Category Archives: Upper Kern River

The Hybridization of the Kern River Rainbow

The Kern River Rainbow

This article is about the spread and hybridization of non-native trout species to the upper sections of the Kern River.  Let me be clear: this increase and hybridization of nonnative species makes the fly fishing even better.  With more species in the river there are more trout to catch.  With more little trout being hatched, more bigger trout are eating them and getting huge.  The great fly fishing in last few seasons of fly fishing on the Upper Kern certainly prove that.  The fly fishing on the Upper Kern River has been nothing short of spectacular.  The concern to many is that the Upper Kern River is one of the few places left in the world that only contains wild native trout…. A pureness that has not been “ruined” by the stocking of non-native fish.

Notice the white tipped fins and the faint par marks on the lateral line

The Kern River Rainbow is special.  It is classified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  The upper Kern River is also special. From the Forks of the Kern upstream to Tyndall Creek is a designated Heritage and Wild Trout Water.

At the end October ’22, on the annual “Couples Backpacking Trip to the Forks”, my wife Kelly caught and released a large rainbow on the Upper Kern River just short of Kern Flats.  It was a beautifully colored fish.  But, other than a glance I barely looked at it.  That is typical of me. In my haste to get the hook out of its face and take the trophy shot and get the fish back into the river unharmed and healthy as quickly as possible I failed to notice something interesting.  And concerning to many.  I didn’t notice that it was most likely a male fish in spawn. 

Well, one of the couples on this trip (Micah & Dasha) love to eat the trout when backpacking.  So, legally, they harvested two trout.  I’m not weird about that.  Just like I’m not weird about conventional tackle fishermen like some fly fishers are.  I just don’t like the taste of a wild native Kern River rainbow.  To me, they taste like bugs…. which, of course, is mostly what they eat. My wife Kelly likes to eat them to as does her buddy Mere.  So I do a recipe where I poach the hell out of them wrapped in foil over an open flame in olive oil, white wine, lemon and seasonings that does it’s best to take that gamey taste away… but, it really doesn’t.  I have documented it in my stories on this site a few times. 

Well, in the process of preparing the fish for the frying pan Micah says to me, “Do you want to eat some of the eggs?”   “Eggs?” I thought to myself.  “It’s October.  Kern River rainbows are springtime spawners.  Huh?”.  There are plenty of rainbow trout that are fall and winter spawning fish.  The Upper Owens River is a testament to that.  And those trout in the Upper Owens are all nonnative stocked fish that have turned wild.  They come out of Crowley Lake and up the river to spawn.  Most of those rainbow species in Crowley (and there are a number of rainbow trout species in that lake) come up the Owens River to spawn in the winter.

Well, I wrote up the story of that trip here.  And on the very top of that story is that now fairly infamous picture of my wife Kelly with that fish.  Here it is:

Notice the lack of spots below the lateral line and none on the face

Steve Schalla, my friend, authority of fly fishing in the sierra, and owner of https://www.flyfishingthesierra.com/ – the ultimate resource for the fly fisher who wants to learn how to fish the sierra, saw that picture and said to me, paraphrasing, “Tim, look closely at that trout.  It’s a hybridized fish.  It barely has any Kern River Rainbow in it.  Notice the lack of spots below the lateral line.  Also notice the lack of spots on the face.  Also notice the sparse, large spots on that fish.  A Kern River Rainbow has small, peppery spots which are profuse over most of the body and on the fins.”

I pulled this straight from Steve’s site, and you can find it directly on the “interweb” at Steve’s site here:

Distinguishing Characteristics
The Kern River Rainbow can be distinguished by irregularly shaped spots that are both above and below the lateral line. The spots decrease as the extend towards the belly. Coloration is similar to the Coastal Rainbow trout, however the Kern River Rainbow has a distinct red stripe with faint parr marks along the lateral line. The dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins have a white tip. You will also find orange tints along the belly.

The Kern River Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss gilberti) is a subspecies of the Kern River Golden Trout. The Golden Trout are thought to be derived from the rainbows that were isolated about 70,000 years ago by both glacial and tectonic activity. It is suspected that 10,000 years ago, Redband Rainbows or Coastal Rainbows migrated from the Northern Sacramento Basin to the Kern River System by way of the San Joaquin drainage into Lake Tulare. This was a period of very wet climate conditions. The Redbands hydridized with the Kern River Goldens to produce an unique subspecies, the Kern River Rainbow. This fish had a distinctive “rainbow trout” appearance with the coloration and spotting pattern but retained the “Golden Trout” aspect with the distinctive, yet fading, Parr Marks and Red Stripe along it’s lateral line.
Much of the integrity of this subspecies has been lost within the Kern River system due to stocking of hatchery-bred rainbow trout throughout the 1900’s. Only since 1990, has non-native trout stocking been discontinued. Recent genetic testing indicates that the purest strains of Kern River Rainbows occurs in the Kern River from the confluence of Durrwood Creek (5 miles below the confluence of the Little Kern River) to the headwaters in Sequoia National Park. These Kern River Rainbows are genetically distinct from the other rainbows found further downstream. Genetic sampling found that the rianbows below Johnsondale Bridge have hybridized with stocked rainbows to such an extent that they could no longer be considered “Kern River Rainbows”.
Pure strains of Kern River Rainbows are being reared at the Kern River Hatchery in Kernville. A program is in place to re-introduce these pure strains into its historical range and keep non-native trout out of the upper river.

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Trends

I’m not a scientist; I’m not a fish biologist.  What am I is someone who is fascinated by the biology of the Kern River and its surrounding ecosystem.  So, I read and study and listen to experts as much as I can about it.  I am also someone that has fished the Upper Kern River for ~25 years.  And because of that I notice trends.

It appears to me that this hybridization of the pure strained Kern River rainbow with stocked fish is a trend that seems to be spreading farther and farther up river each year.

Another trend I have noticed is the lack of fight in some of the fish I catch and release.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said out loud and on this site, “Nothing Fights like a Kern River Rainbow.”  The Kern River Rainbow does numerous aerial acrobatic jumps and they just don’t give up.  But over last season I really did notice fish with the lack of vigor typical of a nonnative stocked fish.

Additionally, one of the trends I have noticed over time is the amount of brown trout in the Upper Kern River.  Brown Trout are not native to the Kern River.  They are not even native to the United States. When I first started fishing the Upper Kern it was unheard of to catch a brown trout in the Upper Kern.  15 years ago I’d catch maybe 1 brown out of every 250 trout I’d catch.  10 years ago that ratio was down to 100-1.  I swear for the last couple seasons it’s more like 50-1.  Shoot, I even caught a large brown right in front of the huck site.

How did stocked nonnative trout get in the Upper Kern River?

Before I attempt to explain this little “chestnut” let me talk about the sections of the river relevant: 

  • Section #4 is from Riverside Park in Kernville up to Hydroelectric Powerhouse #3 run by Southern California Edison (SCE)
  • Section #5 is from Powerhouse #3 to the Fairview Dam
  • Section #6 is from Fairview Dam to Brush Creek which is .6 miles short of the Johnsondale Bridge.
  • It is generally accepted that the Upper Kern section starts at the Johnsondale bridge and goes for over 60 miles to the river’s headwaters at Lake South America (which helps to drain Mount Whitney).

It’s well known and publicly published on the California Fish and Game site here that that the lower, downstream sections of the river (4&5) get stocked with nonnative trout.  That huge amount of fish planting supports a number of businesses in Kernville and the surrounding areas.  It written that CDFW tries to plant only triploid trout within these sections. A triploid is a fish that has been genetically engineered not to spawn.  So, all the energy that is used for spawning goes into making them get big quickly.  It’s great for the catch and keep traditional gear fishers and the sporting industry.  But, as a fly fisherman if you have ever caught a 8 lb triploid, you know it’s like pulling dead weight.  Hatchery fish, so crowded, eroding their fins on narrow cement lined pens has not been a recipe for success…. Especially in California. That is well documented.  Interestingly enough, The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has the only captive California Golden Trout brood stock program in the world….Wyoming!  How embarrassing for us Californians.  It’s also interesting that most folks in the science and fly fishing communities of the rockies believe that there is no such thing as a pure strained Yellowstone Cutthroat anymore.  It has succumbed to hybridization.

A few years back there was an attempt to rear pure strained brood stock Kern River Rainbows at the Kern River Hatchery. But, those fish succumbed to disease and had to be destroyed.  Disease is a common story for hatchery fish. 

So, with a man-made impediment in the Fairview dam preventing the hatchery stocked nonnative trout in sections 4 & 5 from moving up to the Upper Kern River.  And plenty of natural impediments in terms of waterfalls and class 5 & 6 rapids between the Johnsondale bridge and the confluence of the Little Kern River and the Main Fork (north) of the Kern River (commonly called “the forks”) in the way.  Then how the hell are nonnative, planted trout appearing 40 miles upriver?

Well, the short answer is that the experts assume nonnative trout were occasionally planted above the Fairview dam at the Johnsondale bridge at some point in the last 125 years.  But, there is no evidence nor documentation that I can find to that fact.  There, is, however plenty of documentation of nonnative trout being planted in the many tributaries of the Upper Kern River from the Western side of the Sierra.  In fact, there is documentation of once instance where a dozen or so women rode horse back to Upper Peppermint creek (~10 miles from the trailhead of the Forks of the Kern) and planted brown trout fingerlings around 100 years ago.  That would explain how brown trout are appearing and getting more prolific through time.  That is what brown trout do.  Just look at how they have taken over the Lower Owens River.  So seeing more and more brown trout in the upper Kern River is concerning to me.

“Honey, I’m going hunting. Do you mind grabbing your girlfriends and a bunch of the horses and carrying these little fish in buckets for 40 or so miles and pour them into peppermint creek so I can fish for them next summer?”

But get this: Many scientists believe hybridization could have occurred naturally: through a natural invasion of coastal rainbow trout.  And consequently, hybridization could simply be a natural process.  There are plenty of examples in nature of cross breeding.

In recent years, the California Dept of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) conducted surveys in search of pure strained Kern River rainbow trout. Genetic studies found a population in a headwater lake to Big Arroyo which is on the High Sierra trail at an altitude above 10 thousand feet. Those pure strained Kern River Rainbows we the ones attempted at the Kern River Hatchery. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful. An Upper Kern Basin Fishery Management Plan was written by CDFW to restore, protect, and enhance the native Kern River rainbow trout populations and prevent them from becoming an endangered species. The execution of that plan has yet to be realized.

Call to Action

Let’s be clear: Hybridization is not something that is fixable in a legitimate, let alone humane way.  You can only slow it down.  And one may not even want to fix it. Plenty of states including my own have done the “kill everything, then plant hatchery born pure strains.”  But, you can imagine the complications and risk for failure in that tactic.  Nature has a way.  Even if it’s not natural. 

Every year for the last 10 or so I have fished the Upper Kern at the end of the season.  I have documented it well on this site. The fishing season closes on November 15th.  But, the weather makes it miserable for the backpacker.  This trip is not for the faint of heart because even if it’s not snowing or raining, the nighttime temps can dip into the teens.  The fishing, however, is always spectacular.  Now I know one of the reasons why.  Much of the great fishing has to do with the spawn of the non-natives.  Male trout get really stupid during a spawn.

So, after that October 2022 couples trip I was motivated and inspired to pay special attention to catching nonnatives during the November end of season backpacking / fly fishing trip.  By this time, that picture of Kelly and my stories and discussion had spread to CA DFG, CalTrout, Trout Unlimited and numerous people from the relevant forest districts.  I had email threads going a mile long with the good folks interested in the state of hybridization. 

The ask was simple.  Me and some of my expert level fly fishing buddies were to pay special attention to and document what we caught and released.  Documentation was defined as the picture of the trout, where it was caught, and the date and time it was caught.  Today’s smartphones stamp each picture with a lat/long in addition to the date/time so the “where and when” would be easy.  Our lack of photography skills would be the issue, but seemingly not too difficult to overcome.

Armed with an excel spreadsheet provided by the Forest District we would also have a column where we would estimate the mostly hybridized and/or nonnatives, barely hybridized or pure strained and document that.  Not a scientific process at all.  Just a gut feel from some fly fisherman.  But, this would be valuable research (and generally interesting) before a massive genetic testing effort occurs… which I imagine is in the works soon.  For me, the most exciting, interesting part of this trip was that we were going to fish and document above the giant waterfall that is around a mile upstream from Painters Camp.  It’s 200, maybe 300 feet tall.  Getting around it requires a death defying climb up the west side, which of course, I have been stupid enough to do.  Or following a trail that goes over 2 miles and almost a mile away from the river on the east side.  If you stare at that waterfall you would say, “There is no way in hell a trout can make it up that thing.”  But, mother nature has a way.

So what did amateur field biology project to see the effects of trout hybridization in the Upper Kern River yeild?  Nothing.  The snowstorms of mid November 2022 prevented us from even getting to the Forks trailhead.  I was fine with driving my tundra in 4WD in 2-3 feet of snow on roads not plowed.  We got within 4.5 miles of the trailhead.  there were some awesome huge boulders on the road we had to navigate around.  Ultimately, we were forced to stop in front of a giant tree, felled on the road by the storm.  We didn’t even attempt to budge it.  The tree lying on the ground was taller than me.  We couldn’t push or pull it with the trucks because it landed perpendicular on the road.  Darn.   

You can see the felled tree in the way off in the distance.

So the mission is planned for spring / early summer.  And since it seems like we are going to have the biggest winter in California snowpack history it may be end of July before we can get in there to do the amateur field biology project to see the effects of trout hybridization in the Upper Kern River.  If you are interested in participating in the project, either as part of my group or on your own then email me from the contact page on this site.  

Sources:

Sections of the Kern River, July 31, 2022 by Arnold Lynn

https://www.dependablepickup.com/what-are-the-sections-of-the-kern-river/

California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Kern River Rainbow

https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Fishes/Kern-River-Rainbow-Trout

https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Inland/Kern-River-Rainbow-Trout

Steve Schalla’s Fly Fishing the Sierra

https://flyfishingthesierra.com/upperkern_lk.htm

https://www.flyfishingthesierra.com/kernrain.htm

Wyoming Game and Fish

Wyoming Game and Fish Department – Wyoming Wildlife Magazine

California Fish and Game Fish Planting Schedule of the Kern River

https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FishPlants/Default.aspx?county=Kern

THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON COMPANY KERN RIVER 3 HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT REVISED SEDIMENT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/water_quality_cert/docs/kern3_ferc2290/kern3_wqcert.pdf

How I Tie the Huck Hopper

I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked to make a video of how I tie the Huck Hopper.  Well, I have finally motivated so here it is.

Over the years, I have sold a gazillion huck hoppers off the timhuckaby.com site.  People adore this thing.  I adore this thing.  I have caught fish on the huck hopper all over the world.  But, many of you fly tyers want to tie it yourself.  I get it.  Fly fishing incorporates a lot of pleasures intermingled with some frustration and even pain.  And one of those pleasures is fooling a fish on a fly that you tied yourself.

I call my home water the Upper Kern River even though it is 300 miles north of where I live.  I have taught many many people how to fly fish on the Upper Kern River.  Shoot, my son Mark is a fly fishing guide in Bozeman and he cut his teeth on the Upper Kern.  My favorite stretch of the The Upper Kern is within the Golden Trout Wilderness and is accessed by the Forks of the Kern Trail; typically with a backpack.  What I call the forks is a 15 mile stretch of river above the confluence of the main fork, north, of the kern river and the little kern river.  There is not a lot of altitude at the confluence, less than 5000 feet, and for that 15 miles and beyond the river and it’s surrounding area supports a huge population of many species of grasshoppers.  Between teaching folks to fly fish losing hopper imitations to trees or simply just having the trout chomp and waterlog those flies I had a similar  problem to Charlie craven. Charlie Craven’s “Charlie Boy Hopper” was my inspiration for the Huck Hopper.  But, unlike Charlie, I was backpacking.  I didn’t have the luxury of tying more flies at night.  I would simply run out.  I needed a durable solution that was easy enough to tie that produced results. 

So, I started field testing my first prototypes on the upper kern and the results were spectacular.  There was just one problem.  I also needed a nymphing solution in a dry/dropper rig.  The upper kern has deep runs where getting the fly down produces very well.  But hanging two heavy nymphs below a fairly large, size 6 huck hopper would sink it.  At the same, I reasoned that the upper kern river should never see a bobber.  It’s too special.  The Upper Kern River within the Golden Trout Wilderness is designated as a “Wild and Scenic” river by the State of California.  It is one of the only places left in the world that supports a majority of wild natives: The Kern River Rainbow (KRR) is its own sub species of the rainbow trout.  So, I started tying huge huck hoppers in sizes 2 and 4.  I call them battleships.  And to my surprise the kern river rainbows continued to attack them.  In fact even the little KRRs would rise to those big huck hoppers, grabbing them by the legs and pulling them down to drown them.  Big flies equals big fish and I started catching some monster KRRs.  And those big huck hoppers could hold up even the heaviest of nymphs all day long.  Doubles were now not a rare thing on the Upper Kern with a big huck hopper on top.

Credits to the great Charlie Craven for the inspiration: https://charliesflybox.com

And thanks to Par Avion for the music! http://www.VivaParAvion.com

The video includes fly tying techniques for the beginner. and details the materials I use and where i get them. but it also covers the background, history, why and how:

Forks of the Kern Report – October 20-23, 2022

That is my wife Kelly with a beautiful fish she nailed on a Huck Bow Warrior Perdigon

Relevant Stats for the 4 days:

Flow & Water Conditions

CFS (https://dreamflows.com/graphs/mon.681.php) :

  • Crystal Clear, stable
  • ~10 feet of silt to 18″ deep at rivers edge
  • 10/20-23 – ~100 CFS

Solunar

(I use the app “Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time PRO” $3.99):

  • 10/20 – 14%, Poor
  • 10/26 – 26%, Fair
  • 10/22 – 59%, Average

Water temp: 48-48 in the mornings rising to 53-55 in the late afternoons

Air temp: mid 70s in the day lowering to 38-45 at night

Weather: mild, then wind gusts to 30mph.  stretches of overcast and light rain

Group: Annual Couples Trip: Huckabys, Novaks, Cooleys, Conrads + Jake

This trip was the annual couple’s trip.  I love this trip because my wife Kelly comes. And some really fun couples.  And Kelly never backpacks anywhere without her best buddy, Meredith.  Which means my buddy Lance “has to come”.  Also joining us were John and Delia Cooley who you have also read about on this site through many adventures.  That is the 3 “over 30 years of marriage” couples.  Topping off the group was Micah & Dasha Conrad.  Micah is the young filmmaker with the awesome youtube channel who I taught how to fly fish earlier in the summer down at the Forks. Stay tuned on Micah’s Youtube vide of this trip. I will update it here when it publishes. 

And sure enough, my old friend Jake Blount, an excellent fly fisher and guide showed up.

Mere took this picture of the run just over the Rattlesnake creek hill. How about that water clarity?!

Peppermint Creek

The plan I typically do with a group like this is to hike in a day early, find a site, then hike out empty the next morning to meet that group filling up with fresh food, beer, etc. before hiking back down with the group.  So, I drove up Wednesday, listening to the Padres-Phillies playoff game on Satellite Radio.  I made it through LA without much trouble so I still had a good hour of daylight when I hit the lower peppermint creek campground.  There was a video of the peppermint creek waterfalls from August when the monsoon rains came.  It was a shocking view of the ash from the fire finally making its way down the mountains into the river system.  You can see it here.  I wanted to see the effects.  Not only because of Peppermint creek.  But, because I was getting a lot of reports of ash and silt blowing out the Upper Kern River from the Huck site all the way down to the Johnsondale bridge.  Also, because in July I fished Peppermint Creek above the campground and did really well.  Well, the effects of the flash flooding in the creek are obvious and concerning.  Below the campground, the creek is choked with ash and soot.  I don’t see how trout could even hold in that first ½ mile before the structure by the BLM primitive camp sites.  I don’t believe I even casted once.  So, I hiked back up the creek, crossed the road and hiked the creek above the campground.  It’s steeper terrain so the creek is not as choked up but there is soot / silt on both sides.  I did not see a trout…nor anything alive like bugs in the river.  I did cast some moving water but not a single take after an hour or so of fishing while making my way upstream above the falls.  In July I was pretty much getting struck on every cast.  Granted the water was really low because of the drought and the end of the season.  But, I am not confident there was a single trout in that milelong stretch above the campground.  It was clear the flash flooding of soot pushed them out or killed them.  Mother nature has a way of quickly fixing things so my guess is after a good winter it will be back in shape and the trout will come back. 

Fall 2022 on Peppermint Creek: there’s still water, but no trout that I could find

In Quest of the Huck Site

When I got to the Forks of the Kern Trailhead it was already dark.  The mission was to get the Huck Site the next morning.  To my surprise and dismay there were 4 cars/trucks in the dirt parking lot and 4 more sets of trucks and campers in the primitive campsites.  Then it hit me: camping at the trailhead.  Without running water nor anywhere close to fish, the only reason to do that was to hunt.  And yep, I had forgot deer hunting season had started.  That was confirmed the next morning around 5am as I peered out my window seeing groups of guns pass my truck on the way into the wilderness.  It was really cold sleeping in my truck that Wednesday night at the trailhead; uncomfortably cold.  My guess was low forties.  Hmmm…. 

Sunrise at the Forks of the Kern Trailhead

There was an awesome sunrise at the trailhead.  That is pretty rare.  I started my hike in on quest for the Huck site around 8am.  There was not a single sole camping for the first 3 miles.  But, when I got to rattlesnake camp (the site with the cement picnic bench) I had a giant black dog charge at me barking with it’s fangs bared.  Two old guys were in the site and couldn’t control their dog.  It was one of 4 times during the trip that dog charged me barking uncontrolled.  But, my concern now was if the Huck site was taken I’d have to double back over a mile to “bend camp” and set up there.  The more I write on this site about the Huck site, the more popular it gets.  That is not a problem for me.  I encourage it.  I want more people, especially young people to experience the wilderness.  That is why I write it on this site.  But, I really don’t like doubling back and the next site that can handle 4 or more tents is another mile over the mountain.  I was confident the couple’s group was not up for that long a hike in.  As I approached the huck site I could see a couple people and gear.  Darn.  So, I approached them with a smile saying something like, “Hi, are you just setting up here?”  “no.”, they said, “We are just leaving.” “Thank God”, I said.  “I have 4 tents coming tomorrow and the Huck site is one of the few sites that can handle that many tents.”  “Wait, are you Tim Huckaby?”, they said.  I believe I said the exact same thing I always say when people recognize me down at the Forks: “Tim Huckaby?  That guy is a douche.”  Then I laugh and introduce myself.  Julian and Lauren were their names.  A great young fly fishing couple that loves the Upper Kern like me.  Well, it wasn’t long into the conversation before Julian told me he proposed marriage to Lauren at the Huck Site!  Talk about proud… I had tears in my eyes hearing that.

Julian and Lauren: A wedding proposal at the Huck Site!

So, I set up my tent in the Huck site.  I pinged the couples group I had secured the Huck site with my Garmin InReach. 

Soot and Silt

I examined the water in front of the Huck Site.  Just like I was warned, the bank was ten or so feet of silt and ash.  Silt that was over a foot deep.  It had settled so the water was still crystal clear.  But, if you stepped in it, the water exploded clouding the water to zero visibility. 

I had heard from friends and a number of visitors to this site that after the monsoon rains of august, the johnsondale bridge section (JDB) was completely blown out with soot and ash and silt and unfishable.  Mother Nature had finally pushed the ash, soot and exposed dirt of the fires into the river.  I had also heard from the same folks that the silt made the fishing from the confluence at the forks all the way up to the huck site really tough.  Well, the unfortunate news for spring fly fishers is that the huge amount of silt is going to make its way down the river when runoff starts.  Even another drought year is going to push that silt downstream. How bad and how long will depend on the winter we have.  I love to fish the JDB stretch in April.  But, I fear blown out conditions in 2023 will prevent it. 

Yea, that is a Huck Hopper in his face. But, i tied it tiny, size 14 in orange to imitate the October Caddis

Fishing upriver of the Huck Site

I rigged up a 3x mono leader to a size 4 tan huck hopper trailed with 3 feet of 3x flouro to a size 16 Huck-bow Warrior perdigon and set off to fish.  I had already told the couples group in planning that I didn’t need to fish much and would concentrate on guiding the beginners.  I also wanted to spend a lot of time with Kelly because close to 2 months in Montana and Wyoming over the summer took its toll.  So, this was my chance to get in some fishing before Kelly and the gang showed up the next morning.  I didn’t cast in front of the huck site.  I could see trout in the crystal-clear water in front of the Huck site, along with a group of huge pike minnows (aka squawfish or suckers).  I wanted to save those for the beginners.  So, I started up stream about 100 feet above the Huck Site just below “Latrine Hole”.  First cast: “Whack!”  An 8” Kern River Rainbow (KRR) took the Huck-bow Warrior perdigon.  “Hmmm…” I said to myself.  “Oh no.  The first cast jinx.”  I casted again….drifted…  Nothing.  3rd cast: “Whack!” A 12 inch KRR that rose to the Huck Hopper!  I continued to fish upstream and continued to get rises to the Huck Hopper and continued to catch and release KRRs. 

Another nice rainbow with a Huck Midge Perdigon stuck in his nose

I was about 20-25 minutes into it… about 100 yards upstream from the Huck Site when I heard, “Tim!”  I looked to the bank and could see someone, but he was obscured by the trees.  He came closer and said, “It’s Jake.”  I smiled and said, “How in the world did you find me?”  “Well, I saw your truck in the parking lot.”  That’s Jake. He asked if he could stay a couple nights in the site with me and excitedly, I said, “Absolutely yes.  In fact, I’m going to need your help guiding.” Jake, like me, is the type of fly fisher that gets more joy over teaching and guiding other people to catching fish than he does catching his own.

It was around 1pm.  Well, Jake ran back to set up his tent then met me in river.  I had only moved a hundred yards or so upstream the fishing was so good.  I fished the left handers side of the river and he fished the right as we moved up stream together.  And we did really well.  I can only remember a little lull when the wind blew and I simply switched to two huck perdigon droppers; one size 14 and the lower one 16 and never missed a beat.  One out of four takes was on the huck hopper.  I caught between a dozen and 20 fish to 16” and Jake did the same.  Maybe more.  

That’s Jake: an excellent fly fisher who loves guiding and teaching others more than catching fish himself

I told Jake that Micah was going to show up with his wife Dasha around 4:30PM and that I told her I’d teach her how to cast.  I asked Jake to take Micah while I did the basic fly casting lesson with Dasha.  He gladly agreed.  We walked back to the site at 4:30 and no Micah.  At 5:30 still no Micah and I started to worry.  But, they did show up.  All we had time for was a simple casting lesson, though.  It was getting dark.  Dasha did get 4 takes though.  Right at the huck site.  We had time to cover setting or fighting fish yet.  But, she was a natural at casting.  I know this is a generalization, but, it just seems like females take instruction so much better than males.  It’s just so easy to teach absolute beginner females to cast for me. 

John took this fantastic picture of Delia. It looks like she’s hooked up. If i was there I’d be yelling, “Rod tip High! Get tight with him.” 🙂

I did buy a $9 transistor radio and hike it in hoping to listen to the Padre playoff games.  And at nighttime it works!  We got to listen to all the games when it was dark.

Why does AM radio work better at night? It is called the ionosphere because when the sun’s rays hit this layer, many atoms lose electrons and turn into ions. You can pick up some radio stations better at night because the reflection characteristics of the ionosphere are better at night.

 Source: rovertip.com/which-goes-further-am-or-fm/

That radio now lives in the cache.  You could argue it is a safety device.  In fact, the Huck Site Cache is more abundant now than it was before the fire incinerated everything.  Tools, Camp Tables, extra Fuel, cutting board, kitchen stuff, pads, etc.  If you want to use the cache at the Huck site email me and I’ll give you the detailed directions to find it. 

Well, it was a huge relief that Jake showed up because I had to do the big hike back up to the trailhead the next morning.  I didn’t anticipate getting back to the Huck Site until 11am with the gang.  Jake gladly agreed to guide Micah and Dasha the next day while I was on the hikes out and back in.

Does that look like a fun run to fish or what? I put 4 beginners in this run and i believe everyone caught fish

The Hike Out Empty

The next morning, I got hiking with an empty pack at 6:45AM.  I got to the trailhead at 8:30AM as planned.  But, none of the gang had arrived yet.  I talked to some nice folks in the lot and filled my pack with 24 beers and fresh food.  The gang showed up, we got a late start, hiked slowly with breaks and didn’t even make it to the huck site until after 12pm.  The gang was tired and needed to set up their tents.  And frankly so was I.  So, I grabbed one of the 24 beers I just hiked down, sat in my backpacking chair and stared at the water looking for rises.  It wasn’t long after that Micah, Dasha, and Jake showed up.  Jake had a smile on his face when he approached me so I knew it went well.  Micah said something like, “Well, tell Tim.”  Dasha caught 3 KRRs over 15”!  ..a total beginner.  I was stoked.  Micah did well too under Jakes’s guidance.

That’s Dasha – a total beginner and a natural. Micah gets credit for this outstanding picture

So, suffice it to say that jake and I had our hands full guiding a bunch of beginners and didn’t fish much for the next few days. The moon was totally against us and the gang still did ok on dry/dropper rigs.  In the following days the barometer crashed, the wind moved in, we even saw a little rain.  All that really hurt the production.  So we did see weather… and we were fishing during a really bad solunar stretch.  It was tough for the beginners.  The wind was bad.  It was cold.  The wind blew the aspen leaves into the river completely shutting off the dry fly thing.  There is only one scenario where I’d switch to the bobber and this was it.  The nymphing was still good if you could make the cast and get a drift.    It was on the bobber, that my wife Kelly caught a nice 15” in what looked like spawning colors…. But, only after some significant frustration with me as her guide.  What is it about trying to teach your wife how to fly fish?…or play golf?…or anything for that matter?…  Mere did catch a couple nice KRRs in that session too.

That’s Mere in the background with what looks to be a juvenile pure strain KRR with a Huck Midge Perdigon stuck in his face

Kern River Rainbow Hybridization

What was interesting is we kept seeing colorful fish that looked like they were in spawn…. And sure enough Micah harvested a fish to eat and it had eggs in it.  That totally explains why we do so well in the end of season trip.  There is a late fall / early winter spawn on the upper kern.  Last year I asked steve Schalla of www.flyfishingthesierra.com  aka steven ojai about it and he reasoned it could be a sudden drop in water temperature.  But, Steve has been watching the hybridization of the rainbows in the Upper Kern closely.  And now we have confirmed it: There is a winter spawn in the Upper Kern River.  But, environmentally, this is not a positive thing.   

I got this from Steve in an email when I sent him pictures: “Notice the spots…they are somewhat large and very few below the center stripe. I would guess there is considerable hybridization with Rainbows.”  Steve went on to describe what has happened in the Upper Owens and Lake Crowley seems to be happening in the Upper Kern.  “During the winter, the eastern sierras guides call the migrating rainbows their “sierran steelhead”.  They come out of Crowley Lake and spawn upstream in the Owens River.  I suspect the same is true on the Kern: the Rainbows are not just a Spring Spawn species any longer.”

“Notice the spots…they are somewhat large and very few below the center stripe”. Steve Schalla says this is a hybridized rainbow trout

Translation: stocked rainbow trout (not native to the Kern) have made it all the way up to the Upper Kern River above Fairview dam.  That stocked species of rainbow is a winter spawner.  These trout are now wild and they are breeding with the Kern River Rainbows (KRRs).  The hybridization of the KRR with other species of rainbows is now significant.  When you couple that with a significant increase in the number of brown trout in the Upper Kern River (In 1932 a group of women on horses released brown trout fingerlings into Peppermint Creek), it is a huge red flag for one of the very few places in the world that contains a majority of wild native trout. 

I have fished the Yellowstone River and its tributaries for years.  And I have watched the hybridization of the pure strained Yellowstone cutthroat.  Many of the guides in the area claim there will be no pure strained Yellowstone Cutthroats within a few short years.  That is a shame and a very tricky problem to fix.  As far as I know you can only slow it down.  So, my ask of you is this: if you are the type of person that likes to harvest the trout on the Upper Kern (current regs is 2/day).  Then make sure you don’t cull a pure strained KRR.  Make sure you harvest a hybridized trout.  Or a brown trout…. Which are also turning into a problem on the upper kern river.

Check out the spot pattern on this KRR that Micah nailed. Notice the peppery spots that pretty much cover the entire body of the fish: that is a pure strained KRR with a huck hopper in his face.

Last year (2021) I fished the end of the season, nov 15.  And we did very well.  The fishing was just awesome. Story here.  I always seem to slay at the end of the season.  And for years I have explained it as “the fish know the food sources are ending and have to fatten up for sitting at the bottom of the deep pools for 3 months until spring”.  Last year, many of the fish looked so colorful that they looked and behaved like they were in spawn.  Well, now I know for sure why the fishing is so good: Many of those males are in spawn and they just get stupid when they are in spawn.

I am headed back into the Upper Kern for the end of the Season in a couple weeks.  My mission is to pay very careful attention to the spot patterns… ie: the pure strained KRRs caught above the big waterfall which is around a mile up river from painters camp.  If the hybridization is significant way up there…. Well….uggg… the Entire species of the KRRs in the Kern River is going to suffer the fate of the Yellowstone cutthroat.