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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.

Success on the Delaware River!

August 5th, 2018

I subscribe to a quite a few fly-fishing magazines; and have for years.   I typically read them cover to cover and I have learned so much from them over the years.  Over the years there has been a number of articles on the very same topic in all of these magazines at least once: “The most technically difficult Rivers to Fly Fish in the US.”.  There are two rivers always mentioned as the most technically challenging in the US: The Henry’s Fork and the Delaware River.

looking downriver from the put in

 

 

My story of me getting humbled on the Henry’s Fork in 2015 is here.  And I will eventually go back and try to have some success there.  Last year (2017) I did fish the Delaware River for about 6 hours and not only did I get skunked but I did not even see a fish.  I caught the river on a blowout day and raining in August (that is an important fun fact in the story).  But, the mighty Delaware did prove how really difficult it was that day.  I tried everything…. At least everything I kow that works on western rivers.  I am very proud to say that this time I had success on the Delaware River!  Of course, there is a reason for my success on the Delaware….and you well know how I love to tell a story.   So, here we go…

Background and Research

As usual, it starts with a business trip.  I had a Monday mid-day meeting at the Verizon HQ in Basking Hills, NJ.  I could not get there in time flying on United even with a direct to Newark on Monday morning from San Diego.  So, I started looking at flights on Sunday.  Sure enough, there was a cheap flight at 6am on Sunday morning.  That would get me to Newark mid-day.

With an entire half of a day on a Sunday in New Jersey, I started the research on where I might be able to fish.  I know NJ has some famous places to fish.  Because most of my experience is in western rivers, I really am a neophyte in fishing the rivers of the east so I knew I needed help.

My internet searching lead me to Shannon’s Fly and Tackle, https://www.shannonsflytackle.com/ in Calafon, NJ.  Within an hour of Newark, the local rivers they fish (like the Raritan) looked close and pretty awesome.  But, it is august; I did know the rivers of the east tend to get too warm to fish in August.

So, it started with an email to the Shannon’s Fly shop and an exchange and the invite to call Len Ruggia at the shop.  When I did talk to Len on the phone he was a wealth of information: so gracious and helpful.  I felt somewhat guilty for keeping him on the phone as he pouredout information.  I didn’t even know if I could get to his shop to repay him for the information by purchasing some flies.

At one point Len said, “if you are willing to drive up north you may want to consider fishing the West branch of the Delaware River upstream from the confluence near Hancock, NY.  It flows cool and cold all year long.  It only has a wild population of trout.  All catch and release”  As he talked, I couldn’t help but think about getting another shot at the Delaware.  But, this time Len told me what to throw and how to throw it.  One of the flies he suggested was called a Cahill.  I had heard of that fly, but I had no idea what it was because we don’t use them in the West… At least I don’t.  And because of that means I doubted we have any bug in the west that a Cahill imitated.  Here’s the definition: A Cahill dry fly is classic Catskill dry fly originated by Dan Cahill over 100 years ago. A basic imitation of a Pale Morning Dun or a Pale Evening Dun, the Light Cahill fly is a standard that ranks right up there with the Adams.

The Cahill, a classic Catskill dry fly originated by Dan Cahill over 100 years ago.

 

When I read that I said to myself, “OK, it’s a PMD, but it’s white.  Our PMs are not pure white.”  and “Great, a hundred year old fly with no modern materials on the toughest river to fish in the US.”  So then I started fantasizing about catching one of those famous wild huge rainbows they have on the Delaware with its most traditional fly.  How could I resist that?

The bonus was I had a box of “Eastern Dries” that was a gift to me from years ago.  I found it in my man cave where I have a plethora of fly fishing and fly tying stuff.  And sure enough there were 6 Cahills in it of size 16 and 18.  I grabbed the entire box and brought it with me to the East Coast.  What the hell, right?

Looking up river as the sun slips over the Catskills

 

The Issues

I was facing two issues, though.  Firstly, the drive from the Newark Airport is 2.5 hours to get to the Delaware River.  Only having ½ day that would mean I’d only get 2-3 hours to fish before it got dark.  I’m the one that always says, “I’ll drive 2 hours to fish one hour.”  And now was one of those times to live up to my bold statement.  The 2nd issue was all the rain in the area.  The river took a huge spike.  I could only see flows and didn’t know if I’d get to a totally blown out river.  but, I couldn’t resist so I set my heart on the W branch of the Delaware River.  Of course, I got a late start out of the rental car facility because, well, it is the Newark airport.  About 2 hours into a very beautiful drive into the Catskills, I called Kelly (my lovely bride of 29 years) and said, “This could be one of the craziest things I have ever done.”

The Story

From a satellite image, I figured out where I could park my rental car and found that location pretty easily.

Finding where to park your rental car in a place you don’t know that allows public access to a trout stream or river is 90% of the battle for a business traveler who is a fly fisherman.  That is why after 20+ years of hard business travel and accumulating great fly fishing spots on my GPS, I created “Tim Huckaby’s favorite US & World-Wild Fly Fishing Locations-GPS Map File”  I have proudly added the West branch of the Delaware River to my “favorite fly fishing spots”.  You can purchase a downloadable version of that  comprehensive map here:

I parked and quickly walked down to the river to take a peek before wadering up.  The River was definitely high… way above what looked to be a normal water line.  But, it was obvious the river had come way down.  I could see a recent, meaning within hours, high water mark where the river must have definitely blown out; probably unfishable because you couldn’t safely get in the water.  But the clarity of the river was still pretty good; almost perfect.  Len told me he fishes up stream from where I was standing.  I looked up stream and because the water was so high I didn’t see any fishable water.  No structure, no pocket water, no pools, no seams, no tailouts.  just a long big ass, river flowing fast and straight for at least a mile.  I looked downstream, there was a creek entering the river that produced a seam, and then it melded into a run.  There was a tree below the run in the water.  I said to myself, “hmmm that looks good.”  I said to myself, “Wait a minute.  There are no cars in the lot and there is no one here.  Just me.  That’s either really good or really bad.”

It was now past 6pm, though.  The sun goes down at 8:30.  So, I wadered up and wandered down stream just 200 feet to the creek / river confluence.  I stared at the water and said to myself, “Damnit, because of the creek rushing in and the way the sun is sitting right on the river up stream, I am going to have to do that 45 degree downstream drift they recommend on the henry’s fork.  Sure the fly gets there before the tippet/leader, but, feeing line at the right inverval is hard, and the set is almost impossible.  Plus, as was Len’s recommendation I was on 7x.  I hate 7x.  Every fly fisherman hates 7x.  God made 7x and the 1 iron at the same time to piss us off.

I tied on a size 16 Cahill and ginked it up.  As I was clipping the knot I heard that sound that snapped my head: A rise!  I stared at the water where I thought the splash came from.  This time I saw the rise.  It was a little fish, but a rise is a rise.  So, excitedly I stripped out a ton of line to feed the downstream drift.  I made the cast.  It was bad.  It landed hard and in the wrong lane.  Plus, I couldn’t stack line out quick enough for a natural drift.  Uggg… I suck.  In the process of pulling back the fly it swung right into the correct lane…. I assumed I ruined it. I assumed I doomed myself to another skunking.

My next cast and drift was perfect:  a small rainbow rose and took my fly…and I pulled it straight up stream right out of his mouth.  Encouraging none the less. Over the next 20 casts I got 5 takes and screwed every single take up before I figured out how to set to the side in the right timing.  Within 10 minutes, I caught and water released a 12” wild rainbow from the Delaware River!  I looked to the sky and thanked the lord and my high school buddy Ken Bendix, who loved to fly fish, and who we lost way too early to cancer.  I know Ken wanted me to catch a trout on the Delaware.  I just felt it.

My first trout landed on the famous Delaware River

 

I casted a few more drifts, but the prior short fight put down the spot.  It needed a rest.  So, I started walking up stream like Len recommended.  I made it about a mile without seeing any fishable water.  There didn’t appear to be any fishable water as far as I could see upstream.  I had to walk up stream in the water because it was so high so it was slow going.  I’m sure in normal flows I was on top of good water, but I had so little time so I chalked it up to 30 minutes of a beautiful hike.  Then, I headed back to my downstream spot where the river had rested.

The Battle

When I got back to the confluence of the creek and the river the sun had already disappeared from behind the Catskills.  That meant I could stand in the creek and cast up stream making a set so much more effective.  But, nothing was rising now.  I decide to walk further downstream to see what was there.  the water was froggy.  There was a giant black bug hatching; nothing like I had ever seen before, like a size 8.  But, no fish were taking it.  I did see a couple white PMDs in the air, though.  I startled and pissed off a beaver that slapped it’s tail at me.  so, I walked back up stream to “my spot”.  The glare made it real hard to see my fly.  So, I started pretty much blind casting up stream, fanning the river from left to right, foot by foot.  As I was making the big 40 foot casts to the right side of the river and trying to deal with the bad drifts coming at  me fast and furious, I saw and heard the take.  I set and got tight.  This time it was clear it was a big fish.  Damnit I was on 7x.  Thank god, my drag was set really loose from fighting the little rainbow earlier because this big fish took off and my reel sung the happy sound.  I palmed the reel to slow it down and turned the fish.  It ran 30 feet, but I managed to pull it back about 20 feet but it also moved 20 feet down river.  I still had not seen the fish.  He didn’t jump.  He fought like a brown trout.  I pulled his head upstream and he just hated that.  He ran down river and I had to follow, my reel singing.  I was pretty much moving quickly through a raging creek to catch up.  Fairly dangerous, but you take risks of falling when you are hooked up with a big trout.  It was in that moment that I saw where the fish was headed and fear struck.  He was headed for the deeper water under the tree.  The tree, of which, many of the branches were in the water.  I was close to the backing.  I have always said, “I don’t know why I read of so many people getting into the backing.  I never get into the backing.  You shouldn’t even let a trout get you into the backing because the fight will be so long it might not recover.”  And this fight was already long because I just couldn’t muscle him on such light tippet.  I could not lose this fish to snags on the branches of the tree.  “I’d rather snap him off.” I said to myself.  So I pulled him hard downsteam veering him away risking breaking him off on 7x.  Then I pulled him hard upstream turning his head the other way.  Those two direction changes seemed to break his spirit.  I was now 300 feet downstream from where I originally hooked him and I knew the long battle was not good for the trout.  I had to land him now.  It was nor or never.  He was tired so he pulled in to shallow calm water pretty easily at that point.  I could see he was a chrome colored rainbow and every bit of 16” if not 17” and well built.  My mission was to let him go without taking him out of the water so he’d survive to fight another day.  That is why I only got a single crappy picture of him.  A trophy selfie would have killed the poor thing so I didn’t do it.  I most certainly don’t need another trophy picture with a huge trout.   As he swam away I screamed, “Woo!!!” to no one.  because I had not seen another human and none seemed within miles of me… on one of the most famous and technically challenging rivers in the US…where I just caught and released a monster trout.

A Delaware River wild rainbow with my Cahill hanging out of his face.

 

Epilogue

It was only after my success and sincere thanks, that I reported back to Shannon’s Fly shop by email that I learned Len Ruggia is the head guide at Shannons.  And you know what that means?  It means next time I have a business trip to the east coast I am going to hire Len to teach me how to effectively fish the rivers of the East.  I cannot wait for that day.  I’m pretty sure I can sneak that day in before winter.  I strongly suggest you do the same.

 

Forks of the Kern Trail: June 28 – July 2, 2018

There is something about my first trip into the Forks each year.  The “lead up” generates tons of excitement and anticipation.  Mostly because I knew the flies we’d be throwing would be the first that the bad ass kern river rainbows had seen in 9 months.   I am not kidding when I tell you I was watching the CFS on the Upper Kern almost every couple of hours in the couple weeks prior to the hike in.

A big Kern River Rainbow scampering away angry after release

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joining me on this trip in were two fly fishing buddies I had met in very similar ways…through the tech industry.  Josh Evans is a local Carlsbad guy and I have fished with him in Montana and Wyoming.  He’s a great fly fisherman and like me, has to be dragged off the river at night.  Honestly, he’s the only fisherman I have every encountered where I said with a cocktail in my hand, “I can’t believe he’s still out there fishing.”

Josh, Ronnie and me hiking way up river over Rattlesnake Creek for a full 6 miles of fishing adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Ronnie Swafford at a .NET presentation I did at a user group in western N. Carolina over a decade ago.  I told the audience I took that gig because Microsoft paid for my t&e and I always wanted to fly fish the area.  We immediately became friends and he is really good about keeping in touch.  We fished in Colorado last year on the headwaters of the Colorado River near Grandby.  I had an open offer to him: “figure out how to get to LAX and I’ll handle everything from there.”  And I was really excited he took me up on it.

Ronnie battling a large Kern River Rainbow trying to get him back up stream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backpacking in with 45+ pounds on our backs we hit the trail early, but not early enough to avoid the hot sun on Friday morning.  Typically, I like to lead most of the time because of my familiarity of the trail, my mountain goat like genes, and my awareness of the things in the trail that could potentially cause calamity.  I was just telling the guys about the many animals we could encounter on the trail.   But, sometimes I go too fast and I also like to stop and take pictures.  So, it was Josh that was in the lead, suddenly stopping saying, “Rattlesnake!  Right on the trail!”  Thank god he noticed it before stepping on it.  he backed up and I approached with the camera.  The Western Diamondback rattlesnake was a female, about 2.5 feet long near a water source (where he probably hunted mice) just warming up in the sun.  he was practically paralyzed; couldn’t even summon his rattle yet.  But, I still couldn’t get a good picture before he slowly crept off the trail under a rock.  It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes earlier when I said to the guys, “I know there are rattlesnakes here, but I have never seen one.”

I wish i would have caught this diamond back staring at us, but i just wasn’t quick enough with the camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well that set the tone for the most animal encounters ever in my many trips to the upper Kern.  Well, Josh came face to a California King snake and 3 all of us saw Gartersnakes in the river at many points.

Results: Cutting the fishing into 3 hour sessions over the 3 days we fished we saw slow times right when we were supposed to (when the water warmed up) from about 12-3pm.  But outside of that range we experienced good, great and excellent fishing conditions.  The morning session on Sunday was one I will always remember.  It started with a first cast hook up of a 14” I managed to land under a tree and never stopped.  I hooked a fish in every hole, run, pocket water, heads, pools, tail-outs…everywhere I fished for about 4 hours.  I have always written in this blog that Kern River Rainbows are really hard to land and that was definitely the case.  but, I don’t want to touch them anyways.  I want them to come off right at my feet to be caught another day and that was definitely the case in this session.  I did hook some big fish (over 18”) and never managed to land any of them.  And that is fine….except for the monster I farmed on a huck hopper by setting the wrong way (up river).  Totally my fault and it’s going to haunt me until the next time I hike in there.

 

A big Kern River rainbow with a caddis nymph imitation stuck in his face that i tie and sell which kills in clear water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We burnt a lot of calories on this trip fly fishing.  From the Huckaby primitive campsite we fished 6+ river miles in both directions each day we were there.  Each day culminated at the site, eating appetizers and sipping whiskey waiting for the crazy evening hatch to start.  in all 3 nights we saw significant size 18 dry fly fishing before it got dark.  One of the sessions was an hour and a half long!  And this is right in front of the site.  at one point I heard Josh say, “this is too easy. I’m getting struck on every cast no matter how bad my drift is.”  exhausted, we ended each day around the campfire eating dinner in the dark.

Me, Josh and Ronnie on the hike in to the canyon on the Forks of the Kern Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Highlights:

I know Josh and Ronnie have their own highlights on the trip, but I have a few I’ll remember forever:

  1. I have come to love guiding kids. I love teaching kids how to fly fish more than fishing myself.  Well, on the trail we ran into a threesome of a dad, son (Jake) and uncle.  They had kmart level spinning rods with giant shiny lures.  They told me they managed to catch one trout, but that Jake, 15, was dying to catch a fish and even got up at 5am to try…and failed.  which made sense considering the gear they had.  I asked where they were camping and knew exactly the spot.  So, I said, “I tell ya’ what Jake, I’m going to try to circle back at the end of the day and we’ll try to catch a fish together.”  At the end of the day Ronnie reminded me about the “promise”.  I was exhausted, but the 2 mile hike to them was the right thing to do.  I encountered them about a mile away.  There were in a great spot, a huge plunge into a deep pool with a 360 degree eddie on the side that always held fish, but really tough to drift.  So, I started with, “Ok, I’ll rig you up with “fly and a bubble” Jake, give me one of your bobbers.  “we don’t have any bobbers.”   Hmmm I said.  And I knew I was going to have to “McGiver” him.  I tied a small piece of wood on the 4 lb line he had on his cheap spinning rod and hung one of the flashy caddis nymph imitations I tie that was doing well about 4 feet under the piece of wood.  While rigging him up I explained the insect cycle and caddiss flies and as much as I could cram in about the science of the river.  I told jake his cast was going to be a lot tougher because of the 4 foot dropper, but if he could get in in the middle of the eddie he’d have a good chance at hooking a fish.  Well, after hiting the overhanging tree and me re-rigging him a few times, and then flat out missing the eddied a few times he managed to hit a cast perfectly.  It sank into the swirl, his wood indicator went down hard and he tightened up as a screamed, “Set!”   Jakes cheap ass rod was bent in half when a huge…I mean 2+ foot fish appeared.  I never got to the “ok, here’s how you fight a fish if you hook one” part and he farmed it….practiically pulling the fish all the way out of the water.  I was screaming “woo!” and jumping up and down and high fiving him telling him how awesome that was.  Jake was slightly disappointed, but excited.  he was telling his dad and uncle all about  it.  well, it was past 6pm and I had to get back to camp so I gave them a bunch of flies I tied that were working and off I went.  I’ll never know how they did after I left … I bet they did well.

check out that fan of a tail. it’s no wonder the kern river rainbow fights so hard 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Josh had to hike out Sunday afternoon in the hot sun. Ronnie and I were sipping whiskey around 7pm watching the river and waiting for the hatch to start.  I looked up across the river and screamed, “Holy F##$ck there’s a bear!”  I ran back a hundred feet to the site to get my camera.  For 45 minutes, sipping whiskey, we watched a juvenile black bear eating some type of berries off the bushes as he slowly meandered up stream.  It was never an issue of an encounter because the river was between us and him.  I have been waiting for over a decade at that site, staring at the mountain side across the river predicting it would happen one day and it finally did.  Awesome.

A black bear munching on berries as we watch from the Huckaby site across the river

 

 

 

 

A Guide To Grayling Fishing

This guest post is from Richard Fieldhouse. Richard is Founder of Barbless Flies, a company bringing the market a wide range of innovative barbless flies, all professionally tied to extremely high standards using first class materials. Richard is a passionate fly angler, and when not at the helm of Barbless Flies, you will find him on his local rivers of North Yorkshire, England, testing out new flies.

Richard Fieldhouse, Founder of Barbless Flies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Guide To Grayling Fishing

by Richard Fieldhouse, Barbless Flies Company, North Yorkshire, England

Coined as the ‘Lady of the Stream,’ Grayling are most recognisable for their distinct markings on their dorsal fin with a blush of golds, blues and pinks on their heads. Being a species of freshwater fish, Grayling are a popular option for fly fishing during the months of autumn and winter when the fish are at their peak, however one can also fish during the late summer. Fishing for Grayling really is a great way to extend your fly fishing beyond the trout season!

When embarking on your Grayling fishing trip, you’ll need to bear in mind that they’re a pretty smart fish, as they have a tendency to shoal, they tend to corkscrew when hooked and they can also put in a strong fight when caught. One simply needs to know the tricks…

When it comes to fishing for Grayling, it’s important to make the most of the season and to make the most of it, you’ll want to do your research on where to fish, using the right equipment and other tips and tricks you’ll need to know when waiting patiently and aiding in a successful catch of the day. The infographic below, designed by us at Barbless Flies outlines the best way to fish for Grayling by season, as well as where to find the fish, which fly to use and the leader setup.

It’s especially important to remember about the spring prohibition here in the UK, as the fishing of Grayling is officially forbidden from the 15th of March to the 15th of June.  This is because Grayling spawn during the spring season and it’s a big no-no to disturb them during this time! It’s better you avoid this time and wait for the coming seasons for an easier catch.   If you have Grayling in your backyard in the US or Canada you do not have these restrictions, but may have your own local restrictions.

Are you hooked on Grayling? Check out the infographic below and use it as a checklist for your upcoming fishing trip. Enjoy!

 

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.

DSCF0258

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.