Category Archives: Trip Reports

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.

 

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

 

 

Lower Madison River and Glow in the Dark Huck Flies

January 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glow in the dark flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fly Fishing Ecuador

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador

November 10, 2018

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Campuchoca – aggressive takes no matter how big the streamer is

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador


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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

just another big rainbow caught and released at Campuchoca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun at Campuchoca. Email me a full report.

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

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

A big Kern River Rainbow scampering away angry after release

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Highlights:

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

And Backpacking Gear Review

October 20-23, 2017

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

I have backpacked the Forks of the Kern Trail to the awesome fly fishing of the upper Kern River over a dozen times since my very first backpacking trip 7 years ago in August of 2011.  I have been in the Spring a few times and in the Summer many times.  But, I had never been able to go in the Fall; until now.  The shocking thing for me and the group of 9 guys that joined me (ages 12 to mid-sixties) was the colors.  I was shocked to see all the yellow and orange in the trees…and not just aspens.  I had never seen anything in the trees but green in the many years of visiting the Forks.  So beautiful.

DSCF0258

The Upper Kern River crew:

  • Sean McElroy and my son Mark
  • Aaaron Eagleton and his dad (who’s story I featured in California Fly Fisher Magazine)
  • Steve Franco (Aaron’s uncle)
  • Me
  • Martin Loef and Steve Ray (backpacking and wilderness gurus)
  • Larry French (my cousin and life long friend of Martin)
  • Not Pictured: The world famous Warren Lew who took the picture

 The most fun for me was that my son Mark was part of the group.  I have not got to fish with him in a while.  He’s a stick, toning his skills a couple years in Bozeman.  He’s 22 now and I just don’t get as much father-son q-time as I’d like.  At 22 I didn’t hang with my dad too much either.  I regret that now.

As for the fishing this was one of those trips where the fishing matched Solunar theory perfectly.  The first day the fly fishing was good; the 2nd day was average; the 3rd day was not so good.

solunar-kern

These screenshots are from the app, “Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro”.  I have mentioned this app in this blog before.  It’s a godsend.  The regular version is free.  The Pro version is worth every penny of its $2.99 cost.  I use it religiously….although solunar theory is not bullet proof, it does help.  It certainly helped on this trip matching up perfectly to the quality of fishing.  Get it in your apple or google app store.

Backpacking Gear Review

Before I get into the fishing report let me provide some guidance (from an old guy fly fisherman’s perspective) in terms of a backpacking gear review for my fellow fly fishers.  7 years ago when I started backpacking as a means to get to fly fishing I acquired gear in the exact same way many of us fly fisherman buy fly fishing gear when we start fly fishing.  When I started fly fishing 25 years ago I bought the cheapest stuff.  I bought a $60 Cabela’s rod with a $30 Cabela’s reel.  My waders were the cheapest neoprene Cabela’s waders.  As the years progressed, technology helped the fly fishing industry just like it has helped every industry. I started replacing my cheap fly fishing stuff with the latest and greatest stuff.  The best $100 I ever spent was on the Simms Waders that have the zipper.  If you are male over 40 you know what I mean…  Well, when I started backpacking I bought the cheapest stuff too.  And that means the heaviest stuff and the stuff most apt to break down quickly.  The difference, though, between backpacking and fly fishing is that the technology curve is on hockey stick growth in backpacking.  There is just only so much technology, especially electronic technology that you can throw at fly fishing gear.  But, in backpacking….the sky is the limit.  And I am a technology guy.  So I purchased 4 new backpacking gear items for this trip.  And now that it’s over I could kick myself for not doing it years ago.  Because this stuff was worth every penny.

Check out the colors on this monster Kern River Rainbow I fooled

Check out the colors on this monster Kern River Rainbow I fooled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a summary of the 4 items I purchased and used for the first time on this trip:

Osprey Aether AG 70 Backpack – The 7 years of hard use on my Gregory back pack and its eventual failure was the impetus of all these purchases.  I’d say I got my money out of that Gregory.  I bought it on SierraTradingPost.com for under $100.  The arm straps finally ripped to the point of giving out.  After doing the research I was pleased to see how technical the backpacks had become and how light they are.  From experience I knew I needed a 60-70 liter pack to handle the 1 to 5 night backpacking treks I typically do.  There was one pack and one company that really stands out at the leader in my research.  I convinced myself I deserved the top of the line so that is what I got: The Osprey Aether AG 70.  You can’t argue with “Winner of Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award for 2017” … So light (5lbs 6oz); so comfortable.  I didn’t get the pain in my shoulders after an hour hiking like I always did with my old pack.  This pack balanced perfectly and has this special technology that keeps the pack away from your back so it ventilates.  It has tons of features and gets ridiculously good reviews on the internet.  But, for me, (and for you fly fishers) the best feature of this pack is the top lid that converts to a daypack.  Yes, you snap off the top of the pack and it’s a smaller backpack big enough for all your fishing stuff, food, water, a jacket and more.  I didn’t have to bring a separate lightweight fly fishing hip pack because of this feature.  The retail for this pack is $310 and it’s worth every penny.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am with this pack.

Big Agnes Flycreek HV 2 platinum Tent –  Ok, I don’t deserve this tent like I deserve the Osprey Aether AG 70 BackPack.  This tent is pretty much way too nice for me.  I’m officially backpacking spoiled now.  This tent is expensive at a retail price of $549.95.  And there is a reason for that.  Like my dad always said, “in life you typically get what you pay for.”  It’s huge for a backpacking tent: it’s a 2 man tent with a really high ceiling.  It’s super easy to set up.  But it’s number one feature and why I’m so pleased with it: The trail weight for this tent is 1lb 10oz.  I’m not kidding.  When I handed that tent to others…and I did it numerous times, it induces shock on how light it is.  And usually a shake of the head.  My cheapo tiny single tent I have used for 7 years weighs 4 times as much as this tent at 1/3rd of the size.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am to save almost 5 pounds with this tent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System –  This little device is the best kept secret in the backpacking industry.  Buy the .5 liter version of this now at a retail price of $40 and you will thank me.  I have watched countless backpackers struggle with large bulky water filtration pumps over the years.  That is why I have been a Steripen fan for years.  I have owned two of them.  Their customer service is awesome and their device is awesome.  They even replaced the bulb in one of my older Steripens so I could get more years out of it.  I have used my steripens all over the world and will continue to.  But, for the Kern…and frankly many of the rivers in the US, the Katadyn Befree removes just as much bad stuff native to US waters like giardia.  But it also filters out everything but the water.  All the little pieces of plant material, dirt, etc. the SteriPen uses ultra-violent light to kill the bad stuff.  It’s a wand you wave in the water for 2 long minutes.  The Katadyn BeFree filters the water.  You just scoop up the river and start drinking.  No waving wands, no pumping, no hassle.  With the steripen I always carried around 1.5 liters of river that eventually got warm.  With the Katadyn BeFree you just scoop up cold water and start drinking.  That means you can literally throw away the water you don’t want.  It’s cleans really easy too. The Steripen weighs 5 ozs.  The Katadyn Befree packs down to tiny and it only weighs 2 oz.  There is a reason it won BackPacker Magazine’s 2017 Editor’s Choice Award.

Big Agnes Helinox Ridgeline FL135 Trekking Poles – The lord didn’t give me much, but, he did give me the “goat gene”.  I’m agile.  I always have been. It’s just in my genetics.  I always assumed trekking poles were for the non-agile that needed stability.  I met a young backpacker in a prior trip to the Kern, Kyle Focht, that set me straight on how trekking poles are more than that.  More than agility and stability, trekking poles also help you to power up hill.  I tried my wife’s trekking poles on a trip in august and was shocked how much they helped.  I knew then I had to get my own.  These FL 135s are my very first trekking poles, so they are good ones, but not the top of the line.  They are made from aluminum, yet less than a pound in weight.  Btw, they also serve very well as a wading staff.

When all was said and done with my new purchases, I had saved close to 10 pounds in load weight.  Like I said before.  I wish I had done this years ago.

The devishly handsome author using his trekking poles as a wading staff crossing the Little Kern River.

The devilishly handsome author using his trekking poles as a wading staff crossing the Little Kern River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Report

Friday, October 20 – We got an early start on the hike in.  We made it to camp late morning and set up tents, made wood, etc.  In the haste to set up all the beginners with dry dropper rigs and at the same time do a satellite text message to tell my wife had made it, I forgot to zip the pocket with my phone in my shirt.  When I bent over the river to put the food and booze in to keep it cold my phone popped out and sank 18” to the riverbed.  I cussed a storm because that would be the 6th or 7th iphone I have lost to a river or lake.  I was in no haste to pull it back out so I secured the food first and then fished it from the bottom.  It has happened to me so many times before; even twice in the Kern; that I knew it was toast.  At least at the time I thought it was…

We got camp set up and were fishing by lunch time.  I did well.  I swear I would have caught 20+ fish in 6 hours that day if I wasn’t guiding and tying lost flies back on the rigs of the 4 beginners we had on the trip.  In reality though, my most fun of the trip was guiding and doing exactly that.  I’d rather pull flies out of trees and guide a beginner to a fish than catch a fish myself any time.  In any event I caught a dozen quality fish in the 2-3 hours I fished.  I did get a few takes on my size 4 huck hopper.  But, I failed to hook any of them.  Most of my takes were on a large black stonefly nymph imitation.  That is a staple fly of the upper kern.

Check out the size 10 stonefly hanging out of this unlucky rainbow’s face

Check out the size 10 stonefly hanging out of this unlucky rainbow’s face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 21st – what I remember most from this day was me hooking another fish and hearing mark from a distance say, “Damnit”.  That’s not like him to be frustrated.  He was mostly hanging with his buddy Sean, guiding him because he was a beginner, for the first day and a half.  btw, Sean caught two fish on this trip.  that is pretty good for a beginner.  Anyways I’m guessing the guiding had to weigh on the frustration a little.  So, that was my opening to help him out…and spend some q-time with him.  We spent the next couple hours together and I didn’t fish at all.  I simply did the “guide thing” and made a number of suggestions and changes to his flies and approach.  Thank God for me those suggestions worked for Mark.  Mark started catching fish and was the big winner that day.  He caught 3 quality fish with me while I was with him.  And for the rest of the trip he did well.  I learned at the end of the day when we all got back together at camp that some of the other guys did not do well.  I had that dwindling solunar performance in the back of my mind and feared what the next day would bring…or wouldn’t bring.

Sunday, October 22nd – We hiked for an hour up river, over the mountain, before we started fishing.  It’s something I have always wanted to do, but never had people with me that were willing to do it…and to go with it the brutal 5 mile hike back to camp after a long day of fishing.  Frankly it’s hard for me to do this because you pass miles and miles of awesome water in the process.  They say….well, I say, “the farther up river you go the better the fishing gets.”  And it makes sense since the fish up river just don’t see the artificial flies like the ones near the confluence.  Unfortunately my fear of the solunar prediction was realized; it was slow…  I think I fished and hour without a take.  And I was getting good drifts.  That is pretty rare for me on the Upper Kern no matter what the conditions.  I wanted to say I couldn’t understand what changed in terms of hatches, but I did have that solunar theory thing in the back of my mind.  I usually can figure out what the fish are eating if you give me a couple hours, but there were few bugs in the air and nothing rising and nothing being spooked and nothing worked for me.  I went hours without a single take.

I caught up to mark and that is when I saw it and laughed; an impressed laugh.  He was standing on a huge rock, close to 10 feet above the water level.  He was in front of a long deep bend in the river.  He had a gap in the trees behind him big enough for a back cast.  So, he was making 50 foot single hauls to the opposite side of the river with a dry/dropper rig.  I wish I was close enough to video it.  It was impressive.  Plus I could see him long distance mending so I can’t imagine the drift was easy.  He sure has become a great cast.  I was still 100 yards away when he hooked up on a big fish.  He battled it for longer than what I would deem normal and brought it to hand and showed me from distance after I screamed, “Woo!” from 100 yards away.  It looked huge.  I guessed over 20”. When I got to him he said, “17”.

 

Mark Huckaby doing the 50 foot single haul to the opposite side of the river with his buddy Sean fishing the head

Mark Huckaby doing the 50 foot single haul to the opposite side of the river with his buddy Sean fishing the head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still hadn’t landed a fish that day, though.  And slowly I found out no one but Mark had either.  So, slowly but surely everyone started their long treks back to camp except for me.  I found myself at Kern Flats (which I believe is over 6 miles from our camp) in front of the famous bend which is always good for at least one fish…and nothing.  It was getting late in the day and I knew I had at least a 1.5 hour hike back to the site, skunked.  That is when I said myself, “if I am going to get skunked I’m going down with size 18 dries.”  As I walked back I found Mark and Sean in “their hole” and told them to check in with me on their walk back so I wouldn’t worry. Half of the way back to camp was one of my favorite runs I walked by earlier in the day without fishing it.  It took me a while to get there.  Mark and Sean caught me as I tied on some 5x to the end of my leader, then a light colored size 18 mayfly imitation that was similar to a random handful of naturals I had seen during the day.  They moved on, hiking back to camp.  I moved into position to cast, which meant rock hopping my way closer to the middle of the river so I could get a cast.  I stared out in front of me at the run hoping to see rises where I had seen them so many times in years past….nothing.  From my rock I had to make a simple 30 foot cast straight up stream.  First cast…whack!  6” incher.  Nice.  I fished for 10 minutes and got struck on almost every cast.  I had landed 4 to 12” before mangling my leader because of my quickly tied poor knot when I tied on the tippet.  So, I cut it off and said to myself, “if I can catch my fifth on what is essentially a 6 foot 0x leader, I’ll call it a total success and head back to camp. I had to nip the leader at an angle just to thread the size 18 hook.  Success; 10” er.  I would have loved to stay and whack 20 trout after that full day of being skunked, but walking back that far to camp alone in the dark in that part of the sierras is not smart.  So, I took off happy.  And then it occurred to me.  We had not caught a single fish in front of camp yet.  And we had all fished it hard for 3 days. That that is one of the most prolific spots on the river.  I said to myself, when I get back to camp I’ll throw 5 casts to see if I can break the skunk there.  It was a long 45 minute brisk hike back up and over the mountain.  As I approached the camp all the guys already had whiskeys and were trading the day’s stories.  I looked at Mark with a smile and held 5 fingers up.  He said, “We heard you shout.  We knew you are on.”  I explained to the guys what happened and said, I have to try it here.  So I wandered 50 feet down to the river.  First cast, whack!  I shouted “Woo!” and some of the guys ran over.   After landing the fish I handed the rod to my cousin Larry French and said, “take over”  I headed for a backpacking chair with whiskey and he got a strike too with Warren guiding him.

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

Through a matter of circumstances, I hiked out alone.  I like to do that at the Forks.  I like to push myself.  I made it from camp to the crossing of the little Kern in good time.  My goal was to hike the 2 miles and 1100 feet up and out of the canyon in under an hour.  With my new trekking poles I was pretty confident.  1:04 – that is pretty good for an old guy.

It was a great trip and fun was had by all.  The real bummer for me is November 15 and the winter looms.  That ends the fishing season for most of California until Spring.  It’s back into the man cave to tie hundreds of flies for the hundreds lost this season for me.

There were quality fish hooked, landed and there were frustrations with trees and slow times.  I honestly believe we learn from our entire experience on the river: from the most advance fly fishers like me to total beginners we are always getting better whether we are catching fish or not.

I believe a totally fun trip was had by all.  I’d love to make that an annual trip with that group.

The view of the flat water on approach to “Huckaby Camp”

The view of the flat water on approach to “Huckaby Camp”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My iPhone: You are not going to believe this.  On that first day we put my iphone in a plastic bag with the silicon desiccant packs from backpacking food and let it sit in the sun for 3 days.  It worked.  I didn’t even try to turn it on during the trip.  When I got to my truck after the hike out I plugged it in and it came right up.  When I finally got to signal an hour later in Kernville all the txts and emails flooded in.

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report – August 25-28, 2017

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report

Forks of the Kern Trail Head

August 25-28

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.