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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Tommy Fishing the deep pools from a high advantage point

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Another big Kern River Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Abby with one of her Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Forks of the Kern Fly Fishing Report – Fall 2017 Version

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.

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The Upper Kern River crew:

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

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

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

solunar-kern

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

Backpacking Gear Review

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Report

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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