern I found on the internet called “The Durable Squirmy Wormy”.  It was created by a professional fly tier named Clark “Cheech” Pierce; he really does deserve the credit for the pattern.  I don’t use all the same materials for different reasons, but, it is similar.  You can find how to tie it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RE0G8pJg7w.  You can find Cheech and his amazing work on his Fly Fish Food site here: http://www.flyfishfood.com/p/about-us.html. I have not met Cheech, but from his bio he sounds like a hilarious guy I’d love to fish with one day.

So, after some initial testing of the Huck-Glow-Squirmy I have to tell you it’s like cheating.  I will not fish with this fly.  It’s too effective and I’m too advanced a fly fisherman.  But, if I am to guide a kid or beginner this is the fly for when the trout are hunkered down in deep pools… and in many other winter or low light scenarios.  This thing is going to kill in the deep pools of the upper kern.

Here’s a great story of how effective Huck-Glow-Squirmy is.  The day after I left Montana my son ran out to the Gallatin.  It’s only 10 minutes from his apartment.  Even though all the fishing reports said the Gallatin is too cold, all the edges iced, and the middle a slush and unfishable, he went to check it out.  And sure enough it was unfishable where the only castable water was total slush in the middle with icebergs floating by.  So, he said to himself, “I’m out here.  what the hell.”  He tied on one of the Huck-Glow-Squirmy I left with him to battle test in the field.  he casted to the moving part of the Gallatin into the slush and the fly didn’t sink though the slushy ice.  It drifted for a 2 count on top when a big brown came up from ten feet on the bottom and hit the Huck-Glow-Squirmy on top!  Mark battled the brown to his net over the ice and quickly figured out how to get it back into the river unharmed.  My guess is he had to toss it.

So, with this blog post I’m going to make the Huck-Glow-Squirmy available for purchase on my site.  Just be responsible with it because I feel like I have invented a nuclear weapon and consequently am going to regret it because of my “narcissistic” ethical structure.  😊

The Case of the Bad Guys and the Renzetti Traveler 2304

The passenger side window on my truck was smashed in, my fly-tying vise, tools, and materials stolen from the front seat.  Think about that for a minute before I explain.

I parked my truck in front of my sister’s house in Pasadena, CA….the swankiest part of Pasadena on the San Marino border.  If you are not familiar with this part of the world let’s just say my brother in law has done well. I didn’t think anything of parking there. Huck truck is 11 years old.  It’s been broken into 3 separate times…by bears.  But, never by humans.  There really wasn’t anything in the truck of value….except for my fly tying stuff.  Also realize that Los Angeles is not the fly tying hot bed of the world.  My guess is that 1/10,000th of the entire population of LA would even know what fly tying materials and tools are.

I was to stay the long weekend at my sister’s house and have an awesome time with my nephews and niece.  And I figured there’d be a lot of down time to tie flies on their kitchen table and to show my nephews how to tie flies.  so, before I left our house I painstakingly cut up a bunch of foam strips to make huck hoppers, grabbed all the other materials needed, tools and vise and packed them into my brand-new Fishpond Road Trip Fly Tying Kit.

On Saturday morning I wandered out early to my truck to grab the fly tying stuff… and I immediately saw all the shattered glass.  My first thought was what in the heck was in there that these bad guys wanted.  Huck-truck doesn’t even have a nice stereo in it.  the speakers are blown out (thanks to my son Mark).  And it has a cassette deck.  I’m not kidding.  It has a cassette deck.  I immediately determined the only thing these bad guys stole was my fly tying stuff….because short of my garmin gps, which these bad guys ignored, that was really the only thing in my truck of value.  And then it hit me.  They saw the trendy fishpond bag with a flashlight in the middle of the night and thought it was an ipad or computer.  You can imagine the dumb asses faces when they opened it up and said, “What the F is this?!” as they threw it out their window or in the trash.

Huck-Truck with it’s window smashed so that bad guys could accidently steal my fly tying stuff

What’s interesting is that the Pasadena City Police Department sent a forensic unit to check out my truck. I had just washed it a few days before so the scenario was perfect for “lifting fingerprints” from my truck.  The officer took my finger prints (to distinguish them from the bad guys).  And then said, “See here.  There are some really good prints from them.  here’s how they broke your window.”   I was kind of skeptical until he said, “Oh yea, we’ll catch these guys.  It’s just a matter of time.  Criminals like this just aren’t that smart.  These prints will help tremendously.  I bet we already have these prints on file.”

And this is the part of the story where I learned about car insurance.  I thought to myself, “I have insurance.  This is nothing more than a hassle.”   how wrong I was.  It is true that USAA (who I adore) fixed my truck’s window at my house the very next day (after driving the 100 miles back home on LA freeways with what is essentially the window down).  But, with a $500 deductible, I learned when talking to USAA on the phone, I was basically out of $500 of fly tying stuff…including my vise.

Clearly, I couldn’t live without a vise.  But, the cost was going to have to come out of pocket because the insurance basically only covered fixing my smashed window.  It was hard enough this summer just keeping up with the fly orders coming in on my site.  So, I started the internet research.  Like everything else fly fishing in my life I start with the cheap stuff then upgrade through time.  I started tying on a $20 vise many years ago.  The vise I had been using was rotary, $125ish.  Through internet research I narrowed the choices (on the basis of convincing myself I deserve it) to vises that carried retail price tags between $200 and $300.  At that point I did what I always do: I wrote an email to my buddy Mark Boname who is the owner of the Platte River Fly shop in Casper Wyoming for guidance.  Mark recommended the a Renzetti Traveler.   “Ooohhh” I said to myself, “yea, I deserve a Renzetti.”  But, I was confused by that name “traveler”.  I didn’t need a travel vise; I needed an everyday like vise.  With a little more research, I figured out that the Traveler line of Renzetti vises are not really travel vises at all.  I wonder if I am the only one that got thrown by that?  from the Renzetti web site I could see they just released the “Traveler 2304 Cam Vise 6×6 Pedestal Base Model” which seemed perfect.  One email to Mark asking if he could sell me that one and boom!  Order placed on www.wyomingflyfishing.com/ within 10 minutes.

This is where this article turns into a product review.

The Renzetti Traveler 2304 Cam Vise 6×6 Pedestal Base Model

The Renzetti Traveler 2304 Cam Vise 6×6 Pedestal Base Model

If there is one thing I say a lot, quoting my dad it’s, “Timothy, in life you typically get what you pay for.”  And that is so true about this vise.  I don’t know how I have lived so long…tied for so long without a professional vice like this one.

Hooks don’t Slip

Firstly, the hook just simply doesn’t slip from the jaws….at all…  you have no idea how awesome that is unless you have tied for 25 years plus with a vise that slips.  And if you look at all the reviews out there about the Renzetti vises the not slipping thing comes up first almost in every one.  Renzetti says this vise can accommodate hooks from as large as a 4/0 to as tiny as a 28.  There is a little knob adjustment on the jaws that faces you that gives you the ability to adjust the jaws with precision from large hook sizes down to small ones.  This vice makes tying so much faster.  This feature alone, makes this vise worth it’s price tag.

Right and left-handed models

Wait, what?  Yes, this vice comes in both right- and left-handed versions.  This was so confusing to me I had to call Renzetti directly on the phone because I couldn’t find anywhere what the hell that meant.  And, of course, I got awesome customer service just like you’d expect from a company with that Renzetti’s reputation.  So, here’s the deal.  If the jaws of your vice point to the right as you are facing it, you are tying right handed; it’s a righthanded vice.  And conversely, if the jaws of the vice point left as you are tying it’s a left handed vice.  The reason is that Renzetti puts the controls in front of you for easy access (like the precision jaws adjustment knob I mentioned earlier faces me so I don’t have to awkwardly reach behind the vice to adjust).  So, I tie right handed; I purchased a right handed Renzetti vice.  Clearly, Renzetti thinks these usability things through….although I wish they’d let me write the content for their website that explains this stuff….

The Bobbin Cradle

I have to admit when I purchased the vice from www.WyomingFlyFishing.com I said to myself, “I’m going to have to figure out what the hell that arm thing does.”.  All my prior vices did not have a “bobbin cradle”.  Shoot, it wasn’t until I read the little parts list that came with the Renzetti vice that I even figured out what it was called.  So, armed with the search phrase “How to use a Bobbin Cradle Fly fishing” guess what came up as the first match?  a video from Renzetti on YouTube with over 10,000 views on how to use a bobbin cradle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpmZh7PFl1w

So, I’m one of over ten thousand people that couldn’t figure out what the hell that arm thing was for also….  As the video suggests it takes a while to get used to and configured for your preferences, but now I’m convinced I can never live without it.  Having the bobbin cradle has changed the way I tie flies and the speed at which I do it.  I don’t know how I ever tied flies without a bobbin cradle.  See the reoccurring theme here?

Notice how the thread is held out of the way so that i can wrap the silver ulta wire on the epoxied huck-midge

Summary

Well, I’m a good news / bad news guy and I just cannot find any negatives on the Renzetti Traveler 2304 vise short of it’s price tag which lists at $299.  IMHO if you are tying more than 100 flies per year, then you’ll adore this vise.

Fly Fishing Ecuador

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador

November 10, 2018

I have caught thousands of rainbows in my time, but this one has to be one of, if not the prettiest big ones I have ever caught and released.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those that know me know I have been all over the world through business travel… usually related to Microsoft. So, I always get asked, “What is your favorite place in the world?” and my answer is usually, “The one I’m in at the time. But, I can give you a top 5.” Ecuador is always in my top 5 list. Quito is one of my favorite big cities in the world. It’s at 11,000 feet and nestled into the Andes. Its people and its food are awesome. It’s traffic; not so much. However, what big city can argue being just a few hours drive from total nature in the Andes or the Amazon?
That is one of the many reasons Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador is so special. It’s in the wilderness at 12,000 feet near Cayambe-Coca National Park. And it is still within an hour’s drive of Quito. And it has awesome fly fishing that can excite the beginner as easily as the expert.
This was my 2nd time visiting Campuchoca Lodge and my good friend Eduardo Campuzano who runs the lodge and guides me to 20+ fish days of catching and releasing big Andean Rainbow trout.

Campuchoca – aggressive takes no matter how big the streamer is

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe I did a good job of documenting my last experience at Campuchoca in 2016 well here:

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador


So in this post I’ll try to focus on what was unique this time; and the fly fishing experience; and guidance on how you can do this too when you are in the Quito area.

Compuchoca Lodge is only 30-40 or so miles outside of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Some of Eduardo’s property lies in the national park. Cayambe-Coca National Park is an Ecological Reserve / nature reserve in Ecuador located along the Equator. When the clouds clear (which they did not for me this time), the world famous, snow-topped Cayambe volcano is within view.

I have never been anywhere that has so many hummingbirds; frequently 10+ at a time buzzing loudly while competing for nectar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, what was the same this time around at Campuchoca was catching a lot of big rainbows and getting my ass kicked hiking at 12000+ feet by a 71 year old. But, I am 20 pounds lighter than my visit in 2016 so I think I held up pretty good; a lot better. It was physical for sure. There is some huffing and puffing. I’m sore today and my back and left arm are killing me from hiking and fighting big wild rainbows – a problem I love to have.
Eduardo picked me up at my hotel in Quito. There was zero traffic because it was a Saturday. Because we were excitedly catching up it seemed like we were at the turnoff into the wilderness in no time. As we drove up the well beaten up 4 wheel drive dirt road to the lodge we noticed a few rises here and there. As is typical, Eduardo was quick to point out that the Solunar Calendar was not in our favor and that I should have come to fish a couple days earlier. He said the exact same thing last time and we still killed.
We had a quick cup of coffee and I wadered up. You really don’t need waders or wading boots at Campuchoca; you never need to go in the water. But, I have fallen in love with my $69 wading pants from bass pro shops…. So much that I tend to wear them more than my $800 Simms Waders. I wear Korkers for wading boots so for Campuchoca I used the interchangeable hiking soles for them.

Is this burly little left-hander from N. Hollywood, CA having fun in the Andes or what?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a quick cup of coffee we got back in the truck and drove down to the water in the lower part of the Campuchoca lodge property. On this part of the property the water is not natural; Eduardo designed and built it. it’s mostly slow moving, but not froggy and it’s connected by a number of small creeks, locks and weirs. Sure enough we got there during a midge hatch and the rainbows were rising everywhere. I have some fantastic size 20 midge dry flies that kill at home (that I did not tie). I asked permission from Eduardo to use them and he granted it…provided they were really small. But the hatch was on and my Winston Boron 2 6 weight was still in the tube. If you are a fly fisherman you know this feeling: you hurry because the hatch is on and you make mistakes. And that is exactly what I did. I made a mistake that took me 3 hours to figure out. I looped the line around the last two eyelets of the rod.
It took forever to get rigged which included having to put on a brand new 5x leader. Sure enough by the time I was ready the hatch was over. I made 3 or 4 casts (that were really awkward and hit the water hard because of the looped line) and got nothin’. Eduardo told me to switch to nymphing and my heart sunk. Then he told me to use an indicator and I was heartbroken. There’s no grasshoppers in the Andes at 12K feet so using a Huck Hopper would have been silly…I think… I kinda’ wanted to try. So, I whined about throwing a bobber and searched for an indicator in my bag. I haven’t fished an indicator in so long it took me a while to find one and it was way too big for the water I was throwing at.

just another big rainbow caught and released at Campuchoca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, I switched my whiny attitude to a positive: “I’ll tie on two of my own “go to” flies to prove they work anywhere”, I said to myself: a size 18 Huck-Midge Cripple dropped by a size 18 huck-green caddis nymph cripple. My first cast with the bobber went nowhere. I hadn’t noticed the loop in the line and the friction it caused. So, I fired one harder and this time the line shot out of the rod without too much friction straight into a tree on the other side of the river. I lost both flies. Sigh. I went to a single huck midge cripple and didn’t get any takes. That is when Eduardo came at me with a really well tied flashy size 6 streamer in rainbow trout colors. Sure enough I got a viscous strike (that is what wild fish do) on it quickly and I battled a nice 18” female rainbow that jumped a number of times. After “Freddie” (Eduardo’s helper) released the fish Eduardo said, “Well, that took a while.”, with a smile on his face. I thought to myself, yea, I guess that was about 30 minutes before the first take so I said my usual, “Yea, we earned that one.”. We fished streamers the rest of the day.
The morning session before lunch was about the best river streamer fishing I had ever had. And all the rainbows were above 14” in that morning session. I did catch one special fish in that morning session: a huge male rainbow way north of 20” that battled me though numerous jumps. It had a red band so prominent it almost looked like a spawning fish. But, the rainbows in the Andes only spawn once a year in May. It just was a huge beautiful wild rainbow trout.

My favorite part of this big beautiful rainbow is the fishing dogs that served as my audience on both sides of the river while I battled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the water in the lower section is clear so Eduardo typically moves up stream of me a hundred feet or so and spots fish for me. It’s totally fun team fishing. He gets super excited when he sees big fish and now that we are buddies shows intense disappointment with me when I don’t fool them. 😊
Around noon we got back in the truck and headed back up to the lodge for a couple tuna sandwiches (pronounced “ahh-toon” in Spanish), water and a beer. Then we headed up the mountain for the 2nd session in the natural section of the river (which by the way is fed by numerous beautiful waterfalls.

It’s hard not to look up when fishing at Campuchoca. There are waterfalls and animals everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The water in the natural section was not clear. At least it was not this day so we couldn’t do any spotting. There were some slow points, but also some crazy good points of action. At one point I switched out the streamer I was using for a size 10 black marabou beadhead tied with a rabbit strip that I tied. It killed.

Almost like the red-band rainbows of Oregon many of these Andean trout have a well defined red stripe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a point where I was casting 40 feet to an inlet and getting strikes on every cast. It was like 100 fish were lined up at that inlet. The funny thing is I didn’t even notice it. That is another one of the best things about fishing with Eduardo. He tells you where to throw. There’s so much water you could spend the entire day trying to find fish without him. He knows where they are. He is the trout whisperer of the Andes.
All in all, I landed over 20 rainbows over the day. I’m not a counter; that is what Eduardo told me I did. That felt about right. Since I was streamer fishing I bet I had 40 takes where I didn’t hook the trout. That ratio (one landed for every 2 misses) is also about right, especially if you are using barbless hooks like I was.

the fireplace at Campochoca Lodge in the living room. many a crying funny story has been told here with cocktails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you find yourself in Quito and want to fly fish (whether you are a total beginner-Eduardo will teach you or an expert) you really do owe yourself a visit to Eduardo at Campuchoca. To top it off it’s inexpensive; especially if you compare the equivalent to fishing guided at a lodge in Montana. Actually, Campuchoca is ridiculously cost effective; like a fraction of the cost when compared to Montana.

Eduardo will custom tailor a visit for you that can include any or all of the following:
• Full or ½ guided days of fly fishing for wild rainbows in the Andes that not only includes an expert guide like Eduardo, but a “boy” who pulls your flies out of the trees and releases the fish for you. It’s such “spoiled” fly fishing. This in itself is a bucket lister for any fly fisherman. But it gets better:
• Custom cooked, arguably gourmet meals, in any combo of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We enjoyed the back strap of a white tail that Eduardo harvested himself for dinner on this night. Any hunter knows how special that is. It was so good, I actually thought it was a filet mignon (cow) before Eduardo straightened me out.
• Fine wines, beer and custom cocktails like Eduardo’s “signature cocktail”, the “Sole Sombra”, which served “up”, ½ pinchon (kind of like the Ecuadorian version of absinthe) and brandy. They are so good I bought a bottle of Pinchon in duty free so that I can make them for Kelly and me.
• Nights in 1 or 2 bedroom suites in the lodge. The lodge is not a cabin. These are super nice, 5 star level suites with all the appointments. Some of the rooms have stunning views of the Andes.
• Plenty of options that are not fly fishing like horse back riding, bird hunting, target shooting, hiking, trail running, bird watching, and, of course, visits to the national park. So, although I haven’t done it yet, having my wife Kelly join me at Campuchoca for a long weekend is definitely going to happen and would be a great weekend for any couple.
• Pick up and drop off from your hotel in Quito or the Quito airport.

the bar at Campochoca Lodge where Eduardo makes his infamous Sole Sombras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since writing that first post on Campuchoca in 2016 I have been contacted by numerous people on how to plan this. The number one complaint I get (actually only from Americans) is how much difficulty they have in making contact with Eduardo. This has everything to do with that fact that Americans not only do not use Whatsapp, but most don’t even know what it is.

The rooms in the lodge are beautiful, 5 star level suites with all the appointments. Some of the rooms have stunning views of the Andes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, here is your guidance to arrange a trip to Campuchoca easy:
How to fly fish Ecuador when in the Quito area at Campuchoca Lodge:
You need to contact Eduardo in one of 3 ways starting from the most effective to the least effective:
1. Whatsapp – It’s an app that runs on your phone or computer that is the dominant way of communication in Latin America. Install it. Add Eduardo to your contacts in Whatsapp by his phone number: +593 99 973 6205
2. SMS – text Eduardo by his phone number: +593 99 973 6205
3. Email – send Eduardo an email at: EduardoCampuzano767@gmail.com
4. Call him on his mobile phone: +593 99 973 6205

Eduardo does not live at the Campuchoca lodge. He lives in Quito so once you make contact with him he is very responsive.  And yes, he speaks beautiful English.

I should not have to say this, but there is no cell signal at Campuchoca so when he’s there he will be out of contact on his phone. And even if they did stick a big ‘ol ugly cell tower on that mountain it would not work. The cellular band ceases to exist at about 12K feet. But, he is very good about getting right back to you if you leave him a message.

Here’s a great video of Campuchoca from a drone on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=261&v=Qnl9h5M4jro

Campuchoca has a web site: http://www.campucocha.com

Have fun at Campuchoca. Email me a full report.

Forks of the Kern Trail – Upper Kern River – October 8th, 2018

The Kern River Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am really getting to love these October trips to the Forks.  I think I’ll do it for the rest of my life.  The fishing is always good.  Not great…good.  And if you catch it right in October, not only can you catch some amazing night time hatches, but, with the nights getting colder those big rainbows know they have to feed before “going down” for the winter so they tend to wander out of deep water where you can get a shot at them on top.  The days are always warm; not wet wading warm, but all day in the sun sunburn warm.  The nights and mornings are cold, though…very cold.  And the best part for me…mostly because I’m left handed, is that the flows are so low in October there are many places you can cross the river.  So, not only do I get to fish the “left handed side”, but I’m throwing flies to water that has seen very few artificials over the season.

When hiking in it’s easy to forget you are in Mountain Lion Territory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The absolute best part of this October, 2018 trip to the Upper Kern River by way of the Forks of the Kern Trailhead was the group.  We planned this trip a year in advance because one of the guys joining me was Rudi Van der Welt; an old friend that actually took me to the Forks for the first time many years ago and taught me the backpacking thing and many skills to survive in the wilderness.  The reason for a year in advance?  Well, Rudi now lives in Sydney, Australia.   He flew all the way to LAX (18 hours) to backpack into the wilderness.

Joined by Rudi was the guy that actually taught me how to fly fish over 20 years ago, Tim “Big Daddy” Hoffmann.  Big Daddy (nick-named by me because he has 5 boys, all huge and all geniuses and athletes) and I have been friends for 50 years.  That is not a typo.  Yep, we went to school together starting in 1st grade…where even then he was a full head taller than me.  Both Big Daddy and Rudi are outstanding fly fishermen, experts, guide-level fly fishermen.

Left to Right: me, Jeff Kimura, Rudi Van der Welt, Tim Hoffmann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, it makes sense that rounding out the 4 of us was a new friend from the neighborhood, Jeff Kimura.  Jeff is…well now was a completely green fly fisherman.  He really lucked out having the 3 of us teaching him.  But, we really lucked out because of all the high quality fresh food he hiked into the canyon.   Jeff is super fit, recently qualifying for the Boston Marathon and frankly if you are not hiking in 2-3 pounds of booze you might as well hike in fresh food.

The first rub was that Rudi showed up wearing a boot: “I recently tore my Achilles tendon.  I’ll be fine.”  In Sydney, he went to the local fly shop with his boot and had them install a sole with spikes in it so he could wade in it safely.  Classic.  The very first time I went backpacking…to the forks…with Rudi….he almost killed me.  I swear we would have hiked in 10+ miles if I had not thrown in the towel at 6.  He’s a total stud and even though he had to walk funny with one leg pointed side-ways he still hiked all the way in, fished all day for 3 days and hiked all the way out – total stud.

Who is crazy enough not only to hike the Forks of the Kern Trail in a boot cast, but to have wading spikes installed into the sole? Rudi is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a quick 2-nighter, Monday to Wednesday so I didn’t expect to see many people and that was certainly the case.  We did see people hiking out on our way in.  And it just so happened that one of the groups told us there did stay in the “huckaby site” and left us a bunch of firewood…. Nice.  However everyone we talked to hiking out said they didn’t do too well fishing.  Hmmmm…..

Upon getting to the site we unpacked and set up quickly so we could fish the balance of the day.    I hooked up quickly and the rest of the day went pretty well in terms of rainbows hooked and landed.  “Fishing seems pretty good to me.”, I said to myself.

In terms of flies, well, I just have so much confidence in a handful of flies that I have developed slowly over the years fishing the upper kern.  They just work no matter what the conditions.  I tie most of the nymphs crippled because over the years I have found that wing shucks and fluorescent wings just seem to work better there.  The

is still my “go-to” nymph for the Kern.  In that crystal clear water the fluorescent and U/V materials I use just do such a good job attracting.  It imitates a number of water born insects that are native to the Kern: The spotted sedge, the green rockworm, Chironomids, etc.  Hung 3 feet below a Huck Hopper is a deadly combination.  Rounding out the group of go-to flies for the Kern are the Midge Cripple and the Huck-bow Warrior.  I also have been experimenting with my crippled version of Cal Bird’s famous Bird’s Nest fly.  But, I have not perfected it yet in terms of size and proportions so I’m not going to sell it on the site yet.   On this trip all the flies I just mentioned above caught fish.

Another big Kern River Rainbow with a size 4 Huck-Hopper hanging out of his face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I worked variations of another new fly all year and it’s close to being ready to sell on my site.  it’s a stonefly nymph imitation.  And it’s black.  There are no black stoneflies that hatch on the kern (browns and goldens only).  But, big black stonefly nymph imitations have always worked there.  It really seems like there are always stonefly shucks on the rocks in the river….almost like they hatch all season long from April to October.  I know that can’t be true.  The skwallas and goldens hatch during the spring.  The little brown stoneflies hatch in the summer.  It’s kind of a pain in the ass to tie, but, this fly kills.  It imitates a number of the nymph forms of the naturals in the river like skwallas, stoneflies, salmonflies, and damselflies.  I tie it huge…like in 6-8 and 10 so it’s easily seen and the perfect first fly of the dropper from the huck hopper.  So what is the problem?  it’s too heavy.  Have you ever heard of a nymph being too heavy?  Well, in this latest set of variations I tied them with 2 tungsten coneheads.  My intention was to get that 3 feet of tippet under the huck hopper down as quickly as possible.  The result was it dragging a size 4 (which is huge and very buoyant) huck hopper down with it.  So, I did very well with it, but the constant mend of the huck hopper to get it floating is not practical for the average angler.   I’ll swap out that middle tungsten cone with a smaller bead and it should be good to go.

A Kern river rainbow with a new fly i have been working on in his face; a huge and heavy stonefly nymph imitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I plan to get those flies on the site by next spring.  I’ll battle test them winter fishing in a variety of places that are not the Upper Kern by way of the Forks because it will be closed.  But the section above the Johnsondale bridge stays open all winter long (although it does not winter fish that well) so I’m sure I’ll get some time in there along with many other rivers and creeks in the eastern sierras.

BTW, based on a great suggestion from a reader, I have added a bunch of Kern River fishing guidance to the “Guidance and Directions to the Forks of the Kern” document you can download off my site.  I charge $5 for it, but I donate 100% of that to CalTrout at the end of the year.

The cache I have hidden near the “huckaby site” has grown pretty large and quite impressive.   Along with my friends so many readers like you have added quality items to the cache. The saw and nippers are still the most valuable tools.  But, there is a growing group of kitchen items, extra fuel, a tent, wading sandals and wading boots.  On this trip I buttoned the cache down for the winter and this year it should do just fine because there is no longer any food in the cache.  Even with a smell-proof bear bag, the bears still got to it last Spring.  I don’t expect any issues when I retrieve the cache next Spring.  If you are reading this and want to use the cache just send me an email.  I’ll take care of you.  you can

Whether hiking in or hiking out this is one of the best views of the Upper Kern from the Forks of the Kern Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My most remembered moment was a fish lost.  Why do I always remember the fish lost and not the ones landed?  On this trip I caught enough 16 to 18”s to call it good fishing.  It was late into Tuesday the only real full day of fishing and I hadn’t hooked, let alone landed, any of those monster 20”+ Kern River Rainbows that are so famous up there.  So way up stream I fished on the “left handed side” of the river (often called “river left” by spey casters) where it is not possible to wade.  So, I was up about 20 feet in the air on a little cliff like shelf.  I casted into a riffle  that really didn’t look fishy after hitting some pocket water unsuccessfully below it.   Sure enough a monster shot out from nowhere.  I set hard.  It jumped and I could see it was over 20.  But, it shot down river quickly and I should have stopped it by horsing it at the risk of losing it there.   I didn’t.  And that was my fatal mistake.  It went around a large boulder on the opposite site of the river and downstream.  I failed to flip the line over the boulder as it swam like a torpedo downstream and the line tightened.  I couldn’t get in the water and navigate across (too dangerous and I didn’t feel like doing a brad pitt and jumping into 45 degree water) so I lost the fish there…telling myself over and over how badly I screwed that up.

On the 3rd day we broke camp with the intention of getting a head start on our assault of Lake Crowley in float tubes so short of 10 or 20 casts there was not a lot of fly fishing the Kern on the last day.  All in all it was a great trip.  And like every trip to the Upper Kern just too short.  I’m now in fantasizing mode where I will watch the upper kern flows every day for 5 months wishing I could be at the forks all the way until next April.  That is a long 5 months.  Don’t feel sorry for me, though.  I’ll be chasing the not so rare Andes trout at 14K feet in Ecuador in a couple weeks.