Category Archives: Fly Fishing Guidance

Fall Fly Fishing on the Forks of the Kern – November 7-10, 2019

Fall Fly Fishing on the Forks of the Kern

Upper Kern River – November 7-10, 2019

 

Check out the racing stripe on this bad boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I lied.  In my October (2019) post I wrote, “So, Forks of the Kern lovers: until I get into the Forks again in the Spring of 2020” fully thinking at the time that I would not be able to get back to the upper Kern before the season ended on 11/15, let alone be crazy enough to do it (because of the cold nights).  Well, work has been so stressful I needed a weekend in the mountains just to clear my head and organize my thoughts.  Plus, one of the great things about doing this blog over the years is that so many of you are really good about keeping me updated with fishing reports and other intel by email.  One reader I can definitely call an “internet friend” is Peter Persidok.  Peter is clearly a good fly fisherman.  It was Peter who wrote me an email and inspired me to go for a simple 2 nighter over the weekend.  He went into the Forks last weekend and did well above rattlesnake creek.  He also inspired me to hike past the Huck Site, and camp up river, over the mountain.  I rarely get to do that stopping at Huck camp because of the group I am with.  But, on this trip I went alone.  I have plenty of strength and stamina for an “old guy”.  On this trip I camped at “sand camp” which is about 7-8 miles from the trailhead and a mile short of kern flats.  But, it was quite the adventure just getting there.

I know there is tons of guidance telling you not to back pack alone, but I’m a lot safer than I was when I was young.  Plus I carry a Garmin InReach 66i satellite tracker / safety device.  That means not only can loved ones (or the curious) track where I am on an internet site, but I can use the device to txt through the satellite network.  In the case of a true emergency there is an SOS button and it would call the cavalry to come save me.  I also carry bear spray.  And for the first time ever, on this trip, I had to not only unleash the bear spray (which I have done a few times), but also take the safety off and point it at an animal.  That is a first for me.  more on that later.

 

Hiking alone in the dark

If it was not so hard to plow through LA to get to the Forks, I bet I would go a lot more often.  For about $75 of gas, plus backpacking food and fuel I can’t think of more entertainment bang for your buck in the wilderness for the fly fisher.  Clearly, it’s not for everyone, but it is for me.  Well, I had an important meeting at work Friday late morning that precluded me from going the night before.  I got on the road at 11am thinking I’d be safe.  I was not.  LA’s traffic just nailed me.  yea, I use a garmin GPS with traffic data and waze on my phone at the same time, but this was just one of those Fridays.  I lost a full hour in traffic.  Normally that would not be an issue.   But, this is the time of year where the sun goes down at 5pm.  As I kept losing more and more time I kept telling myself how badly it would suck to have to sleep in my truck at the trailhead.  It was only a 2 nighter.  Let’s just say once I got on mountain road 50 I started pushing it…. clearly speeding.  After almost plowing 3 deer in the road I slowed down.  I didn’t get to the trailhead until 4:45 pm.   I have never backpacked in the dark, let alone done it alone. That is when I told myself, “the moon is almost full and it’s a totally clear night.  That will help light the trail.  I will target the “confluence site” which is at the bottom of the hill, only 2 miles total.  And I won’t have to cross the little kern in the dark.  That will give me a 2 mile jump on the long morning hike ahead of me.”  The other complication was temperature.  My decade old tundra (Huck-Truck) may have a cassette deck, but it does tell me the outside temp… which had fallen into the 40s before the sun went down.  So the clothes I laid out to hike in with were totally inappropriate.  I had to go into my already packed up backpack to get long hiking pants, a fleece and a down jacket.  That cost a little more time.

Well, I took off right around 5pm.  It was already twilight, but I was confident in my plan.  Unfortunately, at many points that canyon and the trees shaded the moonlight so I wasn’t half of the way down before I needed my headlamp.  “Not a problem.” I kept saying to myself.  “I know the trail so well I could do it blindfold.”

I’m not afraid of bears and mountain lions and wolves as much as I am afraid of tiny insects like ticks and mosquitos that give you uncurable diseases.  They key is not to startle an animal like that which means “hiking loud” and always having bear spray at the ready.  Being that said, while hiking alone in the dark, I couldn’t help but focus on Peter’s email about him running into the two mountain lions on the trail right at the bottom by the Little Kern crossing.  I have seen them.  I have heard of plenty of sightings of them over the years.  They are two adult females and I’m sure they do well on deer (I have seen my share of carcasses there) and many other smaller animals down at the Forks.

The first complication: as I got to the bottom I could see two separate camp fires.  And one was in the confluence site.  That was a bummer.  That meant I was looking at a Little Kern River Crossing in the dark and having to find a primitive site to camp in on the main fork of the Kern River.  With the Main fork of the Kern at 285 CFS the Little Kern crossing was well below knee deep.  So, it was not a safety thing at all.  It was just so frickin’ cold.  And a bit creepy.  I’d post a picture here, but none of them came out it was so dark; totally shaded from the moonlight by trees.  Upon getting my shoes back on I reflected on what to do next.  I could either b-line for the river and stumble into the first available primitive site.   But, that would be off trail in the dark.  There are a few primitive sites right there above the confluence.  Or I could stay on the trail and grab the first available site close to the trail.  There were very few cars at the trailhead; not a surprise for November, but that would mean plenty of sites open.  So, I stayed on the trail.  I saw the other group with the campfire right away.  What I didn’t realize is that in the darkness you cannot see the primitive sites that are not close to the trailhead.  At least not with the weak headlamp I was using.  I know I passed a couple without noticing them.  But, I kept pushing on the trail.  It was only around 6pm.  If you know that trail well, you know the primitive sites stop for the next mile as the trail narrows in a canyon.  There is a fantastic site I have never stayed in around 3 total miles from the trailhead.  I have never stayed in it mostly because it’s always full.  The trail looks down on it and it’s on a bend on a plateau above the river.  There is a great run around the bend in front of it I have fished many times.   For the next 30 minutes I basically was praying that site would be open and then, in my head speculating at the few sites, leading all the way to the huck site that I would target if wasn’t open.  I needed to find camp because it was dark and I was alone.  I was pushing the safety thing.  Thank God the site was open.  I got a fire going quickly.  I got my tent up quickly.  It was really cold now.  I couldn’t tell how cold but I could tell it was close to freezing.  I had hiked in 3 frozen lamb chops.  Another complication I am not used to: they were still frozen.  So, I did a little makeshift thawing fire side.  After bbq’ing on the backpacking grill I hiked in, eating and a little jack daniels even the fire couldn’t keep my warm.  I was in my tent and asleep before 9pm with the plan of breaking down camp and backpacking as early as possible with another 4 miles or so to the “sand camp” in the morning.

one of my favorite traditions at the forks: hiking down a hunk of meat to be grilled on the first night by campfire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gear Review

What I learned from the last couple October visits to the Kern is that I do not have a pad and bag that “works” in cold weather.  It’s fine in the summer.  But, in early Spring and the fall my stuff just doesn’t work.  It’s not designed for cold weather.  I literally wore every piece of clothes I had and still shivered my way through the night on those October trips. At times it was awful. So, this time I borrowed my buddy Martin’s Big Agnes Helium 15 degree down bag and his Big Agnes Q-Core SLX and Pumphouse Ultra. Now I cannot live without them.  I will be purchasing them immediately; I don’t care what it costs.  Firstly, the bag is so much warmer than my 20 degree backpacking bag.  I actually slept in my hiking boxers with bare feet.  Secondly the pad is so much thicker than my thermarest so you are much higher off the ground.  And it packs down just as small and light.  On my thermarest the cold floor of the tent goes right through it.  if you slide off the thermarest you feel the bitter cold right through the bag immediately.  Lastly, the stuff sack for the bag doubles as an inflator.  It’s genius.  No more blowing up pads at altitude and getting dizzy for me.  I have become a huge Big Agnes fan in the process of learning backpacking.

Check out how you simply open the Big Agnes pump house ultra stuff sack, fold to seal and roll it down to fill the pad.  It’s genius.  i pilfered this image off the Big Agnes site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s up with the Coyote?

Well I woke up around 5AM and immediately felt the shock of how cold it was.  I dreaded getting out of the bag to pack up.  So, I tossed and turned until I forced myself out of the tent at 6am.  I never do a morning fire.  This time I had to.  The first thing I noticed was my backpacking plate, knife and fork: frozen solid.  I didn’t want to wash dishes in the cold at night so I just filled the plate with river water and let the dishes soak until I could deal with them in the morning.  Now I had to figure out what “dealing with it” meant.

look carefully at my buckknife, frozen solid in the mix. it took me a while to break that thing free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 8:00 I had eaten and was fully packed up and back on the trail.  There is a primitive site I stayed in once with Kelly and Mere that is directly across from one of the best fishing runs in the stretch from the confluence to rattlesnake creek.  It was right before that site that I saw something in the trail.  As I got closer I could tell it was a coyote.  In Carlsbad, CA we are backed up to a wildlife preserve that sports a few healthy populations of coyote packs.  There are no outside kitties in our neighborhood and frequently dogs get taken.  I run into them at dawn and dusk constantly and upon seeing me they flee in fear.

Now I was within 50 feet of the coyote and it had not budged; sitting in the trail staring me down and not moving.  I did the hooting and hollering and waving my backpacking poles thing to scare if off the trail as I moved closer.  It didn’t move.  At 30 feet I stopped.  I had to.  It was right in the trail facing me staring me down.  and there was no legit detour around it.  It wasn’t like I was scared.  His tail was between his legs which means subservient; not aggressive.  if he charged me, I could have beaten the thing with my trekking poles.  I just couldn’t figure what the coyote was doing.  It occurred to me it might be part of a pack, distracting me, but, I looked around and didn’t see any others.  So, I grabbed my bear spray and continued to shout at it.  It just stared at me in steely silence.  Well, I had lost my patience with it.  I wasn’t about to let this thing get between me and fly fishing so I pulled the safety latch on the bear spray.  While pointing it right at his face I veered off the trail about 15 feet and walked right by it.  It simply turned and watched me.  then continued to stare at me as I hiked away (trust me.  I looked back at it a number of times).  Weird.

I took this picture from ~15 feet away as this coyote stared me down. notice the angle of the camera. i’m actually looking down at it I’m so close.  Also notice the tail between the legs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hiked over the mountain and made it to “sand camp” around 9:30AM.  I know from the October trip that the river fishes really poorly in the cold of the morning, so that gave me the time, to set up camp: make firewood; fill my sun shower and 3-liter Katadyn, etc.

 

The best nymphing on the Upper Kern Ever

 

Another big Kern River Rainbow let go at my feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 10:45AM I set up my 6 weight to my “go to” upper kern river rig: a 3x leader to a size 4 huck hopper on top.  Not because I thought a huge Huck Hopper would work, but because I knew it could float the weight I was going to tie under it.  I just rarely fish a bobber anymore.  Nor do I use a net.  That’s just me.  You never know when troutzilla might take a size 4 fly so why use a bobber if you are ok with the tangling or loss risk of 3 flies?   4 feet of 4x below the huck hopper I tied on a Beldar’s Stone.  It has 2 beads so it gets down quickly.  I have found this bug to simply just work on the Upper Kern, in all seasons without fail.  When I tie this bug I don’t do anything different except for I tie it with tungsten cones.  Frankly it works so well I should just sell them on the site (even though I didn’t invent the fly) as part of a “Upper Kern River Special”.  In fact, that is not a bad idea. And now I have the off season to do that.  A foot to 1.5 feet of 5x below the Beldars stone I tie on a “huck bow warrior” which is a derivation of a rainbow warrior fly I have developed and evolved from countless hours of fishing on the upper kern.  I tie it in both a flash back and crippled way.  It doesn’t really imitate anything in nature.  But, for some reason (well, it’s quite the attractor fly) it just kills.  Actually, it kills everywhere, but it just seems like the go-to fly on the Kern.

check out the Huck-Bow-Warrior hanging out of this big boy’s face.  You can tell from the red head.  it’s just a killer fly for all seasons on the Upper Kern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I make my first cast right in front of camp.  It was not a special cast; I didn’t cast it far, just to the seam in the river right in front of me.  Sure enough that Huck Hopper goes down and I set hard.  Within minutes, after a number of jumps, I landed a 14” Kern River Rainbow, unhooked and let him go without even taking him out of the water.  I laugh to myself…and then the sobering thought hits me, “a first cast fish. I just jinxed myself and am now going to be skunked for the rest of the day.”  So, I moved 100 feet up river to another run and hooked two more; fighting one to my feet (no net: perfect) where he popped off and landing the other.  “hmm…” I say to myself, “This could be one of those days.”

That is a big Beldar Stone hanging out of this guy’s face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the next 4 hours (11am to 3pm) I only fished a mile. I typically move pretty quickly and cover a lot of ground.  I have been called an impatient fly fisherman.  If I don’t get a take in good holding water on a good drift, I move on.  Only making it one mile is a testament to how good the fishing was. I hooked big wild kern river rainbow trout (14” to 19”) all day.  In every run, pool and pocket.  It was one of those, “my arm hurts from battling fish.” days. My landing ratio was about right for someone nymph fishing without a net barbless: about 50%.  I battled so many fish I worked on setting them free at my feet without touching them by holding the line tight 3 feet above the fish with my hand.  It works about 1 third of the time.  The weird thing is that for over a decade I have always experienced that catching a fish in the upper kern puts the entire pool down.  man, did I prove that theory wrong.  I caught multiple fish in runs multiple times.  It was almost like a spawn was going down.  and from some of the colors on the males I was catching it could have been true.  I’d love to talk to a biologist to verify if the upper kern produces a winter spawn like there is in the Upper Owens River.  Anyways I guess I landed 25-30 fish; all big and got takes and/or hooked and lost about that many.  That type of fishing is just bananas.  I don’t know any other way to describe it.  To top it off I fished the exact same rig 98% of the time on this trip.  There was no reason to mix it up short of the few late night casts I made with dries.  I did change out 3-4 huck bow warriors because the trout chomped them to the point they were so beaten up they unraveled.  And by the time I was done my beldar stone looked like it had been through the wars.  The big Huck Hopper floated all day long without me needing to dress it in any way.

Sometimes, if i can’t unhook them easily in the water i take them out and before letting them go i snap a quick picture..  i’m holding this big one as far out from me as possible and he still doesn’t fit in the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was about 3 hours into this crazy action fishing session when I got this weird unsatisfied feeling.  My first thought was, “I’m doing so well this is getting boring.  I am switching to dries to make it harder on me.”  And then I realized what my feeling was about: It was not that I was bored or it was too easy.  It was that I wished I was guiding a beginner instead of actually fishing myself.  When I teach someone on the Upper Kern River I always include a statement like, “We’ll most likely hook some today.  Landing them is a totally different.  It’s not likely.  I hope we do.”  It’s very rare when the fishing is so good and when it is there is nothing more fun than the joy of teaching someone how to do it; beginner or not.  Since the Upper Kern is so wild there is just so much preventing a beginner from doing well that is not how active the fish are.  it’s the overhanging trees, the current and getting in a position just to be able to cast to holding water, let alone get a drift.  This was one of those days where the beginner’s odds would have significantly been better.  That would have been fun for me.  As it was I experienced it all alone without a sole in sight.  Which was also super fun.

BTW, I wet waded instead of carting my backpacking waders down.  And that was a mistake.  At points my feet and legs were numb.  At points the fishing was so good I’d catch and release in the water, then wade out of the river to warm up in the sun just long enough to wander back in and catch another in the same spot.  After hooking 4 or 5 in the same place I was so numb I had to hike away just to get feeling back in my legs.

i am not a good photographer by any stretch, but every once in a while i get lucky.  in this pic you can see me staying tight by my shadow and the fish is still in view in the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guidance: Fish the other side of the river

Let me give you some guidance related to success in the Upper Kern: Fish the other side of the River.  I have always done well on the other (South-Eastern) side of the river.  The reasons are numerous.  But, the main reason is that the other side provides casts to places that just don’t see artificial flies all season long.  I love the other side because it’s the “Left handed side”.  I’m left handed.  On the other side I’m casting up stream with my left arm over the river.  On the “normal” side of the river I’m handicapped from making big casts because I’m doing it over my shoulder or forced to role cast. The problem, of course, is that they don’t call it the “Killer Kern” for nothin’.  It’s a wild and dangerous river.  This November the river was 285 CFS as measured at the Fairview dam.  That type of low flow means there are a few thigh high crossings that are really mellow at the Forks.  There is some irony that for this entire 2019 season the upper kern was only crossable safely in the last 3 weeks of the season.  That is what happens in a big snow pack year.

It pleases me when i stick them right on the nose exactly where you should on a good set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Two

Since I only fished up stream a mile I crossed back over the river at kern flats and walked the mile back to the sand site and was back at camp by 4pm.  I checked the sun shower and it was way too cold to use; bummer.  There was not going to be any cleaning up on this trip.

So, I re-rigged to dries.  I got a rise from a small trout right in front of camp on a size 18 (anything).  And that was the only rise I had on the trip.  During the awesome day before I did not get a single rise on the huck hopper.  I saw very few naturals which explains why.  It’s just too late in the season for that.

I had in my head something else that Peter told me.  that he did really well on mouse patterns the weekend before right as it got dark.  I have never even seen a mouse at the forks.  But, I had to try.  So, until it got too dark to see, I tried a number of casts with a mouse pattern and failed.  Peter said he was using small mice patterns.  I only had one big one and that probably led to my failure.  It was still fun, though.

Now it was dark and cold.  I had to get the fire started quickly.  I burnt a lot of wood that night sitting in my backpacking chair enjoying the fire.  After jack daniels and eating some backpacking food I said to myself, “I wonder if I should drain the sun shower and the 3 liter katadyn.”  I should have.  Lesson learned…

Sunday – the hike out

The next morning my sun shower and both Katadyns were frozen solid as a rock.  My wading boots and wading socks were also frozen solid as were a number of other things.  So, I did another morning fire and dealt with that as best I could.  I was looking at the 6 miles hiking back to the little kern crossing and then the 2 miles up the hill.  I wasn’t dreading it.  I was kind of looking forward to it as part of the adventure. I’m glad at my age I can still hike up that mountain in less than an hour, frequently passing folks younger than me.

In the October trip, we hiked out early to get home early and just got hammered by LA traffic.  This time I was purposely going to hike out later, and target getting home by 8pm (reasonable enough to pack and make my 6am flight for work the next morning).

Well that left me an hour to fish before heading up the mountain.  I put down my pack and rigged up (the exact same way) at the site at the confluence (which was now empty).

The view of the Little Kern entering the “big” Kern from the confluence site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I told myself not to get my hopes up because this stretch had now been hammered for months.  However, within 30 minutes I caught 5 more big trout.  Ridiculous.  One of them went over 20”.  I tried to follow it down river as best I could.  It was quite the battle as he did numerous jumps and runs.  I told myself I would mind losing him by breaking him off because the river bank downstream from me didn’t exist.  I would have had to go waste deep in the clothes I was hiking out in to chase him down stream.  So I laid the wood on him.  I pulled him back to my feet, reached for my camera and he popped off there at my feet.  I laughed.  I didn’t get the picture, but, I did not have to touch him.  He’ll be 22” next season.

So, now it’s over until next season.  At least for me.  but, if there is anyone fly fishing up there in the next 3 days before the end of the season they are going to do well.

 

Fly Fishing Guidance for Hawaii

Fly Fishing Guidance for Hawaii

Kona and Kauai – September 21- October 5, 2019

 

One of the big blue Trevallys I caught and released

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s taken me over a decade.  But, I have finally figured out how to successfully fly fish the game fish from the shoreline in Hawaii.  This guidance article is for the many fly fishers that visit the Hawaiian Islands (on vacation or otherwise) and want to “Do it yourself” (DIY) fly fish from the shoreline.  I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert here.  I will keep working at it until I am.  But, I have had success and I wish I knew 20 years ago what I just recently learned through literally thousands of casts, trial and error.  I would have had a ton of success if there was legitimate guidance on the internet.  I have not found that yet.  I have read a bunch of guidance on the internet for fly fishing the ocean, even specific to Hawaii, from the shoreline that just does not work in Hawaii.

Background

We have a timeshare in Poipu, Kauai.  It’s at the Marriott Waiohai.  We go for a couple weeks every year; mostly in September.  And we have every year for ~20 years.  I just cannot sit on a beach for hours and hours like my wife does.  I’m not very good at relaxing.  So, I always bring a fly rod.  I have had a lot of success and provided a ton of guidance on fly fishing for trout on Kauai.  But in the ocean in Hawaii I have not experienced much success short of occasional small reef fish and needle fish (Aha).

I snorkel quite a bit and I could always see the big trevallys (Omilo) and jacks I was targeting.  But, I never had success in catching them…until just recently.

This is the guidance that I have been scouring the internet for… for years …it just does not exist…. It should get you some success.

i almost stepped on one of these green sea turtles staring into the water looking for trevallys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other than just not being able to sit still one of the reasons I didn’t give up was one of my favorite “big fish lost” stories.  I lost the giant blue trevally from the cliffs of Mahaulepu on Kauai about 4 years ago.  And I basically was roll casting from 20 feet above the water.  It was pure luck that it shot out from nowhere and took my fly.  I was so surprised I didn’t get a good hook set and lost the fish of a lifetime.

Strip as fast as you can

I might as well start right up front with the most important guidance of all that became an eye-opening revelation to me: Strip as fast as you can.  I didn’t start catching big game fish on Hawaii until I started stripping as fast as I could.  Now, I have been stripping streamers for trout for years.  This is not that.  This is literally stripping so fast a stripping basket is useless.  Don’t bother with one; you wont be able to hit the basket because you’ll strip the line so quickly in such large strips that it will fire behind you missing the basket.  I’m talking full arm’s length strips of the line that fire the line 4-5 feet behind you.  Honestly, this is the guidance for using a stripping basket I had been reading on the internet for years that is just plain wrong.  I use a stripping basket in the surf at home (Carlsbad, CA) and it’s wildly valuable for all the reasons of why we use stripping baskets: line management, preventing tangles, preventing the line from swinging around in the surf and wrapping around your ankles, preventing the line from catching sea weed, etc.   in Hawaii every fish is hunting and being hunted and they are fast swimmers because of it.  You have to strip fast to fool them; to induce strikes.

Trevallys aren’t the only gamefish you nail in Hawaii. this is some from of wrasse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, stripping fast also means the process is very physical.  And it requires agility and practice.  And, overstating the obvious: this type of fly fishing is not for beginners.  Being that said a beginner could really improve their stripping skills on a week-long vacation of practice.  and with that practice a beginner could easily see success.

Now if you have thought this through then you are saying to yourself, “Without a stripping basket that limits me to stripping the line where it won’t tangle and get caught.  That means stripping in the water or on the sand”.  Yes, absolutely true.  This is the handicap; the limiting factor.  Much of the Hawaiian shoreline is lava.  Lava is the exact wrong place to strip line onto.  Let me give you an example. I recently broke this rule.  I saw a trevally crashing on bait fish.  I said to myself, “I’ll run over there make one cast and risk the line getting tangled in the lava.  After the cast the waves pushed my line back into me forcing the line to embed so deeply into the lava it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to free the line.  No one wants to lose a $90 line to lava.  But, it does happen.

i’m pretty sure this is a GT (Giant Trevally). just a tiny version of one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The limitation of stripping so fast without a stripping basket is the line ends up at your feet, in the water, reef, sand or lava.

So the Hawaiian shoreline is not a lake; you will battle the current and the surf no matter how small the wave conditions.  Any north shore in any of the Hawaiian islands is going to be a challenge to fly fish in winter because of the surf.  Alternatively, you will get the calmest conditions in summer on south facing beaches.  Standing in the water (allowing you to strip the line quickly behind you where it floats) in bays and casting out to the structure that does sit on the edge of the bays will produce success.  The flat water of the bays will also reveal the hunters crashing on bait fish.  Casting into bait balls will produce success.  But, success often means wading out in waste deep water or higher and battling the surge or surf.

Finding water without humans in it or around it is tricky. 

Beaches are a good choice to strip fast because your line will not get tangled behind you.  But, beaches also produce people.  I cannot tell you how many times someone has wandered up from behind me without me noticing while I’m in my back cast to say something like, “I didn’t know you could fly fish in the ocean.”  I haven’t hooked a tourist yet, but I have come close.  So, you would think that fishing the early mornings before the beach gets filled with sunbathers is a good time to fly fish.  Well, yes, but because of the 3 hour time difference from PST and 6 hours from EST there always seems to be people on the beach at 6am that can’t sleep.

So, what do you deduce from this: well, finding the ideal spots to fly fish in Hawaii can mean wandering for a while until you find a spot conducive to stripping quickly which doesn’t have people.  Hiking is almost mandatory.  That is why I like to fly fish on Kauai or the Big Island: there are so many undeveloped beaches and bays on those two islands.  On the busy islands like Oahu and Maui it’s going to be harder to find fishable water without humans.

Read the water / Scout it out

If you are an experienced trout fly fisherman you know where the trout hold; you know where to cast.  It’s not practical to jump into the river with a mask and snorkel to see where the big trout are.  In Hawaii, it can be.  I nailed a big blue finned trevally in front of our place at the Marriott Waiohai in Poipu simply because when snorkeling I saw a bunch of them holding on a submerged reef not visible from above the water.  On the big island I watched the water.  I saw a huge blue trevally crashing on bait fish in the small surf.  I literally got to make the 40 foot cast right in front of his face.  Now that I know I can catch them, I am a lot more observant of them in the water.  Of course, as I have, you will see fish you’d love to cast at, but just can’t because of the lava or the length of cast or the wind or….

Put the wood on ‘em

I have read many a story about hooking the big triggers or trevallies and them darting to the bottom of the reef in a cave to find cover and then losing the fly line because of it.  So when you do hook a fish put the wood on them: Fight them hard.  Do not let them dive for cover.  Keep them on top as best you can.  Because a fish that carries your fly line into a cave at the bottom of the reef is going to tangle your fly line in coral and snap off the leader leaving your expensive fly line tangled in coral 20 feet deep.  Diving into surge to untangle your fly line 20 deep is going to be dangerous if not impossible to retrieve.

What to bring: Everything

There are no fly shops on any of the Hawaiian Islands.  If you want to fly fish you have to bring everything.

Rods: sure a 6 will work.  But casting a 6 into that wind will not.  Most likely you’ll bring a fast action 8; not to help you with fighting the fish as much as it will help you punch the line and weighted fly through the wind.  My current favorite for Hawaii is a TFO 10 weight which I needed every bit of when fighting a big blue finned trevally on the Big Island.

Reels: sure a trout reel will work.  But, if you bring a trout reel you need to be extra diligent at cleaning it after each use with fresh water.  The salt and sand will kill a fresh water reel.  So, sure you can pull off your fresh water gear for a week.  it may not be worth it for a week’s vacation in Hawaii to buy a salt water fly reel.  They are expensive.

Fly Lines: forget the sinking or intermediate sink lines.  This was another one of my problems that lead to so much failure over the years.  In the surf of San Diego you need sinking lines to get the fly down.  that is where the fish are; in the sand in the depressions and channels.  A sinking line in Hawaii just gets your fly tangled on the bottom (lava or coral) quicker.  You will want to use a floating line.  They are also a lot easier to cast than a sinking line. The predators will frequently be in the top of the water column chasing bait fish.  They can be on the bottom and in the reefs but, even if they are, they are looking up.  That is where the bait fish are; on the top of the water column.  Sure you can get away with a trout line that is a floating line.  But, if you can justify the expense the Rio outbound tropical short is the perfect line for the Hawaiian islands (inshore or offshore) and many other warm water oceans.

Leaders / tippet: 20 or 30 lb flouro about 4-10 feet in length.  No need for fancy tapered leaders in Hawaii.  No need for lightweight tippet you are stripping so fast.  I believe flouro is necessary because it’s so invisible in the water.  But, I have never used mono so I don’t have a standard for comparison.

Flies:  baitfish patterns in small sizes like 4-6-8 are effective.  Also, they are a lot easier to cast into the wind.  For Hawaii, clousers are perfect.  I have not found / tied the perfect color combination yet.  I will in time.  but, from the successes I have had, I suspect white or silver on bottom and very light blue, black/grey or green on top match most of the bait fish.  I like the clouser style patterns because they ride hook up…. reducing the number of snags.  And let’s face it, if there were a single fly you had access to for ocean fly fishing it would be the clouser.  Now, I have also had success in Hawaii with bonefish patterns that imitate a shrimp.  So, I’ll be working on designing a few clouser patterns and a pattern that is a shrimp imitation in a clouser format that I’ll sell on the site, once I know they are proven.

Interestingly enough, and another reason for my lack of success in Hawaii over the years, is that this type of fly fishing is totally different from the way we fish the ocean in san diego with giant anchovy and sardine patterns in 1-0 and 2-0.  in san diego we use giant anchovy and sardine patterns to fly fish off shore for tuna.  To fish in the surf we use tiny sand crab patterns.   In Hawaii I have not found success with large patterns or tiny patterns.

What to wear

There is no shocking news here.  You’ll want quick dry clothes with sun protection including a hat.  It’s fly fishing and you’ll be hunting by staring into the water.  polarized lenses in sunglasses are a must. Wearing glasses while hooks are flying around are a must.  The water is warm.  No need for waders.  But shoes are important.  There are inexpensive “reef shoes” that work great.  Any water shoes that can stand up to the slipperiness of the rocks while at the same time can stand up to the razor-sharp lava are going to work great.  No matter what, you will give the ocean your blood.  Trust me.  it’s part of the deal.

You have to be able to produce a decent overhand cast

I wish it weren’t true, but this type of fishing in Hawaii is just not for beginners.  I know a legion of friends who’s fly fishing is limited to lobbing a bobber 20 feet off the front of a drift boat.  That “cast” is deadly on the Missouri River in Montana, but will not help you in Hawaii from shore.  It’s not like you need to do an 80 foot double haul.  But, you need to be able to overhand cast into the wind; frequently more than 40 feet.

Culture

Fishing licenses not needed when fishing the ocean in Hawaii.  I wish there was a tourist only, inexpensive fishing license you could buy online with that money going straight to conservation.  But, there is not.  You can fish without a license and kill anything you catch (short of in some dedicated marine parks).

Fishing is part of the Hawaiian culture and they do it well with long traditional rods with bait set ups.  And they eat everything they catch.  There is no catch and release culture in the Hawaiian islands like there is in fly fishing.  “I can’t believe you just let that fish go.” is something I now have experienced a few times.  I rarely notice people behind me watching me fly fish (But, I always look into my backcast).  There are exceptions to everything.  But, typically the natives do not typically like sharing the water with tourists.  Of course most of the natives are fishing off the lava cliffs where you can’t fly fish anyways so it’s rarely a problem.  The Hawaiians are fishing to survive.  I am fishing for sport.  And I always catch and release because with so many fish being taken I just don’t feel it’s my right to catch and keep.  I can always go to a restaurant.

 

Bonefish

Heads up: the guidance in this article does not apply to the Hawaiian bone fish.  I have not yet figured out how the catch the Oios (bonefish) without a huge amount of hassle.  Frankly, it may be impossible to have success with bones unless you are willing to sacrifice tons of flies and /or be willing to fish for 4 hours without a single cast.  If you are patient and don’t mind losing 20 flies per hook up you can have success.  When snorkeling I can see quite a few bonefish now that I look for them.  Not, huge bones, but lots of them under 1.5 feet long that sift through the sand for crustaceans.  You fish the bones just like you would in the Bahamas: slowly.  In Hawaii slowly means getting snagged on the bottom.  Now, there are exceptions.  About a half dozen times, I have seen the bones; big bones, run up on the beach in 6 inches of water,  unfortunately every time that has happened I didn’t have a fly rod in my hands.

The Hawaiian Bonefish – i still haven’t figured out how to catch them without snagging a ton of flies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there it is….  Feel fee to reach out to me by email or download the guidance document which has location information.

 

 

Forks of the Kern: Fall Fly Fishing on the Upper Kern River

October 17-20, 2019

Is that a huck hopper hanging out of that big kern river rainbow’s face? yes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was only the 2nd time I have done a trip to the Forks in the fall…after over a decade of trips into the canyon. This annual trip is with what I call the “gear group” because many of the guys that join this trip are actual reps in the outdoors industry. All great guys; this year 5 of us. I learn so much from them in terms of outdoors gear and food and clothes. I gladly do a little fly fishing guiding (and provide the flies)…which is so fun for me.

The first and most striking contrast to the spring and summer down at the Forks is the colors. It has been consistently shocking how many trees are not pines in the canyon; trees that turn colors in the fall. And leaves that fall in the river providing more interesting challenges (and annoyances) to the fly fishing. The Fall also produces cold nights and cold morning temperatures. Backpacking gear is expensive and I slowly upgrade through time, but man is it cold in October. I need better cold weather clothes and gear. The day time temps are fantastic, in the high 70s. but, the nights get into the 30s.

The most surprising thing about the Upper Kern in the Fall is the Beautiful Colors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other striking contrast from Spring/Summer is the fly fishing. Since I have only been twice to the Forks in the fall, I’m really learning a lot about the difference in the fly fishing that Spring, Summer and Fall produce at the Forks. In the Fall the river is cold. I measured the water temp in the morning on this trip: 44 degrees. By eod it only got to 48. The ideal water temp for trout fishing is 54. That meant really slow mornings. I knew that going in. I have had plenty of buddies and “electronic buddies” from this site giving me fishing reports on the Upper Kern. So, there was absolutely no rush to get to fishing after staggering out of the tent in the high 30s in the morning. On the 3 days I fished I rarely got any action (or saw any rises) before 11am. Plus, let’s face it, wet wading in 44 degree water is…well…not fun. I not only experienced that sharp burning sensation of bitter cold, but also having my feet and ankles go numb. And here is a first for me. just washing my face with river water in the morning gave me an “ice cream headache”.

One of the guys that joined me on the trip was a longtime friend, Martin Löef. Martin reps Katadyn….who’s products have made my life so much easier at the Forks. On this trip I had a one liter and a 3 liter Katadyn Befree. They are a godsend. I can’t imagine backpacking without them. I have not used my steri-pen in a couple years because of the Katadyns.

My buddy Martin took this picture of me worshipping the giant NY i hiked down for us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time where we thought this trip was just going to be me and Martin. I told him from the start I’d guide him and enjoy doing it.   After setting up camp at the huck site, upon arrival, Martin and I did a little bit of fishing right in front of camp. The rest of the group wasn’t due to arrive until that night. I could see right away that Martin had casted a rod before….so that was encouraging. He also expressed the desire to only throw dries flies. Guiding someone with that attitude is a pure pleasure. So, the next day, the first full day, Martin and I headed over the mountain (rattlesnake creek) and didn’t start fly fishing until the other side. There is a run over on the other side that has always produced excellent dry fly fishing for me, so I was still curious to see if it produced under these fall conditions with zero bugs in the air. It requires some agility to get in place and Martin, a bit older than me, is quite the fit, agile outdoorsman. Sure enough the minute we walked up to it, we saw an aggressive rise of a small fish which is typical of the Kern River Rainbow. After I explained where I wanted him to stand (on a rock in the river) and cast from, I contemplated a number of things that were a bit of a concern:

  • That run requires at least a 30 foot cast to be effective. 40 and 50 foot casts with long drifts are more effective.
  • You have to cast straight up stream with the fly coming straight back at you. That is a not only a line management nightmare for beginners but, typically a late setting frustration too.
  • putting a huck hopper on him. there we no rises or even bugs in the air. That rise we saw was on something emerging…most likely a midge. Huck Hoppers in the forks of the Kern tend to induce rises.

No need to teach Martin the Overhand Cast: check out that loop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, purely to check out his overhand (because a small fly is easier to cast than a big ‘ol huck hopper) cast I decided I’d leave the size 16 parachute adams on that I tied on the night before when he was fishing from camp. I’m so glad I did. It couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 casts before he got a rise to that fly. He was slow to set, as I imagined and there was line g. I screamed “Go!” (I have this weird new habit of yelling “Go!” Instead of “Set!”).   Well, I laughed and congratulated him on fooling the fish. I counted 6 more strikes on his casts without success in setting before I decided to intervene and do a little drift and line management lesson. Once we got that worked out he landed his first Kern River rainbow. Which he fought with the line in his teeth instead of his non casting hand. We worked that out next. But, he kept missing the sets. I could clearly see the trout taking the fly down but he was so slow to set. It’s then he got honest with me. “I can’t see that far.”

“casting beyond your site.” We have all done it. Either because of glare or simply because of that big 60+ foot cast is beyond our site. Setting on the splash (or in this case your buddy screaming, “Go!”. It’s not very effective. Until it is. The truth is that martin admitted he needs glasses or contacts or something to see far. I laughed and told him I’d continue to scream “Go!”. Which I did a few casts later. And this time he hooked a big fish and tightened up on him. He was pulling hard enough to pull the fish’s head out of the water and sure enough snapped that fish off on 5x. it was pretty cool though. Martin missed a lot of sets, but fooling trout is still enjoyable even if you miss them. So, I was having a blast, hooting and hollering. I think martin got 12-15 fish to rise, hooked 3 and landed two when all was said and done. we had a great day together and hiked more than 4 miles up stream from the huck site.

Here’s Martin with one of the Kern River Rainbows he landed on the day we fished together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some other things I noticed that is so different from fishing the spring or summer that will be of help to those sneaking in to the forks this year before it closes or simply any time in the fall:

  • I caught 4x as many fish on dries then I did nymphing. That exact thing happened the last time I fished the forks in October. It was the strangest thing not having success on the nymph and still getting a significant number of takes on top on the huck hopper. I may not have been getting it down far enough in the faster runs. In fact, that probably was the case. My “normal” spring / summer rig is a size 4 huck hopper (that is huge), followed 4 feet down by a large rubber legs which is super heavy, followed another 18” down by a huck rainbow warrior or huck green caddis nymph.   That rig is wildly effective there in spring or summer. I was floating a smaller huck hopper I was prototyping (see below) that couldn’t support the weight of my “go to” rig. So I went without the heavy rubber legs. The only thing is…. I put the other beginners on the bobber; which could support the normal rig and they were not getting a lot of takes.
  • In my trip this summer (august) I noticed an abundance of grass hoppers that were light grey in color and from size 8 to 12.  There are a myriad of different species of grass hoppers down in the canyon and one day I’ll be able to identify all of them. I’m not a total believer in color because I have read a lot of the science and trout see colors differently in different light conditions and distances. What does matter a lot more is size and shape. But, I did tie a number of prototype grey size 8 huck hoppers and, as I suspected because they matched the naturals in size and color they really worked.I caught at least one trout every day right in front of the huck camp. And half of them were quality fish. I believe it’s not so much about that being a great pool, run and tail-out as much as it is the times of day I fished. The point: in the fall, fish until the sun goes down. That last 2 hours as the day closes is the most effective time. And that is most likely because that is the part of the day where the water is warmest.

    Another big Kern River Rainbow with a grey Huck Hopper stuck in his face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The river was just a little too high and cold at 330 CFS for crossing safely. There were definitely places in the river, maybe a handful, over the 6 mile stretch I fished, where you could cross at knee level. But, 1, the river was so cold to wet wade and 2. once across there is no river trail and not being able (or willing) to trek in the river meant it was long stretches of bushwhacking before finding a cross back to the other side.

  • Note: the “Forks of the Kern” trail sign which indicates where to turn on the dirt road that takes you to the trailhead is not only still broken, but, in even worse shape: both poles broken and propped against a tree. It’s really easy to miss now. the directions are painstakingly detailed in the guidance doc, but, the right turn for the trailhead is exactly 36.8 miles from the junction of Mountain Road 50 (MR-50) and Mountain Road 99 (MR-99) near the tiny town of Johnsondale.

 

This years fall “Gear Guys gang” at the Huck Site: me, Garrett, Greg, Geoff & Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

Unfortunately, the cache near the huck site has been compromised and pillaged. It’s not the first time. It’s a bit discouraging. But, it’s not like I’m devastated. I have accumulated a cache of extra supplies, tools, fishing equipment and even a spare tent over the years. Those that download the guidance document are encouraged to email me if they want to use it and I email very specific directions to finding it. Many readers of this site have added to the cache every year which is really great. For instance, the tools that others have left behind to help cut back the willows and branches making it easier on beginners have been a god-send. They are now gone. As is most of the cache.

 

I have received some criticism, even within my own awesome fly-fishing club about publishing how special the forks of the kern is on this site; how special it is to catch and release a wild trout that can only be found in a 20 mile stretch of river in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Using this site to enlighten and encourage fly fishers to visit the Upper Kern by way of the Forks trailhead has been a mixed blessing in terms of getting the word out on how special the forks is. I believe in conservation by awareness. I believe to stop the slow death of the great sport I love; to have the sport of fly fishing thrive to where it once was, us advanced fly fishers should give away their secret spots even to the point of giving up their favorite holes to beginners; especially young fly fishers. Some of my peers do not share that view.

There is more positive on this than negative. For instance, one of the downloaders of the guidance doc and users of the cache emailed me a few weeks back that he “put some work into the fireplace”. When I got to the site on this trip I was pleasantly surprised. The stonework at the huck site is in great shape right now. best ever. He must have put 2-4 hours into making that fireplace better.

But, the cache has been pillaged and needs to be built up again. What was different about the vandalism this time is that the gear in the cache that was too big to carry away (like the spare tent) and steal was actually hid a few yards away. As if these vandals were going to use it as their own for them and them alone on their next time in. I was lucky to find it.

 

So Fear not. As soon as I can get in next spring I will start building the cache back up and so will the many forks of the kern lovers and readers of this site. But, I have been forced to move the cache. It’s still not completely safe to vandalism again: it’s farther away yet still not a brutally physical hike/climb to find. I’m hoping it will not be as easily found randomly as where it was located for so many years prior so close to the huck site.

 

So, Forks of the Kern lovers: until I get into the Forks again in the Spring of 2020 (assuming a normal winter which this year was not) I’ll be writing about other my other fly fishing and outdoors adventures. And hosting a few guest posts.

Martin rolling out another well loaded overhand cast

 

 

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

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!

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Seven Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall

This guest post is from my buddy Jon Holman who runs the No See Um Lodge – a family-owned Alaska fishing lodge on the Kvichak River.  John has been guiding and flying since the age of 19 and is licensed and certified as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, AI (Aircraft Inspector), Coast Guard Captain First Aid and CPR First Responder.  When not running the lodge during the Alaska fishing season, he can be found flying, hunting, fishing and scuba diving around the world. No See Um is truly a bucket lister for any fly fishing enthusiast!

Fly fishing in Alaska

Fly fishing in Alaska

Seven Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall

by Jon Holman

Spring and summer always get great press. Both promise beautiful weather, productive waters and fish that almost volunteer to hit your fly. Where does that leave September through November? It leaves fall fly fishing in Alaska to anglers who look forward to the change in seasons because they know this last stretch of action rocks.

Honestly, we don’t try to keep it a secret. On the other hand, we can’t complain about having the riverbanks all to ourselves. If you don’t mind a little chill, shorter hours and big ‘bows, get that rod ready for one more trip. You still have plenty of time to enjoy the tail end of some of the best fly fishing on the planet.

Trophy trout catch with the help of John Holman

Trophy trout catch with the help of John Holman

How to Finesse Fall Fly Fishing: Seven Simple Tips

You know temperatures are going to be colder than usual. The seasonal salmon egg smorgasbord is just about over. It’s time to switch up flesh patterns and throw some leeches and sculpins too. The steelhead and dolly varden may work you a little harder, but you have an advantage they don’t. You have this list of seven smart fall fly fishing tips.

Rainbows put up a healthy fight!

Rainbows put up a healthy fight!

  1. Don’t Get Up at Dawn

Sunrise isn’t really a big part of fall fly fishing and neither is sunset. Trout and salmon handle the cold better than we do, but even they take it easy until mid-day. Once the water warms up a little bit, they’re a lot more interested in your flies, so don’t set the alarm clock for daybreak.

  1. Watch Your Shadow Casting             

Those long shadows that make our autumn landscapes so beautiful can get in your way when you’re sneaking up on fish. Actually, they give you away. The fall sun throws shadows farther, so keep your silhouette from frightening potential catch with some distance casting.

  1. Try Long and Light

You can also minimize scaring the fish by throwing a long, thin leader with a light tippet. It doesn’t make casting easier, but it really helps especially when you’re working low water.

  1. Get Their Attention

Sometimes, it seems like you’re trying to see through a carpet of fallen leaves and twigs. All that stuff on the water surface makes it harder for fish to see you too. Put a little action in your fly with a small twitch. Try short, slow strips. If nothing works, consider the setting as an opportunity to sharpen up your target skills.

  1. Pack Plenty of Streamers

You can’t go wrong with streamers in the fall. Whether you give them a standard swing, bang the banks or go with a dead drift, big streamers catch big fish. We nominate sculpins and leeches as the official autumn patterns for fly fishing. They’re that productive.

Fly fishing flies used in Alaska

Fly fishing flies used in Alaska

  1. Fight Ice With Cooking Spray

Iced-up guides happen when you’re fly fishing in the fall. We wish they didn’t, but a little cheap cooking spray goes a long way towards keeping them clear. If you’re concerned about rod resins and line coatings, just dip your guides into the water. They’ll freeze up again, so be prepared to rinse and repeat.

  1. Buck Tradition With a Tenkara Rod

Move past moving parts. Find out what fixed line fly fishing is all about. Get into the zen of focusing on technique instead of equipment. Yes, we’re definitely Tenkara fans. No, it’s not for everybody, but it’s a great way to enjoy fly fishing in conditions that give reels and guides cold-weather headaches.

Take Time to Enjoy Your Time

If you like the idea of landing 15-pound rainbows and chasing the last of the coho runs, why let a chilly forecast stand between you and an unforgettable fishing experience? Our incredible backcountry takes on a special glow in the fall, and you practically have the entire place to yourself.

We’re here of course, and we really enjoy sharing this time of year. Now that you’re armed with smart tips for fall fly fishing, come on up, and join us in our Alaskan fishing lodge. Don’t worry about the weather. If an afternoon gets too cold, we’ll just wait it out in the hot tub. There’s always plenty of time to enjoy your time here at No See Um Lodge.

Landing Rainbows in Alaska

Landing Rainbows in Alaska