Category Archives: Fly Fishing Report

2-nighter on the JDB trail: May 1-3, 2022

Although i still haven’t mastered my fancy GoPro, this release gives you an idea of how dirty the water was

Forks of the Kern Update: It’s Open!

I cannot tell you how many emails I have answered asking about when the Forks will open again.  As of Today, 5/13/22. IT’S OPEN!

Just got word from a buddy who said, “Western Divide, he said Lloyd Meadows and the Forks will be open as of today.  He said they’re “in the process” of clearing it all out, and “there may be escorts”, but it will be open for sure for my trip on Sunday.  I even got my Wilderness permit approved.” 

Beware: There are a couple of barriers to your fishing fun when the Forks finally does open after its 2 year hiatus.  Firstly, in high flow of the main river, the little kern river crossing (which is part of the Forks trail) can be treacherous.  Secondly, the Upper Kern is just difficult to fish in flows over 500CFS.  It has everything to do with the willows, trees and other bushes that line the river.  It’s just hard to find spots in the river to wade in safely when “it’s up.”.  

2-nighter on the JDB trail: May 1-3, 2022

Flow:

  • Sunday: 545 CFS
  • Monday: 560 CFS
  • Tuesday: 585 CFS

Solunar

  • Sunday: 92%
  • Monday: 77%
  • Tuesday: 52%
That is a Huck Midge Perdigon, Size 14 hanging out of this KRR’s face. In conditions like this you have to go big and get down quickly.

Conditions:

A muddy, rising, raging torrent of death topped off with 30 MPH gusts of wind.  I was a week too late; the runoff has started.  I caught it perfectly in 2020 and 2021.  The Upper Kern will be pretty much unfishable to anyone but experts as it rises to over 1000 CFS through mid June. 

Notice that brown raging torent of death beyond my tent in the background. normally this is one of the best plunge pools and runs on this stretch of the river. it’s a great campsite because of the location and view of the river.

Report:

On a full day of fishing on Monday, I got ~10 to hand losing about twice that many.  So, considering the bad conditions and still getting around 30 takes one might think I’d be stoked.  But, I expected to get 40 to hand and lose another 40 like the prior 2 years.  Still totally fun.  How can getting takes on a size 4 huck hopper in April not be fun? 

Casting for Recovery:

I drove straight from guiding the Casting for Recovery Event near Yosemite to the Johnsondale Bridge.  I cannot tell you what a pleasure and honor it was to help in that event.  14 ladies who stared down death in the gun barrel of cancer to get out in the outdoors for 3 days of learning about fly fishing.  I was teamed up with an extraordinary woman.  I’ll call her “B” because her story of breast cancer survival is personal.  It was personal for me because my wife is a breast cancer survivor.  “B” is a  young beautiful lady originally from Toronto and now living in Temecula with her husband from Northern Ireland.   I have been to Northern Ireland a few times; I have a first cousin there.  So we had a lot to talk about.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to fish a river teaming with trout.  We were put on a pond that had not been stocked.  To make it even more challenging trees lined this pond so a traditional overhand cast was impossible.  Not to worry it wasn’t about catching.  It never is about catching…is it?  The night before the event, I tied a bunch of Squirmy Worms in the hotel room I had in Reedley, CA.  The squirmy and the mop fly are now illegal in competition fly fishing events….for a reason….and I tie them with glow in the dark materials… it’s totally cheating…I don’t even sell them on this site anymore for that reason.  I only use them when teaching beginners.  So, yea, perfect for an event with beginners like casting for recovery.   So, I started by teaching a roll cast.  But, we talked through what an overhand cast would be…the 10-2 thing..  teaching the casts in that reverse order was a first for me.  but, in the long term probably a good strategy I may use again.  if you can roll cast you can fly fish anywhere.  Especially on the Upper Kern where it’s tough to find room for an overhand cast.  “B” picked it up pretty quickly.  She clearly has an athletic set of genes in her.  Well, sure enough…within 15 minutes a huge largemouth took that squirmy super close to the shore in 1.5 feet of water .  Unfortunately her teacher (me) didn’t focus on how to set to deeply because I never dreamed we’d get a take.  It was an enormous bass and I was clearly more excited about it than “B”. 😊  we only got a fish for 2-3 hours.  I could have done that all day with her and had the time of my life.  So fun.

“B” is headed to Scotland this summer…and yes, she’ll fly fish with her husband.  I’d really love to get those two on the annual couples trip to the forks this fall.  And I told her as much.  The casting for recovery event was just a great time.  All the guides and support staff are simply awesome people….as you’d imagine.  I can’t wait to be honored to do it again.

Yep, that’s a mountain lion and pretty fresh. I stepped over it entering the river at the end of the JDB trail intersection with the canyon trail to the Rincon Trail. the print was right at the river’s edge and he’s up on his toes taking a drink.

Upper Kern Backpacking and Fishing Details:

I had a long 3 hour drive south and east into the sierras from the Casting for Recovery event to the Johnsondale bridge.  While driving I checked the flow and my heart just sunk.  The river was rising.  I knew exactly what that meant: I was too late. 

I got to the parking lot at the JDB around 3:45PM and took off with 42 pounds on my back from the at 4pm.  I knew I had a couple hour hike and that I should get to camp well before the sun went down at 6:30.  I did not see a single sole from the minute I got on the trail until I hiked out and reached the parking lot on Tuesday at 10:15 AM.  Nice.  But, it was hard not to stare at that rising river as I hiked in.  It had a brown tint to it too.  It was already blown out.

If you are a backpacker, you know the hassle and stress of getting your campsite set up while racing the sun.  So, I didn’t get a cast in that first day.  I didn’t have time to string a rod.  And that was fine.  I knew I’d have a full day tomorrow.  I just love the occasional backpacking alone thing.  It so good for clearing the mind and letting go of the stress of every day life.

Anyone who has caught a Native Wild Kern River Rainbow can relate to this. although the picture isn’t in focus notice the two splash circles. This fish did a double 360 spin in the air while i laughed in amusement. I probably didn’t land him.

Also, as I my habit I was asleep pretty early.  Between the long day, the hike, jack daniels, a fire and bbqing a steak I hiked in I was pretty toast.  I retreated to my tent to listen to fly fishing podcasts and was soon asleep.  And that means I was up and out of the tent at 5:45am.  Guess what I did first.  I stared at the river.  in that low light of the morning when the sun is rising i said to myself, “It’s big; but, It doesn’t look that bad.”  So I strung a rod.  Although I hadn’t seen any I had heard the salmonfly hatch was still on.  I had tied a dozen for the trip so I quickly tied one on and got in position for a 6am cast.  It made a simple 40 foot cast straight up river on the seam. The light was so poor it was hard to see that huge salmonfly coming back at me.  But sure enough I saw what looked like a take and I set hard.  I was on.  I laughed as I released it because I have not caught many fish that early in the day.  Then I made the mistake of saying to myself, “this is going to be a good day.”  because it was exactly then when it hit me: The first cast fish jinx… I cannot tell you how many times that has happened to me. 

Well, I know that upper couple miles of the JDB stretch like the back of my hand so I fished all day where I knew fish held. But, when I wasn’t getting consistent rises I faced the reality of nymphing by way of the Huck Hopper/Dropper. The prior two years of me fishing the JDB stretch in April before the Forks opened I absolutely killed on dries.  Not this year.  I was just a week too late.  The river huge, dirty and blow out.  The flow was tough to get the flies down in the deeper water.  And I knew I had to get them down because the water clarity was only about a foot.  That was why I wasn’t getting rises.  The fish just couldn’t see through the dirty water.  But there are two plunge pools up river from the trail end where I did pretty well on Huck Midge Perdigons in less than 3 feet of water.  Then that wind came in.  I guessed 30mph gusts because I was actually blown off a rock I was standing on in the river.  At points it was really hard to get a drift but I kept fighting through it.  What else was I going to do?  I’m not much of a sit and wait guy.

Normally i miss the nature shots like this one. Springtime can be pretty spectacular in the Kern River Canyon

Out of the ten or so to hand only one was a larger Kern River Rainbow (KRR).  All the others were in the less than 10” class.  Most of which I guessed to be 2 year fish.  But, the reality of the conditions and the river still rising made me decide I’d hike out early the next morning instead of battling all day again.

So, I hiked out early in the morning after breaking camp and was on the road in Huck-Truck by 1030AM back home.  My next adventure will be at the forks.  Most likely end of June / early July.  Hope to see you there.

Trinity River – Jan 18-23

Jack Duncan with a Monster Steelhead.  I sure hope i can do this when i’m 84…

When Jack Duncan, my buddy from the San Diego Fly Fishers Club, emailed me that he wanted to chase steelhead on the Trinity river in Northern California I replied with a simple “In!”  I had fished the Trinity about a decade ago for a single day…and that day the Steelhead Trout lived up to its moniker: “the fish of 5000 casts”.  I did not get a single take.  Since that time, I have been lucky enough to fish steelhead a number of times during my stints up at Microsoft in Redmond, WA where I did do better; mostly on the Olympic Peninsula.  But, I had been itching to get back to California steelheading on the Trinity for a long time.  Gary Strawn and Paul Woolery from SDFF completed the foursome.

In Steelheading terms we did well.  For the two guided days we had, we boated 13 fish.  The average steelhead day is hoping for one grab; let alone getting a fish to hand.

You know it’s a special fish when the guide takes a picture of it.

The Steelhead

The Steelhead is just a giant rainbow trout.  What makes it different from a regular rainbow trout is 2 things:

  1. it’s anadromous nature: After maturing, the steelhead travels the river downstream hundreds of miles to the ocean, feeding heavily for a year to 3 years before entering back into the river it was born in… frequently spawning within a 2 inch radius of where it was originally hatched! There still is no science to explain how the steelhead does it; only conjecture.  The Trinity River Steelhead travel just short of 100 miles up the river to their original spawning grounds.  God only knows how far out to sea they go.  But, the Steelhead in the Columbia River system can travel over 800 miles to the Idaho rivers there were born in.  800 miles to spawn in a 2” radius of where they were hatched.  Had we not screwed up the environment around a hundred years ago by installing dams (with the incredibly efficient production of hydroelectric power), the steelhead (like the salmon) would still be travelling over 1000 miles to Montana and beyond.
  2. The steelhead gets abnormally huge. Like 3 feet long and over 10 pounds huge.  They get abnormally big eating shrimp and fish in the ocean.  A wild steelhead that size is difficult to land.  They frequently do spectacular jumps combined with runs of over 100 yards in either direction.

The steelhead is a fish of lore that has ruined marriages and destroyed finances.  I’m not kidding.  Once you catch a big wild steelhead it changes your life.

Sporting this season’s latest in fly fishing fashion wear, this is Gary Strawn with a chromer.

The Outfitters

I have been lucky enough to use a number of fly fishing guides in my 30+ years of fly fishing.  I feel like that is a well spent investment because I have learned so much from guides….and continue to.  I have only had one bad guiding experience in that 30+ years. That was the last time I was at the Trinity over a decade ago.  “The Fly Shop” in Redding gave us a really hungover, cigarette smoking guide that spent more time throwing up on the river bank, combined with long stints in porta potties than he did fishing with us.  You don’t judge an outfitter by one guide. So, of course, our first stop after landing in Redding, CA was “The Fly Shop.  “The Fly Shop” is the largest fly fishing internet retailer in the world for a reason.  Like Costco, you just can’t get out of there without dropping a hundred….which we all did.

On Jack’s advice we used Confluence Outfitters for the guides on this trip.  Jack had used them before.  Jack and I fished together both days and Paul and Gary fished together both days.  But we alternated the guides (and the river sections):

Luke is a young guide with 2 masters degrees that fished us on the Upper Trinity River.  And Peter is a long time guide, very well known who fished us on the lower Trinity River.  Both guides were excellent and 13 fish to net is a testament to that.  I strongly recommend you contact them if you want to check the California steelhead thing off your bucket list.

The Trinity River is a small river in steelhead terms. And crystal clear

Using a guide on the Trinity is almost a must.  Not just to learn techniques.  But, because of the drift boat.  Accessing good steelhead holding water is easy with a drift boat.  It is quite difficult without one at the Trinity River.  So much of the Trinity river is overgrown, on private property, or too deep to wade.

You are either trying to catch a steelhead on their way to spawn or on their way out to the ocean.  In both cases because they are on a mission; they are not eating much.   You are basically trying to piss them off enough with an artificial to instigate a genetic reaction.  There are small (12” to 20”) resident steelhead that are too juvenile to head out to the ocean.  They call them, “half pounders”.  They do eat and we did catch a few.

Now this is a tropy shot. Guide Peter Santely holding a big wild steelhead that Paul Woolery fooled.

The Fly Fishing Techniques for Steelhead

  1. Staring at the Bobber – 10 to 1 the most effective way to fish for steelhead is under the indicator. Yep, arrogant dry fly dumb asses like me just have to get over the bobber thing. And I did get over it pretty quickly.  There is definitely skill involved in casting and getting a good drift on flies that can get 12 feet or even more below the bobber.   I examined the way Peter Santley rigged my 10 foot 8 weight Orvis Helios II with an indicator set up and it was quite elaborate.  They use a balsa wood indicator that is shaped like a football so that it points down to where your flies are.  that helps in mending to get a good drift.  That indicator sits between tiny little rubber “bobber stoppers” on a 6 foot section of 20 pound mono.  Those bobber stoppers allow for easy adjustment of the indicator to water depth.  It allows the guide to adjust the bobber to the depth of the holding water where the steelhead lie resting between runs up or down stream.  Below the section of 20 LB is a tippet ring.  Tied on the tippet ring is 10 or 12 pound flouro with a small weight attached then the first fly.  Below that is 6 lb flouro to the bottom fly.  For this trip the typical top fly was a rubber legs or large yellow stone fly nymph.  And the bottom fly was a size 14 copper john.

Jack and Gary throwing dries just downstream from the Lewiston “old bridge”.

  1. Swinging – Traditional steelheaders fish streamers. And most of the time on sinking lines or sinking tips.  It’s called swinging because you cast 45 degrees downstream and hang on as the fly swings across the river getting tight.  You pause at the end because when you have success it’s because the steelhead has chased it across the river and when it slows down and stops that is when you typically get the strike.  And those strikes are violent because the steelhead takes the fly in shallow water downstream from you and heads like a rocket back to it’s holding water.  Typical swinging flies for steelhead look nothing like anything in nature.  They are colorful, long and skinny.  On the pros recommendations, I used “Hobo Speys” and “Burnt Chickens” on this trip (unsuccessfully I might add).  You can use traditional single handed fly rods; typically with a sinking head or a versileader.  But, typically you use a spey rod in swinging for steelhead.  I spent a good amount of quality time in lessons with SDFF’s John Wiley who taught me how to cast a spey rod proficiently.  But, alas, my spey rod is still a virgin.  Although I have to tell you I am hooked on the spey rod thing.  Using a Double Spey cast over either shoulder I was casting 80-100 feet effortlessly…which allows you to cover a lot of water.  There is no back cast in a spey cast so you really can do it anywhere.

In any other scenario this would be a special fish. In the world of steelheading this is called a Half-Pounder.

  1. Dries – As crazy unlikely as it seems you can fish dries for steelhead. You can even skate them with a Spey Rod.  It’s quite the long shot.  I have only caught one steelhead in my lifetime on a dry and it was because of a guide, the world famous Jim Kerr of the OP on the Bogashiel river.  It was 25 years ago and I have been obsessed by it ever since.  Gary, Paul and Jack gave it their all for sure… and had as much success with dries as I did swinging.  While I was swinging the spey rod those guys were fishing “like men”: big dries.

Steelheading is often associated with bitter cold weather. and we certainly did experience that.

The Lodging

One of the pleasant surprises on this trip is the place Paul inked us to stay: The Old Lewiston Inn.  It’s a set of buildings right on the Trinity River.  It is set in the Historical part of the area from the gold rush days with most of the buildings originally built in the middle of the 19th century.  It has an awesome view of the river and of the “Old bridge”.    “Jess and Dave” are the proprietors, the most friendly people in the world.  This is the type of place where I kept saying, “My wife would just love this place.”  I will definitely coming back and staying there.

The only…and I mean only… negative was that we were looking forward to eating (and consuming large amounts of whiskey) at the fairly famous Lewiston Hotel Restaurant which is just steps from The Old Lewiston Inn.  But, darnit, the owners decided to go on a vacation the week we were there.  So, it was closed. That made going to dinner a little bit of an ordeal because we had to drive the 25 minutes to Weaverville and back for the first 3 nights.  The hot tip for eating is at the Weaverville Golf Course, “The best Prime Rib north of the Bowling Alley in Bishop is at the Golf Course Restaurant in Weaverville”, said Jack.

On the last night Jess and Dave offered to set up a BBQ for us so we could “cook at home” and we gladly took them up on it.  That’s the type of people they are.

FYI: Upstream of the old bridge fishing is closed during spawning season so we were not able to fish right in front of the hotel.  But we fished just downstream a few hundred feet from the hotel; just behind the old bridge where it was legal.  It’s great water there too for about ½ mile.  We saw steelhead; we just couldn’t fool them.

Unfortunately, we did run into poachers on this trip sightseeing up stream of the bridge.  It was a shame.

 

Our view from the rooms at the Old Lewiston Hotel

My Favorite Moment

Well, my favorite story of this trip was definitely how Jack landed a huge steelhead after losing one right at the net just an hour earlier…after fishing hard the day prior without landing any.

Why do we remember the fish we lost more than the fish we catch?  For me, my 2nd favorite moment was a big wild steelhead I snapped off and lost.  It went down like this: I had only caught a ½ pounder on the first day and it was slow.  We approached a rapid and Luke (the guide) said something like, “stick it in that soft water on the left at the edge under the bushes”.  It was only a ten foot long drift in fairly fast water so kind of a tough cast with a ten foot dropper under the indicator.  But, sure enough I got it in there and my line tightened, I set, and the big fish flashed.  I set again.  It jumped.  it was huge.  Well, I was in the back of the boat (Jack in Front) and now I was dragging the fish through the rapids behind me and it was taking a ton of line.  In the rapids Luke couldn’t slow the boat (God only knows he was trying) and anchoring was out of the question we were going so fast.  I was well into the backing when I saw a rock in the middle of the river on my right (facing backwards).  I manage to pull the fish out and around that rock back into the current.  But, my reel was still screaming as the fish was really not into taking a ride down the rapids.

It’s hard to look at the this beautiful fish with the author being so handsome

To make it worse, out of the corner of my eye on the right I could see another rock coming fast and it was bigger and taller.  The reel was screaming and two things occurred to me quickly: 1. I could spool this fish and 2. Maybe I could flip the line over the rock.  But we were now around 150 feet downstream from that steelhead and going fast through the rapid.  There was no way to flip the line.  So I pulled hard again and snap!  I broke him off.  A 10 pound fish on 6 pound flouro.  I smiled because the battle was fun.  I was not bummed because luck is a huge part of steelheading and I just happened to hook a good one in a bad place. I said, “I lost him.”  Luke looked back at me and I could see the heartbreak in his face because he couldn’t help with chasing that fish with the boat.

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

A wild steelhead like this will change your life and make you obsessed.

Summary

There are tons of different types of fly fishing in thousands of waters that are just great for beginners.  Steelheading is not for beginners.  You really need to be a skilled fly fisher to get a shot.  The guides both told us that over and over.  And when you do get a shot at the “fish of 5,000 casts”, those shots are long shots because the steelhead is hard to hook and even harder to land.  I have heard it a thousand times, “Why would you fish all day long to only get one chance of hooking a fish on a barbless hook…only to let it go?”  Add to that, most of the times you are setting on a fish that is downstream from you making your odds even worse.   Add to that if you are lucky enough to land them it’s typically hundreds of feet, if not yards up or down stream from where you hooked them with herculean head shaking jumps that frequently shake a barbless hook.  that means either chasing them on foot or in a boat.  Who would do that?  I would.  We would.  I can’t wait to do it again.

Upper Kern River End of Season 2021 Fly Fishing Report

BlackRock Trail Head -> Jordan Hot Springs -> Painters Camp

11/12/21 to 11/15/21

Mark Huckaby with just another huge Kern River Rainbow. Notice the fall colors in the background

Intro Summary

My 26 year old son Mark (the fly fishing guide from Bozeman, MT) and I caught and released over 150 Kern River Rainbows in 2 days.  It was ridiculously good fishing for the wild and native Kern River Rainbow.  I mostly fished dry/dropper with a Huck Hopper on top and Huck perdigons dropped below.  The backpacking hike in and out was not easy; in fact, it was a real challenge.

The Hike

I was “jonesing” to get a backpacking fly fishing trip in before the fishing season closed on 11/15.  With most of the forests that encompass the Upper Kern River closed, it was a real challenge to figure out how to get to the Upper Kern River.  I did hike all the way back from the forks to the Johnsondale bridge in the summer with my buddy Marty Jansen…and that was awful.  The Rincon trail is a motorcycle trail which makes it awful.  Well, sure enough Marty talked me into hiking to the Upper Kern River with 45 pounds on my back…. From the east side… the 395 side.  This time from the Blackrock Trailhead.  We were joined by fellow SDFF member and buddy Bruce Bechard and my 26 year old son, Mark, who is a fly fishing guide at my two favorite lodges in Montana: The Clark Fork Outpost and the Stillwater River Outpost.

From Left to Right: Mark Huckaby, Bruce Bechard and Marty Jansen….all smiling still because it’s the beginning of the hike down.

For over 20 years I have had a dream to access the Upper Kern River from the Eastern Side of the Sierras.  The problem is that access is just brutal.  For the first decade I hike it, I always thought backpacking the Forks of the Kern Trail was difficult.  I know now it is not.  The Blackrock Trail is difficult. I never knew how spoiled I was by the Forks of the Kern Trail until I tried accessing the Kern River miles above the Forks.  From the Forks trail I had never made it all the way up river to painters camp.  it’s a challenge just to make it to the first up river bridge crossing from the Forks, which I have fished to many times.

Well, the Blackrock Trail goes to Painters Camp on the Upper Kern River.  It’s only 8.8 miles… which doesn’t sound that bad at all.  But, it starts at 9,000 feet of elevation and you lose 3,800 feet doing it.  We did the entire 8.8 miles with 3800 feet in one hike.  Never again.  Not that the hike in was easy.  It’s steep and I had 45 pounds on my back.  but, it was sheer agony on the hike out: 6.5 hours of misery.  The altitude and steepness was one thing.  But, doing it in November meant many parts of the trail were iced over or snow covered.  Bruce went down 3 times…and it was so slippery he had trouble getting back up.

From the Blackrock Trailhead you hike to Casa Vieja Meadow.  From there you hike steeply downhill to  Jordan hot springs in a canyon that follows 9 mile creek.  And from Jordan Hot Springs it’s a brutal downhill single track, through canyons and miles of fire damage that make it look like the moon down to the river.  In hindsight we should have broken the trip out into 2 days.

Was that hike worth it?…

The fishing

I’m not a counter, but my son Mark is.  That is what guides do for their clients.  That is how I know Mark and I caught and released over 150 Kern River Rainbows in two days. The fishing…my god… It was stupid good fishing.  Most of the time, I fished a large Huck Hopper on top and trailed them with Huck Perdigons.  And yes, I did catch most of the fish on the Huck Perdigons.   I’d guess 75% of the fish i caught were on the Huck Midge Perdigon, size 16.  But, it was November and I did catch a number of fish on size 4 Huck Hoppers.  Where else in the western hemisphere can you consistently catch fish in mid-November on huge hoppers?  During the witching hour as the sun went down i fished size 18 BWOs right in front of camp.  And did well.  At that time of year, other than the midge, the Blue Winged Olive Mayfly would be the only hatch on the Upper Kern.  There were plenty of double hook-ups on this trip and Bruce even caught 2 at once!

And yes, we did pack waders and wading boots into our backpacks…worth every ounce at this time of year.  Understand 150 means fish landed.  The Kern River Rainbow is wild and native.  I have written this many times: The Kern River Rainbow fights like hell and they just don’t give up.  I cannot tell you how many fish I hooked, but failed to land….which is normal for that river.

Does this stretch look like dry fly paradise or what?! just upstream from camp i caught a 19″ KRR just about 200 feet upstream from Mark

The reason?  Well, I have my speculations that I will share with you:

  1. These fish have not seen an artificial fly in a year and a half and most won’t for over 2 years. The fire closures just have made it really hard for “normal humans” to get into the upper kern to fish.
  2. I have now fly fished 4 end of season (11/15) closings on the Upper Kern River. And I have killed every time.  I believe the trout just know that winter is coming and the food supply is about to grind to a halt so they go nuts feeding in anticipation of a long miserable winter.
  3. The River is always low in November. It’s crossable and there just are not many places the fish can hide from a good cast with a good drift.
  4. I think it’s also interesting to note that this part of the river is in a steep canyon which makes the days at this time of year super short. We didn’t see the sun until after 8am and lost it around 2:30 pm.  Fishing NOT in direct sunlight could help.
  5. A winter spawn? There are rainbows that spawn in the winter…like the Steelhead.  But, Kern River Rainbows are Spring Spawners.  Some of the fish we were catching looked like spawning males because of the colors.  They were dark and colorful not like the chromers we catch in the summer and fall.  Lately I challenge myself to see how quickly I can hook a trout, get it to hand and release it.  I wish I would have taken more pictures.  I also noticed what I thought were spawning behaviors.  I caught one decent sized fish and a huge fish followed it in.  that is normal, of course.  But, what wasn’t normal was this 2 footer was nuzzling next to my hooked fish side to side like a male trout lines up next to a female on a redd. I watched this behavior 3 times before I released my fish.

Notice a few things in the video above.  Firstly, the colors of the rainbow i have hooked.  then look closely at the huge 2 foot+ rainbow following it.  normally i wouldn’t have played that fish so long in front of me.  But, i was fascinated by the behavior as if they were in spawning mode.

My favorite stories from the trip:

  • On the first day Mark and I fished up river from where we camped. Bruce and Marty fished downriver to Marty’s favorite runs at Kern Flats.  Well, within a couple miles of fishing Mark and I wandered into the series of Waterfalls we had heard about.  We had already done really well.  Hiking above the first waterfall was pretty easy on the eastern side.  I watched and took pictures as Mark nailed some nice fish “between the falls”.  But, for the life of me I cannot figure out how fish got into that pool.  It’s well documented that waterfalls are natural barriers that prevent fish from moving up and down river.  And somehow they figure out how to do it. But, it was after 2:30PM and the sun was already behind the canyon walls.  I stared at that huge waterfall trying to figure out how to get around it for the next days’ adventure.  We decided we’d scale it from the west side because there was a huge bolder scree on the east side that looked impenetrable – big mistake.

  • Well, Marty joined Mark and I on the next day. The plan was to hike all the way to the falls and scale it, and start fishing from above.  It took an hour to scale that mountain and it was quite physical and relatively dangerous in spots.  After fishing, we took the trail on the way back to camp.  The trail goes way away from the river and up and over the mountain, but it was easier than the way we climbed in.  But, in between, my God the fishing was good.  Mark and I approached a run that was shaded by trees on both sides.  Like normal I said, “Do you want the head or the tail?”  He took the head.  Within seconds he was battling a big fish.  That big fish is the first picture in this article.  Well, I moved into the river below him where I could cast straight up stream into the run.  I caught a couple quickly.  Mark moved on up river on the assumption that big fish put the pool down.  I told you I’m not a counter but, this run was so prolific I counted…because I caught a fish on almost every cast.  At 14 landed and 2 LDR’d I laughed, left and caught up with Mark.

Fly Fishing the Upper Kern River is not for the faint of heart. There was no river trail in most of the areas we fished.

Sidebar from Mark Huckaby 

“On the way down the mountain I knew nymphing was going to be our best option not only because the time of the season.  But also because the introduction of the perdigon to the fly fishing industry has everyone confident in fishing the winter months (at least that is the case in Montana). Because my dad refuses to nymph and always starts with a dry fly.  When we got to camp he started fishing dry and alas, fish were rising. The next few days we were lucky enough to experience some of the best dry fly fishing I’ve ever experienced in November. The type of fishing where your hands start hurting because you’re catching so many fish. If you’re like me and like to switch it up. I recommend tossing a streamer in the big pools we found. A green, brown, or yellow wooly bugger seemed to do the trick and it was awesome to get chased by the native Kern River rainbows. It seemed like every time you casted into those pools a bunch of little fish would swim right up to check it out. The waterfall created many big deep pools for me to attack; perfect for streamers. To get the big fish, cast up into the white water, let your bugger sink very close to the bottom and strip back quickly.”

Here’s Mark changing out streamers beneath a small waterfall

Summary

Would I do this again?  Was it worth that awful hike out?  absolutely yes.  I’d do almost anything for that type of success in fly fishing for wild natives. But, next time I’ll break up that hike out into two days with an overnight at Jordon hot springs.  And even then that hike from Jordon Hot Springs to the trailhead is pretty gruesome.  Also 3 nights with only 2 fishing days for that amount of hike is too short.  It should be at least a 4 nighter.  Adding that night hiking out makes it a 5 nighter.

Here’s Mark battling just above “Marty’s Hole”. i swear i watched Marty yank 10+ fish out of that hole.

Special thanks to “Steve Ojai”, aka Steve Schalla, aka owner of www.flyfishingthesierra.com for the help on how to pull this backpacking trip off.  Steve was so kind to provide much of the guidance we needed.  Steve has fished this part of the river many times.  We used Steve’s map of the area religiously on this trip.  After the trip I talked to Steve in email.  He speculated the spawning behaviors and colors may have been confused trout as a result of the sudden drop in river temperature.