Fly Fishing the Bahamas

Feb 27 – March 6, 2021

Huck’s Big Bone

Summary:

What a trip!  Just like every Huckaby vacation we had adventures every day.  We hit the islands of: New Providence, Andros, many of the Exumas, Rose, Treasure and more.  We snorkeled in and around Pablo Escobar’s cocaine carrying plane that crashed.  We fished guided two days on Andros.  Ridiculous fishing.  I am not a counter but on the first day I caught well into the teens on bonefish.  Plus other species like many horse eye jacks.  I caught a really nice bonefish…a bucket lister …then was outdone by my son, Mark, who caught a bonefish of a lifetime.  25 year old’s should not be able to catch a bonefish like that.

Details:

I have dragged my Dear friend Tom O’Connell all over the US fly fishing with me for over a decade.  He’s come to love fly fishing like I do…just not as obsessively.  I have bush-whacked him through some crazy ass stuff to get to the river.  He’s the only buddy I have ever put through getting snowed in from fly fishing in August….in Wyoming.   And the craziest thing is that from playing college football his body is a disaster.  He’s always in pain.  And he always man’s-up.

Me and my buddy Tom O’Connell

So, when Tommy told me he moved to Florida and wanted to visit the Bahamas to bonefish I told him I was all in.  Let’s face it, the bonefishing thing in the Bahamas is on every fly fisherman’s bucket list.  And then he said, “Feel free to invite Kelly, her friends, your kids and their friends.  We have room.”  So, with around 4 months of planning we executed.  And we needed every bit of that planning and more:

  • COVID-19 tests on both sides of the trip for 7 people
  • qualifying and paying for Bahamian travel Visas.
  • all the calamity that comes with 4 groups of people flying from 4 different places.
  • COVID outbreaks on some of the 10,000+ islands of the Bahamas.
  • a gas shortage in the Bahamas preventing direct routes to the lavish resort Tommy inked for us.
  • And what frustrates me the most: a group of 4 mid 20s that do not read email

Just like on TV… the bonefish run like hell and make your reel sing

My fly fishing investment was not too significant.  COVID cancelled my “once in a lifetime” fly fishing trip to Cuba last year and the Bahamas requires most of the same gear.  It is definitely the same flies which I spent 6 months tying.  I had all the expensive flouro leaders and tippet.  My son Mark only has trout gear.  So I brought rods and gear for him too.  Here is the arsenal of rod / reel combos I brought to the Bahamas:

Rod Reel Line Size
8 wt Sage Fli TFO BVK SD III SA Bonefish Taper/Flt 100ft WF8F 9’0″ 4 piece
8 wt Sage Launch Orvis Hydros Large Arbor IV rio outbound short tropical WF8I/S6 9’0″ 4 piece
8 wt Orvis Helios II Orvis Hydros Large Arbor IV Rio tropical outbound short 10′ four piece
10 wt TFO TiCr2 300-400gr Lefty Kreh Tibor Everglades Rio tropical outbound short 9’0″ 4 piece
12 wt TFO BVK Teton LA12 Rio T-17 30ft Shooting Head 510gr sinking 9’0″ 4 piece
  TFO BVK SD III+ Rio tropical outbound short

Tommy arranged 2 days of guided bonefishing for the 4 of us guys with the world famous Captain Marvin Miller.  It should be noted that my son Mark, now 25 and living in Bozeman for 6-7 years is quite the stick.  He can double haul.  But, Mark really only had trout experience.  The same went for his best buddy Conner Burns (Burnsie) who was mark’s roommate his freshman year at Montana State and lived with him on and off ever since.  Burnsie is no stranger to vacationing with the Huckabys.  Especially when fly fishing is involved.  Burnsie is also a stick.  And he is really good on the oars.  He works at Ro Drift Boats in Bozeman.  He credits me for teaching him how to fly fish when he was 18, but I think that is only partially true.

My son Mark shot this video of Pablo Escobar’s crashed cocaine smuggling plane.

 

Bonefishing is an 8WT thing.  So, I brought 3 8 wts thinking Mark and I would each have a 8wt and we’d have a “just in case” backup.  But, Burnsie also brought a couple 8wt Scott rods.  Tommy owns an 8 wt Orvis Helios 3.  So, we were covered.  My two “goto” rods would be:

  • a 10 foot Orvis Helios II with a rio outbound short tropical floating line on it. That set up is pretty much the top of the line gear designed exactly for bone fishing.  It came home broken.  This is why backup rods are so important.
  • A Sage Fli with a traditional scientific anglers bonefish line

I feel so lucky i spotted this pampano cruising and nailed him.  there is an argument that we should have eaten him raw right on the boat… but, i have been catch and releasing so long i just didn’t.

All the other rods, reels and lines were for “just in case”:

  • Before the trip I read that we were going to hit the pompano season right as it started. The pompano is a delicacy, and I was dreaming of nailing them in front of our lavish place on the beach.  The 8wt sage launch had an intermediate sink rio tropical outbound short line on it to fish subsurface which is what is called for when fishing the pompano.
  • That 10 WT TFO lefty kreh is my absolute favorite saltwater rod. It’s the one I railed all those bluefin trevally on in Kauai.  I have also had good success on roosters with it in Mexico.  I brought it just in case we saw some permit or tarpon.
  • And that TFO BVK 12WT was a virgin. I bought it for the cancelled Cuba trip and had never casted it.  I brought it to the Bahamas with a 700 gr heavy sink line just in case we wanted to target a larger tarpon or shark or…..

My Buddy Tom O’Connell with one of the many bonefish he landed

Getting to the Bahamas

Until the last minute, the plan was that Tommy, me, Kelly, Mark and Burnsie were going to take a boat across from Miami.  It was going to a be a 4-5 hour trip.  That was the plan.  The gas shortage and rough seas precluded a direct route which turned the trip into a 12 hour ordeal that introduced too much risk.  So, we inked flights to Nassau from Miami.  Camille and her roommate Natasha, who live in St. Petersburg, FL had always planned to fly straight to Nassau.  Tom inked us a nice beach house at the Palm Cay Resort.  We also chartered a boat and hired a captain from the Palm Cay Resort for the entire week we were there.  And man did we luck out with our captain, Ryan D… He literally and figuratively took care of us for a week.  We surely would have died without him.  With him we had so much fun. He is a friend now.  I’m confident he is the only honorary Huckaby with dread locks.  We even took Ryan and his girlfriend Vashti out to dinner to celebrate with us.  Hopefully, they will take us up on our offer to stay with us at the “Huckaby Hotel” in Carlsbad.

The Huckaby crew, Tommy, Burnsie, Natasha, Captain Ryan and his girlfriend Vashti. It was the first time in a over a year i had eat inside a restaurant.

Calamities:

I always write on this site about dealing with the inevitable calamities of backpacking.  Well, it’s not just backpacking trips that produce calamity.  This trip was riddled with calamity:

  • Camille dropped her iphone into 20 feet of water at the dock. Ryan, put a mask on, swam down and got it.  It still worked.
  • I slipped on the stairs in our lavish beach house at Palm Cay Resort and tumbled on my ass down to the bottom. I was cleaning the sand off the stairs with wet paper towels and had just told the girls to be careful because they were slippery.  What a dumb-ass.  Thank God I wasn’t hurt.  I have learned how to fall.  I fall a lot.  But, mostly in the wilderness.
  • I left my GoPro on Andros Island on Denzell’s guide boat. Through cousins and moms and friends and planes Ryan got it back into my hands 2 days later.    I owe him forever.
  • My iPhone died. Not the battery; the phone.  I plugged it in to charge and the screen went black.  There was a shock at the outlet so I think it fried.  I had to live a week without a phone when I intended to keep up with work during the trip.  Maybe that was God.
  • My Orvis Helios 2 came back broken. Thank god for Orvis’s awesome warranty.
  • I got bit by an iguana. Those damn things have fangs like a cat.

That’s my son Mark with a 8 pound Bonefish

The Fishing

Tom and I were having real trouble finding guides until I stumbled into Stephen Vletas from Tight Loop Travel on the inter-web.  Until Stephen, all we could find were guides that required you to stay in a lodge.  Stephen was super responsive by email.  I highly recommend having him take care of you if you want to pull something like this off.  Stephen booked us with the world-famous Captain Marvin Miller and his crew of guides on Andros Island.  Two days of guided bone fishing on Andros Island!  It did not disappoint.

I talked to Mark on the way there to Andros and he said he was a little nervous.  That does make sense. Confidence on a trout stream is vastly different than hunting the skittish bonefish in crystal clear water.  So, I put Mark and Burnsie with Marvin for both days by design.  That little plan worked perfectly.  Those boys had an absolute hoot of a time with Marvin.  They both caught bonefish; a lot of them.  What 25 year old hunts, spots, casts perfectly, and strip sets on a 10 pound bonefish?!  At points they were having so much fun they even targeted the big barracudas.  I guess catching 10 pound bonefish was not enough; 25 year olds need to catch and release 20 pound barracudas.

Shine releasing one of the many horse eyed jacks we accidently caught while hunting bonefish.

Tom and I fished with “Shine” on the first day and Denzel on the 2nd day.  What I was a bit nervous about was Tom.  He’s still a beginner in terms of casting.  And everything I have seen on TV, youtube and read about in magazines always talked about the requirement for precision double hauls past 40 feet.  Plus, the trek to Andros Island each day from New Providence Island took a couple hours.  we missed the incoming tides on both days.  We did so well I can’t imagine how crazy it would have been if we caught the incoming tide.  While we fished Ryan cruised the gals around the many beaches and reefs to snorkel, hang out, and cocktail.

I have written many times about the little things that separate average guides from great guides.  Well, Shine (that is a nickname, btw, all the natives seem to have nicknames) is a great guide.  He quickly saw that Tom was limited to a 20-30 foot cast.  So, instead of putting tom into 3 foot deep clear water requiring a 50 foot accurate cast he moved the boat into deeper murky water where he felt the bonefish would be holding during the slack tide.  What I witnessed next was absolutely brilliant.  A true sign of a great guide. Tom blind casted 20 feet at 3 o’clock and Shine said, “That’s fine.  Let go of the line.  Let it sink.  Wait….wait…” and as Shine said that he poled the boat backwards sideways another 20-30 feet or so turning Tom’s 20 foot cast into a 50 foot cast.  Tom had no idea, but I noticed it.  I had no idea before I came to the Bahamas, that bonefishing requires a long smooth and slow strip.  Pretty much the opposite of the lighting fast stripping you need to do in Kauai.  So, then Shine said, “Start stripping…smoother…strip… strip… strip….”  And sure enough Tom got hit, strip set and was on.  I was laughing and hooting and hollering because honestly, at this point, although I had not even fished yet I wanted tom to experience success desperately.  And sure enough Tom got that bonefish on the reel and landed him.  I turned to Shine and said, “I saw what you did.  That was brilliant.”   He just smiled.

Captain Marvin Miller: “Now this is why you come to Andros….for the big bonefish….”

 

Now it was my turn.  Within minutes I had landed my first Bahamian bonefish.  And that is how the day went.  Tom and I alternated catching fish after fish for 3-4 hours.  We smattered in a few horse eye jacks in the process.  I caught one big one that Shine poo-poo’d.  In the Bahamas, Bonefish are special; jacks are not.

I did have a “holy shit did you see that!” moment.  I set hard on a bonefish and as they do it took a long run.  I reeled it back in and a huge barracuda shot out of nowhere and ate it from the broadside.  The tail of the bonefish floated downwards and the head came off my fly.

It’s amazing how much better the guides are at spotting the bonefish than my untrained eyes were.  Shine would frequently shout out something like, “2pm 35 feet.”  I’d stare at that location and see nothing.  But, sure enough if I made the cast, the bonefish was there.  I did spot one nice bonefish in a couple feet of water 40 feet at 12 o’clock and casted at it before Shine called it out.  I was pretty proud of that.  Unfortunately, it popped off after I was pulling it back from it’s first run.  The set to land ratio is pretty good in this type of fishing.  You use barbed hooks with a wide hook gap.  if you stick them in their rubbery jaw with a hard strip set on 10 foot, 12 pound flouro leaders. they don’t tend to shake out.  It’s because of that you do not fight them on the line after you get them on the reel.  After they run they tend to turn and run back at you.  The terror of losing tension on the line is almost unbearable for a trout fisherman.  But, Shine said. “just keep reeling.” and I did.  And he was right.  Time and time again he was right.

When the boys got tired of catching bonefish…as shocking as it seems…they started targeting big baracudas.  This is Burnsie with a nasty bonefish eating monster.

I did land a bonefish that Shine felt worthy of a trophy shot.  I knew it was a nice fish because it did 3 runs on me.  I laughed the entire time shouting, “This is so fun!”.  The first run went into my backing.  I have not been into the backing in years.

The 2nd day was slower, but that is only because I caught a nice bonefish on my first cast.  Everyone knows that catching a fish on your first cast of the day is a complete jinx.  Our guide for the 2nd day, Denzell, cruised us into really amazing and beautiful places as we hunted.  We also fished the murky deep water and did well.  For the last hour we hunted big fish and rarely casted.   It reminded me of the countless hours I have spent on the Carlsbad beaches looking for Corbina.

After the second day of fishing was complete, we caught up with Mark and Burnsie on Marvin’s boat.  I knew something was up because they were both smiling ear to ear.  And so was Marvin.  Mark had more of a smirk on his face.  But, was quiet.  I said, “So, how did you do?”.  Mark handed me his phone and showed me this picture:

25 year olds just shouldn’t be able to do this…

I said something like, “You out-fished me again.” with a smile on my face.  Then the two boys excitedly told me and tom stories of their day.  of how they hunted, stalked and set on monsters like that 8-10 pound bonefish.  Marvin was clearly pleased.  I was truly pleased.  I’m sure he sees lots of fly fishermen, but rarely gets two gung-ho 25 year old’s from Bozeman, MT.

Captain Ryan Delva said, “i know where a great reef is. let me take you there”.  i pulled this frame from my GoPro Footage”

The following two days we managed to sneak in a little unguided fly fishing wading from shore and a little trolling in between sightseeing and snorkeling.  Of interest I caught a flounder near the pablo escobar drug smuggling island of the Exumas that the movie “Blow” is based on.  And on rose island I caught what I first thought was a pompano.  But, upon further study of the picture it was actually a juvenile permit.  I saw him cruising very clearly in crystal clear 2 feet deep water.  As he passed in front of me I shot a cast just 20 feet, landing perfectly 10 feet ahead of him.  A long slow strip and whack!  He fought me pretty good before I released him.

It’s funny that this trout guy really has the bug for saltwater fly fishing now.  I have lived by the pacific ocean for 40 years and never really got excited about salter water fly fishing until just recently.  Oh yea, I’m going to get back to Andros Island to fish with Marvin if it kills me.

Captain Ryan took us to one of the islands in the Exumas that hosts a large wild population of iguanas.

Fly Fishing Carlsbad – Agua Hedionda Lagoon

The Pacific Halibut – evolved both its eyes on one side so it can lay flat on the bottom, disguised, so it can attack prey that swim above it.

I have written about fly fishing in places all over the world so it’s long past time I write about the fly fishing in my own backyard: Carlsbad, CA

Southern California, including Carlsbad, has a long history of saltwater fly fishing.  In the Surf, legendary Fly Fishermen like Al Quatrrocchi, Nick Curcione, Kirk Deeter, Dr. Milton Love, Jim Solomon, Glenn Ueda, Bernard YinLee Baermann, Jeff Solis, and others have written, presented, and taught us how to fish the Socal Surf…especially for the elusive corbina.  In terms of Off-shore John Loo for off shore fly fishing and Conway Bowman always come to mind when fly fishing for Mako’s off the san diego coast.

This article is about fishing Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon from a float tube (or fishing kayak).  It’s funny that I have lived in Carlsbad for 22 years; within a mile of Aqua Hedionda lagoon and I had never fished it until just recently.  Mainly because I’m a trout guy and just don’t have a lot of expertise in the salt water.  Trust me. As I write this I have only fished Hedionda 5 times so I am no expert.  But, because I have had success, I want to share it in case you are interested in C&R fly fishing it.

Firstly, let me elaborate my 2 main inspirations and motivations:

  1. If you are a Socal then you have driven by this lagoon many times and stared at it. It’s just south of the Tamarack exit on the 5 in Carlsbad.  It’s the lagoon with the water skiers on the east side of the 5.  You may have stared at that water and said to yourself, “I wonder if that fishes?”  You may have seen kayak fishermen in there and said, like I did for years, “How in the world did they get in there and I wonder if they are catching fish?”
  2. Recently, Mel Ochs and Kai Schumann did a SDFF club presentation on how to fish the bays of San Diego in a float tube or kayak. It was outstanding.  I learned so much from that presentation.  Let me be honest: I serve as the programs chair for the San Diego Fly Fishers club.  It is my job to ink the speakers for the club presentations and I have signed up some famous ones, both worldwide and from the list above.  So when I roped them into doing this presentation I was a bit selfish in my needs.

The Spotted Bay Bass – affectionately known as “Spotty”

< Side Note: let me put in a plug for joining the San Diego Fly Fishers Club.  It’s only $40 / year and along with all the other benefits, there are 2 presentations by zoom per month during the pandemic; in person once we are finally past it.  If you want to go fly fish the bays with the group of folks from the club, at a minimum, they go every Wednesday and would love to have you and show you the ropes of fly fishing the bays.  >

About Hedionda: The Science and History

Three major highways cross Hedionda: Highway 101 (aka PCH) along the coastline, the train tracks and Interstate 5. These 3 bridges divide the Hedionda into 3 sections:

  • outer bay – just east of the coast highway; closest to the ocean. This section holds the oyster, abalone and white sea bass farms along with carlsbad’s hydro electric power plant and the largest desalination plant in N America.
  • middle bay – separated by the train bridge and highway 5. This section holds the YMCA aquatic park
  • inner bay – east of interstate 5. This section holds California Watersports and numerous homes and condos with docks on the North side and the infamous Carlsbad Strawberry fields on it’s south site.

Hedionda extends 1.7 miles inland and is up to a half mile at its widest point.  All three sections are 8-10 feet deep at their deepest part of the high tide….except for the channel that flows the tide to and from the ocean.  That channel runs the entire length from the ocean to the head of the bay where Hedionda creek feeds it.  The channel is over 30 feet in depth in and around the 3 bridges.  This depth information is important in relation to the fishing.  There is more on tides below in the fishing section of this article.

Hedionda is fed by Agua Hedionda creek to the southeast and Lake Calavera Creek to the Northeast.  Numerous spring creeks feed those two creeks.  But, in reality Carlsbad is a a natural desert so a majority of the water feeding Hedionda is simply lawn sprinkler runoff from well into Oceanside and Vista.  There is a significant amount of fresh water that enters the lagoon at the head of the bay making that “back-bay” brackish for those that want to chase mullet with a fly rod.  When it does rain that creek is a raging dangerous river.

The most amusing part of Agua Hedionda is the name itself: It means “Stinky Water” in Spanish.  The reason is most likely because before a small boat harbor was constructed in middle bay somewhere between 1940 and the 50s, the lagoon was not dredged; it was truly a lagoon. Between the decay of vegetation, the mud and the methane escaping it probably was pretty stinky before dredging provided a constant flush of tidal flow.

From the InterWeb: “The main difference between Bay and Lagoon is that the Bay is a body of water connected to an ocean or lake, formed by an indentation of the shoreline and Lagoon is a shallow body of water separated from larger body of water by a barrier.”

By way of this definition then Agua Hedionda is a bay; not a lagoon.  In fact, it has significant tidal flow just like san diego or mission bay.  There is plenty of great information from the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation here.

The history of Hedionda is pretty sketchy but, in the early half of the 20th century Carlsbad was a mostly an agricultural area….boasting the only place you could get the rare and hard to get exotic fruit: the avocado.  At that time the bay was not used for anything short of the quickest transportation from the farms to the beach: by row boat.  There is some interesting information about the area’s history that the Carlsbad Historical Society turned me onto here.  But, not much on Hedionda itself.

most people who love eating halibut, and have never seen one, probably picture it this way: upside down

How to fish it

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation says there are 70 species of fish that populate it.  Being that said only a small portion of those fish are predators: the type of fish you would be catching with a fly rod.  And in my limited experience the spotted bay bass dominates that group.  But, I’m a pretty friendly fly fisherman so I did talk to a number of gear guys both on the shore and in kayaks.  And they all gladly provided a tremendous amount of knowledge to me.  In fact, more than once I’d catch a fish, hold it up to a shore fisherman and say, “what the hell is this?”

There are pelagic fish that wonder into Hedionda with the tide.  Of those the most common are white sea bass, rays and halibut.  But sharks and even corbina are caught there too…along with all the usual suspects you see in the surf.  It’s worth nothing that any ocean fishing in a float tube is not for the faint of heart for many reasons.  And being that said I did fish Hedionda in a tube in January of 2021 the day after the beach in front of it was closed down because of a 15 foot great white patrolling the surf.

The author, devilishly handsome, paddling out just after sunrise

Harvesting – I have caught a couple legal halibut and let them go.  It’s partly because of ~30 years of catch and release fly fishing and partly fear of eating from a bay fed by fertilizers and the cancer causing weed killer, round-up.  If I ever do catch a legal white sea bass I’ll have a tough decision to make.  The white sea bass farm is in outer bay and there are escapees.

It’s all about the tides – just like any surf or bay fishing in the san diego area your best success is going to be during an incoming and/or slack tide.  In fact, the only time you will be able to fish close to the train bridge or Highway 5 bridge is during a slack tide.  Not that it was unsafe, but the very first time I fished Hedionda, this trout fisherman was inches from getting pulled from middle bay under the 5 and out into inner bay.  I wasn’t paying attention staring at my fish finder as the tide grabbed me.  The current during that incoming tide was so strong it was like any large river I have fished before.  It took everything I had to paddle my fins away from getting sucked in.  I was huffing and puffing more than I have even done on lake Crowley in the wind.  Again, I was never in danger.  But, if pulled through to the other side I would have had to wait hours for the slack tide to even consider swimming back through again.  and it’s not like I could have gotten out of the water on the other side and carried my tube back.

Along with the tide, there are a number of things that negatively or positively affect your fishing success.  Here are a few:

  • fish finder – My aha moment was from the gang of bay fly fishers from the San Diego Fly Fishers Club. They all use portable fish finders.  There are some super inexpensive ones from the company “Lucky”. You can find them on amazon.com from $40 and up.  After a ton of research, I ended up with the Garmin STRIKER™ Cast GPS.  Its list price is $179.  It’s an amazing little device that deserves its own gear review on this site.  you tether and drag it behind your float tube.  I chose 15 feet (of old floating fly line instead of the cord they included).  since you paddle backwards in a float tube it looks for fish right in the zone you are stripping through (as opposed to directly underneath you like all other fish finders).  I’ll typically cast ~40 feet, let it sink, and strip back.  The device uses your smart phone with the garmin striker app as its UI.  It clearly shows depth and structure and the fish in the water column they are swimming in.  it even counts the number of fish in the schools.  I found myself not blind casting until I saw fish on the finder.  but, in one of my fly fishing sessions, after running out of my allotted spousal time, I quickly paddled right across the bay where the fish finder showed a ghost town.  For the purpose of straightening out my line and tightly winding it back up I hooked up and landed a nice halibut.  It made me late.  Oh well’ she’ll live.  After 31 years of marriage, she knows the “one last cast” thing.  So, there is the lesson learned. you will not be able to see the halibut on the fish finder because they sit flat and still on the bottom, typically waiting for prey to swim by.

    notice my garmin striker cast fish finder in the background

  • time of year – I have only fished in winter and done pretty darn well. But, in talking to the experienced gear guys they have all said it gets pretty nuts in spring and summer so I am looking forward to that.  They also told me the big halibut come in Hedionda to spawn in spring.  Every year I read about 40+ pound halibut being taken in Hedionda by the gear guys.  That sure would be fun on a 6 weight.
  • the moon phases and solunar theory – it’s the hunters and saltwater fisherman that believe in solunar theory. Read about my research and findings on Solunar theory here.   Again I have limited experience fly fishing Hedionda but I did fish on a really good solunar day and “killed”.  Plus I saw a ton of fish on my fish finder.  I also fished on a really bad solunar day and didn’t do so well…and saw very little fish on my fish finder.  Draw conclusions as you may.
  • red tide – whether you believe in climate change or not, the red tides are getting worse and worse each year here in San Diego. I had a bad outing and didn’t see a thing on my fish finder only to find out later there was a little red tide going on.  FYI, there was a huge fish kill in Hedionda last year (summer of 2020) because of a red tide.  Many of the gear guys I talked to were really worried that it ruined the fishing in Hedionda. It has not.

A gear guy on the shore told me this was a white sea bass. But, another fly fisherman in the club told me this is a Corvina (not corbina)

Gear

I use a fast action 6 WT with a sinking line.  In my first outing I used a Rio outbound short line and didn’t do so well.  That outbound line is an intermediate sink line.  Although it was before my Garmin Fish finder I just felt like I wasn’t getting it down to where the fish were.  It’s like my line wasn’t cutting through the current.  So, the next time out I switched to the exact rig I use in Lake Crowley: a heavy sink fully integrated 450 GR integrated heavy sink line. That is a line that really gets down quickly.

For a leader I just use 4-5 feet of straight 12lb flouro.  Flies: I tie my version of a clouser.  I use synthetics, including EP fibers instead of buck tail.  I always tie white on the bottom to imitate the naturals. And I tie in a red patch of flashabou to imitate an injured gill plate.  I tie the top  in chartreuse, blue and grey in sizes 2 and 4.  And they all worked.  I fish two flies: a size 2 in front trailed by 18 inches of more flouro and a size 4.   i really think color does not matter.  but, just like in trout fishing the trailing fly gets most of the hookups.

Here’s an example of a couple beat up size 4 clousers i tied.  beat up from getting chewed by spotties and halibut.  the clouser rides hook up so white is on the bottom.  look closely at the red patch that imitates an injured gill plate.

Epilogue:

This may go without saying, but there is nothing peaceful and serene about fly fishing Hedionda.  This not like fly fishing the Gallatin canyon in montana.  The freeway noise is constant.  And depending on which way the wind is blowing the freeway noise can be downright loud.  In fact i had a trucker honk at me while i battled a halibut right off the 5.  I raised my fist to him in glory.

I know what you are saying, “Where do I park?  Where do I Launch? Where did you catch all your fish in Hedionda?  I did write that part and created detailed maps.  And then I removed it from this article.  Why?  Well, in respect to the handful of gear guys that helped me.  But, honestly, although it’s rare, I recently got a hate mail from a selfish fly fisher that wants his fly fishing location to be his and his alone.  So, consequently, doesn’t want me publishing this type of info on the public interweb.  I am a strong believer in conservation by awareness.  Granted, for every one “hate mail” I get a hundred emails thanking me for info.  Fly fisherman are typically such unselfish, trustable and “giving back” type of people.  But, there are exceptions; people are people.

I’d be happy to share that map, parking and fishing location info with you.  Send me an email from here.  And donate $5 to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation here while you are at it.

 

Gear Review: Revolution Amadou Fly-Drying Patch

For me, there is only one little negative to dry fly fishing the hatch.  When the hatch is on you want to fool the fish, set the hook, battle him to hand, take your picture and release him so you can do it again….as quickly as possible.  The longest segments in that sequence of events before you can cast again to try to catch another one are the battle and the process of drying your fly so it will float perfectly again.  Bigger fish, barbless hooks, & lighter tippets all contribute to taking longer to land a fish before release.  These are just 3 of the things that contribute to saturating your fly making it unable to float correctly.

The Revolution Amadou Fly Drying Patch

Until I started using the Revolution Amadou Fly-Drying Patch my process was to “grease” the fly with floatant before throwing it.  Once saturated, I’d “shake” the fly with a fly drying desiccant. This only works for a handful of battles or an amount of time before the fly will no longer dry out and float no matter how much or what you put on it.  Eventually the fly is going to saturate through the thread it’s tied with down the the metal of the hook.  There is no “goo” or shake that will dry a fly like that out.  So, eventually, I would have to take the time to change the fly out.  I am pretty sure most of you reading follow that exact same process.

I cannot tell you how much money I have spent on floatants and desiccants over the years.  i litterally have 2 gallon plastic bags in my man-cave.  one for floatants; one for desiccants.  In Montaña, the guides use a floatant called Flyagra.  To me, Flyagra seems like it’s pure gasoline.  Gasoline floats and it sure smells like gasoline.  It works pretty well.  But, it can’t be good for the river or the fish.  It doesn’t work as well as the Revolution Amadou Fly-Drying Patch.  I love the Loon company.  Loon Outdoors makes great environmentally safe stuff.  And much of it is great stuff.  I soak my Huck Hoppers in Loon Fly Dip for 5 minutes in batches right after tying them and let them dry overnight before shipping them to a customer or fishing them myself.  Those big huck hoppers, made of a lot of highly buoyant foam soaked in Loon Fly dip will pretty much stay up all day.  A size 18 parachute adams will not.

Well, this article is about the Revolution Amadou Fly-Drying Patch.  It replaces the need for floatants and desiccants.  Let me be very clear.  I know the people that have developed and sell this product.  I really like these people.  These are the same people from FlyFishingRomania.com who I have had the pleasure to be guided by in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania.  These are great people.  I’m not getting paid to “pimp” their product.  They didn’t ask me to write this article.  I love their product so much I bought my son in Bozeman a Revolution Amadou Fly-Drying Patch.  He is a guide level fly fisherman.  Like all the other product reviews I have done on this site, I just really like this product.

So, what the heck is it and how does it work?  As crazy as it sounds this thing is made out of a fungus that grows on dead birch trees deep in the old forests of Romania.  Why is works is because it’s one of, if not the most absorbent materials on God’s good earth.  You basically squish your fly between two patches and it dries your fly like it had never touched the water.  You can read all about how it’s made, it’s history (which goes back to humans using it for wound repair over 5000 years ago), how it has been used in fly fishing internationally for over 50 years, and why it works in detail on the Revolution Amadou Web Site.

So let me elaborate my test.  I think you will find the results interesting, if not surprising.

That is a size 18 midge dry imitation, tied to ~ 18” of flouro, that I put into a glass of water.  Notice how nicely it is sitting perfectly on top of the water just like it should.

Next, I pinned that fly under a fork and let it “drown” for 30 minutes to make sure it was completely saturated and sunken.

There is the fly at the bottom of the glass: completely saturated and sunken after being pinned at the bottom of the glass for 30 minutes.

Next, I squeezed the fly in the Revolution Amadou Patch for just a few seconds.  you can see the water marks left on the Revolution Amadou Patch.  I dropped the fly back into the water and to my surprise and delight it floated like new; like it had never touched water before.

Right?!  Guess what happens on the river?  That exact same thing.  I will never use floatants or desiccants again.  And guess what?  there’s more:  The patch virtually lasts forever.  These folks invented the technology that dries the patch through the back sides.  Like many of today’s creatively tied flies, this product is the perfect combination of space age synthetic materials and a material from mother nature that just cannot be duplicated artificially.

So what is the bad news?  Well, none really.  I guess you could argue it is expensive. It is expensive in terms of upfront costs.  Floatants and Desiccants are consumables; you use them up, run out, and buy more.  So even though most are under $10, it adds up.  Technically, if you treat the patch well (ie: keep it out of the rain and don’t consistently drop it in a river) the Revolution Amadou patch will last forever.   If you are in US you have to purchase it in Europe in pounds. So there are shipping costs.  Also, it depends on the exchange rate at the time of purchase, but it is more than $50.  My guess is that that will change when these good folks find a distributor in the US.  Many of the floatants and desiccants I buy are over $10.  Because I fly fish so much I historically spend close to, if not more than $100 / year on stuff like this. So for me this is a total deal.  But, if you only fish 1-2 times a year this product may not be right for you.

Now understand that there are other amadou patches out there.  All of them are lower grade or artificial.  Some of them are even made from synthetic Imation amadou.  You can find them on amazon and ebay.  Orvis, Umpqua and even Loon itself have an amadou patch.  The good folks at Revolution Amadou claim that theirs is the best because of the quality of the amadou and how difficult it is to harvest it.  That is so rare, it is a real chore to find in the ancient forests of Romania.  And I believe them.  i have fished there (yea, I’m going to pass on the obvious vampire joke for now. 🙂 ) No i’m not.  I can’t resist.  ok, it must also be quite hazardous battling the vampires while harvesting the amadou.

Since the Revolution Amadou works so well I wouldn’t even consider doing a test against other amadou patches.

Cottonwood Lakes – Land of the Giant Goldens

July 5-8, 2020

Yea, i stuck that gopro underwater thinking i could just flip that section around, but i like that upside down view of that golden so much i just kept it.  

Of all the fly fishing backpacking trips I do on an annual basis the hike in to camp at Cottonwood Lake 3 is the one that is historically the most difficult for me.  It’s only 6 miles.  It’s rated as “moderate”. There is only about 1,000 feet of elevation gain and its mostly wide easy trail that gently gains elevation.  I have done my share of 15+ mile hikes at altitude.  This one seemingly gives me trouble because it starts at 10,000 feet and that the 5th mile is a brutal switch backing set of stone steps that seems to go forever.  That 5th mile has got in my head.

My lovely bride Kelly (below) of 31+ years and her best buddy Mere (above), both with their first goldens. both on dries from Cottonwood Creek

The fishing at Cottonwood Lakes is so spectacular at certain times of the year.  And it is such a beautiful place, the pain of the hike in is totally worth it.  The Cottonwood Lakes are the land of the giant Goldens.  You thought a California Golden didn’t get bigger than 10”, right?  They don’t.  What happened here is the state of CA dumped rainbows into the Cottonwood Lakes years ago for fishing recreation purposes.  The California Goldens and the Rainbows crossbred and produced giant Goldens.  Wild, just not pure strained.  As far as i know, there are no longer any rainbows in the Cottonwood Lakes; they have all been hybridized.

I have backpacked to Cottonwood Lakes 4 times.  Every time led by my buddy Warren Lew; a seasoned veteran of the wilderness and of fly fishing.  Warren gets the permits and targets right around the fishing season opener of July 1st.  Yes, this is one of those places in the Sierras that is not open to fishing until July 1.  I have no idea why.  I was surprised that I have never written about Cottonwood Lakes on this site.  I had to search my own site to prove it.  Because it is such a special place.  A few years back I did write a magazine article on Cottonwood Lakes for California Fly Fisher Magazine.

The sun falling at Cottonwood Lake 3

On this trip Warren and I were joined by 4 females, so we were a bit out-numbered in terms of “getting a word in edge-wise”: My wife Kelly and her friend Meredith (both of who’s backpacking and fly fishing adventures with me have been chronicled on this site).  We were also joined by Warren’s girlfriend/Fiancé Lori and Lori’s step-sister Debbie.

As recommended above 10,000 feet, we acclimated at the trailhead backpacking camp the day before.  Mere, Kelly and I got up there a few hours before Warren, Lori and Debbie so we fished Cottonwood creek which is close to the trailhead.  Both Mere and Kelly caught their first pure strained California goldens in the couple hours of fishing we did.  I caught a whole bunch of little goldens.  I was trying really hard to take it easy fully knowing the hike ahead of me in the morning.  But it’s hard to go easy when the dry fly fishing is so fun.

you really don’t need to backpack this place to catch goldens.  fishing cottonwood creek which follows large stretches of the 6 miles of trail is not only beautiful, but very productive if you can be stealth with accurate casts.

You are allowed to have a campfire in the iron pits at the sites in the backpacking campground so we grilled, ate, had a campfire and hit the sack early.  Warren and Lori cooked a huge awesome breakfast that following morning so we were well fed and carb’d up for the hike in.  Our target was a large primitive site we stumbled into last year on Cottonwood #3.  We staggered the hike into two groups.  Me, kelly, Mere and Debbie were in the first group that took off.  Warren and Lori wanted to do a little cleanup and take it slowly so they went after us.  Well, we were at a great pace. My pack was a bit heavier than I wanted it to be on this trip, but it’s difficult to be light when carrying for two people involved.  The 3 gals were chatting away so I put a 100 yards of distance in front of them in the chance of seeing some animals.  But even at 100 yards I could still hear those three.  I was stressing a bit on finding warren’s spot from last year…. Or finding any site that could handle 4 tents.  But, generally feeling good after 4 miles.  The hike in is beautiful.  It includes meadows and multiple views and a few crossings of Cottonwood Creek.  Then we hit that set of switchbacks in the 5th mile with all the altitude gain.  I was pressing as hard as I could.  And I could feel…well hear the gals right on my tail.  By the time I reached the top….which seemingly lasted forever…I didn’t feel that badly.  But, I was surprised that there was no snow on the summit like there was at the very same time in previous years.

I just love this video….because i love teasing my dear friend Warren so much…

The four of us hiked the plateau with Cottonwood 1 and 2 in view to a spot where Warren reminded me prior that I needed to go off trail and bushwhack directly to the targeted primitive site on Cottonwood 3.  I totally missed it…. But lucked out find finding it with the little backtracking.  I was relieved.  I didn’t want to let my buddy Warren down and there are so few places on Cottonwood 3 you can put 4 tents.

Warren’s much better half, Lori – you know your special when your first fish caught fly fishing is a golden.

I set up the tent quickly.  I had Kelly to help.  I started to feel like hell because of the altitude and the hike.  I should have rested, but I couldn’t help it.  I knew the giant Goldens were waiting for me.  I immediately rigged up and started fishing right in front of the camp.  I got a bit worried about Warren and Lori because they hadn’t showed up at camp a couple hours after we arrived.  But, sure enough they wandered in eventually.  Warren asked me to fish to the north end of the lake but I felt so poorly (exhausted) I declined.  So not like me.  Also not like me is to go easy on the whiskey that first night; which I did.  But, I was just exhausted and felt a little bit of the hell of altitude sickness.

the author missing another set.  notice that ledge around 20 feet from the shore.  that is where the goldens hang, but they do wander into very shallow water in clear site.

Well, the next day was a great one, but I still had an altitude headache that I just could not shake.  No matter, I fished all day anyways and had the time of my life.  Debbie and I got a head start on the group.  We hiked to the North end of the lake, wadered up, and fished the inlet at Cottonwood #3.  We did well.  There were fish rising everywhere.  Kelly and Mere soon appeared as was the plan.  Warren and Lori decided to stay near camp and fish there.  So, up the mountain I went with Debbie, Mere and Kelly.  I didn’t feel so red hot and gaining a bunch more altitude to get to lakes 4 and 5 didn’t help.  But, I knew there were big Goldens up there.  We fished lake 4 and did well.  I remember catching a few nice Goldens at the inlet.  Then we went on a hunting hike through 4 and lake 5.  Kelly and Mere got a little bored with fly fishing and decided the glacier sitting 500 feet above lake 4 would be a perfect source of ice for the bourbon and the old-fashioned mixings they hiked in.  I laughed watching them climb up the shattered granite to that glacier.  I may have a dedication to fly fishing, but those two have an unparalleled dedication to a well-made old fashioned….even above 10,000 feet.

normally i would heavily criticize relaxing on the shoreline while sipping Old Fashioned’s when the fishing is so good.  But, if you are willing to hike in the bitters, bourbon, high end bar cherries and orange slices, then climb a scree of granite 500 feet to a glacier ~ 13,000 feet to harvest the ice to cool your cocktail.  then i guess you have earned it.

I continued to fish successfully as Mere and Kelly hiked back to the camp with their water bottles stuffed with glacial hard packed ice.  Warren soon joined me at lake 4.  We communicated through our Garmin InReaches which made it super convenient to find each other.  And safe.  we fished the upper lakes quite successfully.

fishing the inlets, outlets and the streams between the cottonwood lakes can be very effective

Kelly and Mere were casting pretty efficiently now so short of me releasing the goldens they caught they were pretty self-sufficient.  Debbie was a fishing machine.  Like me, she just doesn’t stop until she has to.  It was Debbie and I on the water each morning first.  In fact, I made it a habit to catch a golden right after the sun rose each morning while taking the first sips of coffee before the morning chores.

“Women with Fly Rods” – Deb, Mere and Kelly at the view overlooking Cottonwood Lake 3

It was just a great couple days of dry fly fishing.  Always with a Huck Hopper, but sometimes trailed by an emerger of what was hatching.  From the minute I started fishing when I got there, nailing my first big golden on a size 12 Huck Hopper within the first few casts to my last cast before leaving.  That is pretty much how it went.  I fished dries the entire time there.  Yea, you can argue an emerger is not a dry, but I was fishing them like dries in the film.  I never had a need to nymph.  I got consistent takes on top the entire time we were there.  We didn’t need to travel far for the fishing to be great.  I stayed right in front of the camp and it fished great until dark. It seemed like our time was so short there.  So many big goldens; so little time.  I Can’t wait until I get back there this coming July.

Debbie took this picture of me early in the morning staggering down to fish with me.  notice the dimples in the calm surface of the lake.  it’s pretty fun to cast and the rises.

Fly Fishing Kauai for Bluefin Trevally from Shore

Update: i now sell the Huck Huna fly that i have had Blue Fin Trevally success with.  order it here.

November 27 to December 4th, 2020

When a fly fisher thinks about fishing Kauai it is typically about the rare and the elusive Kauai rainbows.   I have written about hunting the fabled rainbow trout of Kauai many times.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people have reached out to me over the years for guidance on how to find and fish the rainbows of Kauai.  The “thing” about Kauai’s rainbows is that it’s an all-day thing requiring a big drive, a big hike, and lots of bushwhacking through plants and over lava that will take your blood.  it is very physical.  The rainbows live deep in the jungles of Kokee State park where the rain flows cool down streams and rivers from altitude on the rainiest place on earth.  That also means you are using a machete just to get to the water and frequently to cut a path for your fly line.

This article is about DIY saltwater fly fishing from the Kauai shoreline for the Bluefin Trevally.  I wrote about my success after 20 years of misery last year: https://fly-fishing-blog.timhuckaby.com/fly-fishing-guidance-for-hawaii/.  Well, with the island pretty darn empty and a lot more time on the water I learned a lot more on my latest trip.   There are so many ways to fly fish the saltwater of Kauai.  In this article I will be focusing on just one of the ways: hunting the predator gamefish from shore.

This was a last-minute trip Kelly and I pulled off on points.  We snuck it in between the closing of the Hawaiian Islands in the basically 3 week period that the islands were open in 2020 because of COVID-19.  We own a timeshare in Poipu at the Marriott Waiohai.  20+ years ago I was totally against buying it, but talked into it, unwillingly, by my wife, Kelly.  I was totally wrong.  It was the smartest thing we have ever done.  We go every September, travelling on points, after the kids go back to school and the island is less crowded.  But Covid-19 cancelled this year’s September trip.  With kelly going stir crazy at the house and a government regulated testing program in place we snuck in a weeklong trip…. And we were lucky.  With “no one” on the island it was easy to be covid safe.  The islands locked down again just a few days after we left.

how’d ya’ like to pull the fly out of the face of this beast?

The good news was that the island of Kauai was pretty empty of tourists because of the rigorous requirements of passing governmental covid testing and the short notice of the openings and closing of the islands.  I am confident I will never ever again experience the beaches of that island so empty.  I always worry about my back-cast hitting a curious tourist walking up behind me; not on this trip.  The bad news is the Hawaiian economy, almost solely dependent on tourism, is decimated.  So many businesses and restaurants closed.  The people of Kauai are suffering….or will be when governmental aid runs out.  The business owners are definitely suffering.  Even the Hyatt itself in Poipu has closed indefinitely.  That is a huge, wildly popular resort that is even frequented by the rich and famous.  Such difficult times.

I had to pause the double hauling to just stare at this for a while.

The Fishing

Ok, let’s get to the fishing.  I did well.  I caught around a dozen bluefin trevally over 4 2-4 hour fly fishing sessions.  So it’s not like it was steelhead fishing slow in terms of lack of action.  But, it wasn’t like it was crazy nuts getting struck on every cast trout fishing.  Typically what happens when we visit Kauai is that we pick a new adventure every day.  The “battle” between kelly and I is that we are on one of the, if not the nicest beaches on the island in Poipu, so leaving that beach just feet from our condo is hard for her; understandably so.  Since I can’t sit still I will typically snorkel or fly fish or find something else to keep me busy.  Or she’ll just put a rum drink in my hand to keep me from being fidgety.  rum does work to slow me down.

The Bluefin Trevally – quite a special fish

The Bluefin Trevally

The bluefin trevally was the fish I was hunting.  2 Septembers ago I caught a few special ones. After figuring out how to fish them and that changed me forever.  I now dream about fishing for bluefin trevally.  They are an amazing gamefish predator to battle on a fly rod; very special.  They fight like hell.  I have mentioned a few times on this site the monster bluefin trevally I lost many years ago at Mahaulepu that will haunt me forever.  Also, one of my favorite stories from a few years back is fishing bait on conventional gear with my son, Mark. I bought a cheap $20 trout rod for him at the Walmart on the island.  We were on top of the cliff at secret beach in Mahaulepu.  He hooked and landed a large marbled hawkfish (called a piliko’a in Hawaii).  The hawkfish looks poisonous it has so many spines.  And you cant grab them because of those spines.  We had trouble releasing it with forceps, so I told him to give it a breather in the water and we’d try again after it breathed a bit.  While the fish struggled on the top of the water column, clearly tired, a 3 foot long Blue Trevally came from nowhere like lightning and swallowed it.  It took off like a gun shot and started peeling 6 pound mono test from that cheap trout rod….for about 2 seconds when that cheap reel couldn’t keep up and the line just snapped.  We both looked at each other in shock.  I simply said, “that was the blue trevally.”  He said, “Oh my God…”

One of the Bluefins I caught on this trip was special and has a story.  More on that in a bit. I did catch a handful of predator reef fish in the mix.  It was not crazy every cast getting struck upper Kern River or Clark Fork River crazy like us trout fishermen sometimes experience.  I did have to work for the fish I caught.  Frequently I had to work an area for 30+ casts before getting a strike.

blah blah

To be successful fly fishing the bluefin trevallys (and other similar predators shore-fishing in Kauai) there is a prescription for success.  I am not claiming to be an expert, yet, by any stretch.  But, every hour on the water; every year gets me closer:

  • You have to be able to double haul a cast more than 50 feet, frequently into the wind. So, this is the type of fly fishing that is just not for beginners.
  • You have to be able to do that double haul while standing on lava or rocks or sand getting pounded by waves. I never do anything too crazy that it’s unsafe, but it is annoying when you get pounded.
  • You aim for the back of the wave; not in front of it. if you have snorkeled you have seen fish follow the waves, not get pounded in the chop by them.  It’s easier to keep a tight line in the back of the waves too.
  • You have to be willing to lose flies. Anything can happen with that wind and surf that will allow your fly to sink and catch the reef.
  • I use a Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) TiCr2 9’0″ 4pc. 300-400GB Lefty Kreh 10 weight with a Rio Outbound short tropical line. TFO has replaced the TiCr2 with the Bluewater SG.  With that super fast retrieve I’m fishing the top of the water column so there is no need for casting heaving sinking lines.
  • You have to strip as fast as possible. Because of that fast retrieve the take to landing ratio is really good.  You rarely miss a fish when you are stripping so fast.  Well, except for those damn foot long needle fish that nip at the tails of your flies all the way in.
  • You’re aiming for deeper water that has structure close. Some of my success is simply hunting where they hang out while snorkling.  Then going back at where they are with a rod.  On this trip I was very surprised to run into a school of 20 or so of them in 20 feet of water with a sandy bottom at poipu beach, though.
  • Flies? Well, who knows.  My success came on a number of different flies, including bonefish flies (which makes very little sense).  For that reason alone it seems that presentation, placement and stripping speed are a lot more important than the fly itself.  But, what I was most excited about was catching them on an Avalon Permit fly that my buddy and co-inventor of the fly, William from Cuba and now working at RO Drift boats in Bozeman tied for me.

one of the obstacles to avoid when fly fishing Kauai: the endangered hawaiin monk seal

Catch and Release

In Hawaii the bluefin trevally is called the Omilu.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluefin_trevally.  The Hawaiians not only eat them but consider them a delicacy.  If I was offshore in a boat railing tuna I wouldn’t have a problem keeping a fish.  But, as a tourist, I just don’t feel comfortable harvesting fish from shore.  There are a lot of local Hawaiians that fish from the shore (netting, spear fishing and bait fishing) every day for simple sustenance.  I just don’t feel good about being their competition, so I let everything I catch go unharmed.  And yea, I sure do get some strange looks and even some comments when people see me let fish go after catching them.

Other fish i caught on this trip included the marbled hawkfish – piliko’a and a big ol wrasse or parrotfish that I had trouble releasing so I didn’t take a picture trying to release it without killing it.

Another not so endangered species to avoid tripping over: the green sea turtle.

My favorite Takeaway Story of the Trip

There are some things we do every time we visit Kauai.  One of them is what we call “the north shore” – Kee beach at the very northern part of the island where the road ends at the Kalalua trailhead.  Officially it’s called Hāʻena State Park and you have to reserve in advance and pay a fee because it is so popular.  I like that.  I assume those fees are going to the conservation of that magical place.  It’s a huge trek from Poipu where our condo is on the southern part of the island in Poipu.  It’s an all-day thing.  It’s 51 miles and frequently takes longer than an hour and a half to get to.  You can see from this map.  The interesting thing truly unique about Kauai is that the road doesn’t go entirely around the island; not even close.  A full third of the island is completely undeveloped jungle.  I like that a lot.  Anyways, my point is it is a very popular place and normally I have to walk for over a mile to get space to cast.  Not on this day, though.  No one there.  So, I got to hunt.

A completely empty Mahaulepu. i’m pretty sure i will never see that again in my lifetime

I saw the flash, but it was a good 60 feet away. The wind backed down just long enough for me to double haul my TFO 10 wt TiCR2 into the zone. Whack! At first, I thought I caught the reef…until the reef started peeling line away. That rod is a single hand rod designed by the Lefty Kreh, but it is a beast with two handles and the fighting butt of a spey rod. The fly was an Avalon Permit fly tied by the William of Cuba, one of the designers who currently works at Ro in Bozeman. That fish gave me everything I had in the fight.  Picture little ol me with two hands on the rod and line peeling away.  I was using a 20 lb flouro leader and actually worried about it at points in the battle.  Those Bluefins fight so hard.  Well, after what seemingly took forever and was probably just a few minutes I had it tired out and on a shelf with water so I could release it.  I wanted to do it as quickly as possible so as not to harm the fish.  A couple Hawaiians watched in shock as I let it go.  I put it on my Instagram here.

That’s Kelly on Kee beach with the sun shining and completely empty – shocking

Epilogue

I still have not caught a bonefish on Kauai.  I thought I did two Septembers ago, but one of you readers pointed out that the fish I caught was a related species, but not an actual bonefish. On this trip I did not see a single bonefish so I never got a chance to try.  Of course, the way I fished for Trevallys is totally contrary to the way you’d fish for bonefish; hunting in shallow water from the beach with pinpoint accurate casts and slow retrieves.

school of small bluefin trevally

 

Update: i now sell the Huck Huna fly that i have had Blue Fin Trevally success with.  order it here.

Upper Kings River – Yucca Point Trail

Nov 5-7, 2020

One of the very few trout i C&R’d on this trip.  Huck Hopper, Black, Size 12

Quick Stats:

  • 4 or 5 12” to 14” rainbows landed over 2 ~4 hour fly fishing sessions spread over 2 days. Translation: Slowwwwww….
  • 1 20+ rainbow lost downstream on a head shake nymphing barbless
  • Awful, wet cold, miserable weather….which resulted in 13 hours in the backpacking tent.
  • CFS: who knows? My guess is the flow was 250 CFS at the confluence of the South and Middle Forks of the Kings.  The gauge above boyden cave, up river from the confluence by ~10 miles showed 65 CFS….which just does not make sense.

Brand new sign – it’s a shame this place is not solely catch and release.  It should be

How it Went Down

The plan was a 3-nighter down into one of, if not the most rugged and physical places I have done the backpacking / fly fishing thing at: The Upper South and Middle Forks of the Kings River.  That was the plan.  It did not quite work out that way.

My buddy, and backpacking mentor, Warren Lew and I had been planning this trip for weeks.  We were up against the end of the fishing season (11/15) in most of the sierras.  With huge parts of the Sierras burning and most of the forest closed, this was most likely our last chance to fish for a few months.  What we were worried most about was the smoke.  We tracked it daily.  The small patch of the Sierras was the only legitimate place to backpack to fly fishing in the sierra nevadas mountain range that was within a decent one-day drive of us.  But, the Upper Kings River sits in between the two largest fires in California history.  And they still were not contained.  So we were at the mercy (and crapshoot) of how the wind blew…..and unfortunately the wind did blow…hard.

 

The picture on the left is the view down from the trailhead.  Notice how deep it is and how high Spanish Peak towers above.  on the right is simply the same shot zoomed in on the confluence of the Middle (top) and South (below) forks of the Upper Kings River

Although I still have not figured out a legitimate way to gage the flow in either of the South or Middle forks the Upper Kings I knew from my trip in 3 weeks before, alone, that the river was way down in great shape and crossable in multiple places.  That is the key to any big river in the Sierras.  It’s pretty much the most important factor of the Upper Kern River so, although I don’t have hardly any Kings River experience, I just had to assume flow was just as important in the Upper Kings.  I also assumed that we’d see as good, if not better fly fishing than 3 weeks before when I hike in there alone and was getting takes on huck hoppers on almost every cast.

Here’s Warren with a really nice rainbow he stuck stripping a wolly bugger

It was the first week in November after all.  and that stretch from mid-October to mid-November is typically just nutty good throughout the sierras.  My theory, unproven, is that the trout just know winter is coming and feed like crazy because they know it’s going to be slim ‘pickins until Spring.  That theory could be totally wrong, of course.  But that is how I convince myself each year to bear the bone chilling conditions.  There is winter spawning in the Sierras too which can also positively affect fishing.

Check out the shoulders on this rainbow that warren stuck with a black wolly bugger

I have written the contrasts of the Upper Kings and the Upper Kern before and there is another striking contrast I experienced.  This area of the kings canyon is arguably the deepest canyon in N. America.  The confluence of the South Fork and Middle forks of the Kings River is only at 2,260 feet of altitude, while towering above the confluence is Spanish Peak, which is 10,051 feet tall.  Why is that important?: Light.  With the shortened days of winter, I bet that middle fork was only seeing 4 hours of direct sun per day.  I was in the tent for 13 hours not so much that it was raining.  I have done a ton of fly fishing in rain and snow and everything in between for years.  I was in that tent for 13 hours because it was dark and raining for 13 hours.

Foul Weather

Yes, the weather did chase us out.  We hiked in Thursday morning and had plenty of time to fish.  ~4 hours.  And it was slowwwww….  I couldn’t figure out why…  it should have been epic.  We fished downriver on the middle fork to the confluence and all the way down to the epic water.  We ran into two other sets of advanced fly fishermen and 2 of them got skunked.  Not a single take.  I didn’t put 2 and 2 together at the time.  I caught one fish nymphing.  I didn’t think I’d have to nymph.  But, I could not get a fish to rise for the life of me.  I planned on dry flying the entire time. No hatches or bugs anywhere.   Hmmm….

Warren Caught me in this perfect run saying to myself, “I cannot drift this any better. If i was a trout i would eat that.”

The next day, Friday we headed up river on the s fork.   It started getting windy.  Then it hit me.  The barometer must have been falling like a rock, with bad weather coming, killing the fishing.  There is some support to that theory.  So, I busted out the $2 and got a weather report off my garmin inreach satellite tracker….not good….heavy rain and snow coming.  It was about 2pm and I had caught a couple fish on size 12 huck hoppers.  at one point I said, “if I’m gonna’ get skunked I’m gonna’ do it with a dry fly.  Upon staring at the weather report, Warren said, “Should we hike out now?”  I said something like, “No way, we just got here.”  On Friday around 4pm it started raining.  By 5pm we were in our tents because it was raining hard.  And it was cold.  13 hours later … yes, 13 hours in the tents, wet and cold.  It was a miserable wet cold night.  there was a break in the rain on Saturday morning.  so, we hiked out a day early.  It was 11am when we got to the truck.  It started again.  by the time I was driving out at that higher altitude it was snowing; snowing on top of a foot that had already stuck.

Don’t get me wrong it was a total blast of a trip.  It was Fly Fishing; not working.  and I just love doing the backpacking / fishing thing with Warren.  We are total opposites (he’s felix and I’m Oscar if you are old enough to know that analogy), but we are dear friends and have so much fishing fun together.

If you want to fish the awesome heads and tails in the pools you have to hop, wade, jump your way up conditions like this

Setting Expectations

Although I love this place one of the big reasons is because the lord gave me the “goat gene”; I’m unusually agile. I basically scaled half dome last summer without needing the guide wires and was confused at what the big deal is.  Also because I’m willing to suffer to fish in the back country of the sierras. The Upper Kings River accessed by the Yucca Point trail is so rugged and physical it will scare away 90% of fly fishers….especially those, like me, who are not the fearless totally fit and agile 25 year old I once was.  My buddy warren….he’s crazy like me.  We have backpacked to a lot of fishing.  We love places like this.  But, here’s what is working against you if you want to go there:

  • the trail is poorly maintained…Well, it’s not maintained at all. I guess I’m spoiled by the forks of the Kern trail.  Or it’s my own ignorance to the trails on the western side of the Sierras because I was pretty critical of the Clicks Creek Trail  The Yucca Point Trail a constant brush and snag against bushes, tree limbs and branches.  And there are 3 spots where you have to get around deadfall across the trail.  It’s not so bad (especially for a bushwhacker like me) going downhill.  But, it’s definitely annoying, impeding your progress, and slows you down going uphill.  If you did this trail in shorts and short sleeves you would be scratched up and bloodied as a result of it.

Here I am crossing the river in the quest to find a place to pitch our tents. There are not many within a mile of the end of the trail.

  • It’s a big drive….even if you live in the San Joachin Valley. I live in Carlsbad, CA.  It’s 350 miles and I have to plow through LA to get to it.  There is no local hotel close to overnight before hiking in.  and because of the pandemic, most if not all the campgrounds close are closed.  Even if not closed, the campgrounds close are wildly popular because they are in the national park.
  • It costs money: you have to pay to get through the national park to get to the trailhead…I carry a yearly national park pass…mainly because my son lives within 30 miles of the northern entrance to Yellowstone and also because I love fishing in Yosemite. But, in my experience most fly fishermen don’t want to pay to play.
  • It’s rugged and physical. Once you get to the river the trail ends.  There is no river trail.  It’s bushwhacking, boulder hopping, rock climbing and brutally slippery wading.  I can’t imagine not using a wading staff to fish that river.  I need a couple weeks just to lick my wounds from it.  Shoot you can follow a well-defined and maintained trail along the Upper Kern for 30 miles.  I’m a board member of the san diego fly fishers club and only a tiny percentage of that club is willing to do the forks of the kern trail…and The Forks pales in comparison to the Yucca Trail and Upper Kings River.  Most of that group who do the forks never do it again because of the hike out where you have to gain back 1,100 feet in 2 miles….which pales in comparison to the Yucca Point Trail which in my estimation is ~1,000 feet in 1.5 miles.  I know tons of guides from CA to WY to MT to ID and beyond.  And have done a bit of guiding myself, of course.  I don’t know many guides who would even do the Yucca Point Trail.

Here is a great view right above the Confluence where the Yucca Trail ends to show you just how rugged it is

  • You have to be safe because I have not encountered many rivers more dangerous than the Upper Kings. There is a reason not a lot of people have died on the Upper Kings River: you cannot drive to it.  You can drive to miles and miles of the “Killer Kern” and get within 100 feet of it.  One of the readers of this blog, Lansing McLoskey, emailed me and gave me some great guidance.  And the most important guidance he gave me was about not attempting to fish the river during runoff when “the river is a raging torrent of death”.
  • Poison oak – everything I have read about this place has complaining about the abundance of it. I still have not seen any.  And I am a pro at identifying it.  I have to look for poison oak practically every day because I trail run, hike, and mountain bike in Calavera behind our home and Calavera really does have an ton of poison oak.  I have brushed it so many times getting it I feel like I have built an immunity.  But if so many people have complained about it, it must be there; probably downstream where I still have not go to.
  • There are bears.  Seemingly lots of them.  They are just black bears, of course, so not that scary to me.  But, i know that many are terrified by them.  On my last trip in i saw a juvenile.  On this trip there was scat everywhere.  And very close to where we camped.  As i was leaving (Warren got a head start on me) I smelled one.  if you have been in the backcountry much you know that foul smell.

It is slightly discouraging / creepy when you stagger out in the morning a few hundred feet from where you are camp to do your business when you run into a fresh pile of bear business.

 

The Confluence of the South & Middle Forks of the Upper Kings River

Yucca Point Trail – Sequoia National Forest

October 15-17, 2020

I have been on a quest since the SQF complex fire burnt the Forks of the Kern trail and burnt ~30 miles up the upper Kern river.  My quest is to find an alternative to the Forks of the Kern Trail and the Upper Kern River.  I have found an alternative, but, not a match by any stretch: The Upper South and Middle forks of the Kings River.

Forks of the Kern Status

Firstly, a little report on the Forks.  I cannot tell you how many emails and txts and calls I have answered since August from people wanting updates and to get into the forks before the season closes on November 15th.  Literally hundreds.  Well, I just doubt it’s going to happen.  No way.  Even if the SQF fire was contained consider:

  • The trail is burnt so following it would be impossible. That means trampling a new trail.  Never good
  • Many of those dead trees down there from the pine beetle have fallen while burning on the trail. The western divide ranger district goes in there in the beginning of the season each year and does it’s best to clear the trail.  They have a herculean challenge ahead of them.
  • The Western Divide Ranger district is way short of resources. It’s a shame, but a simple matter of fact that they are understaffed and underfunded.
  • Since the fire is not contained and there are more stupid people on earth than smart ones, the liability of people hiking into the hot zone of the fire would be too much to indemnify.

one of many nice rainbows fooled by the size 12 black huck hopper

Forks Alternative

So, since august I have been searching, researching and talking to the experts about an alternative to the Forks.  I got a lot of help.  Thank you for all the help:

  • Steve Schalla aka “Steven Ojai” of https://www.flyfishingthesierra.com/
  • Mike Hillygus of http://stillwaterriveroutpost.com/
  • Dani Dayton, Visitor Information Services, Forest Service, Sequoia National Forest, Kern River Ranger District
  • Sydney Peters, Administrative Support Assistant, Forest Service, Sequoia National Forest, Western Divide Ranger District
  • Indirectly, Mike Mercer of The Fly Shop. Big surprise: the Missing Link does well here.

I had never fished the Upper reaches of the South or Middle Forks of the Kings River.  I had heard from a small amount of fly fishers that have fished it that it was good and brutally rugged.  So, with expert’s help I planned for about 3 weeks to explore this place I had never been to before. A place that had some folklore about how rugged it is.  I stared at satellite images of the rivers for hours.

this picture just doesn’t do justice to how rugged the middle fork is

Fishing Report

Nuts…  let me start with the good news: spectacular fishing. Surprisingly big fish too.  Mountain rivers and streams and creeks don’t typically hold big fish.  The Upper Kings River does.

On day 2 I ran into two great guys who camped cross river from me, fairly close to me, that I didn’t even notice (because it’s so rugged) until nighttime when I saw lights.  Armen, great guy, is a fly fisherman and his younger buddy, whose name is escaping me right now was spin fishing.…and they were killing.  They showed me pictures of some quality fish.  You know it’s good when beginners and the not so experienced are doing well…and catching big fish. I gave them some Mercer’s missing links.  I love helping beginners.  I love talking about fly fishing to people who get as excited about it as me.  I love helping with guidance and giving away the flies I tie.  It brings me so much joy.  Like the many fly fishers I meet from this site and on the river, I asked them to join me on the forks next season.

The 3 dozen Mercer’s Missing Links i tied

I fished a couple hours on Thursday night after hiking in, all day Friday, and a couple hours on Saturday before hiking out.  85% of the time I fished dries only.  The only time I did the dry dropper thing was mid day when it always slows.  I fished size 12 Huck Hoppers and wrecked.  Note: on the hike in I saw a black grass hopper about a size 6.  I had never seen a grasshopper that dark black before.  So, the first huck hopper I tied on was black size 12 and it did well.  After ~4 hours of fishing it on the middle fork, it was completely chewed up from trout teeth, would no longer float upright, and still caught fish.

just another quality rainbow from the South Fork of the Kings River

After 5pm I fished size 16 and 18 Mercer’s Missing Links.  Recently, I had the pleasure of email meeting the fly fishing famous Mike Mercer of “The Fly Shop”.  He is that guy that invented the fly; the fly you would want if you only could have one (the Adams or the Missing Link).  Nicest guy in the world.  So, I actually tied 3 dozen of them in green, traditional rusty brown and black for this trip and my annual October Mammoth trip I have coming up.  They did well, but I have a feeling size 18 anything would have worked at night during the witching hour from 5pm to dark.

The hatches were prolific, but, the one natural that was out of the ordinary was an abundance of a ~ size 14 white mayfly.  It kinda’ looked like a Cahill that you would fish in the spring in the eastern US.  So interesting.  I’d love to know exactly what it was.  I have no idea.  I have never seen a pale mayfly like that in the sierras.  Please email me if you know.  Guesses are welcome because I sure as hell don’t know what it was.

Mid-day on Friday when it got hot and the water warmed, the bite on top slowed a bit.  Which, of course, is no surprise.  So I nymphed a little with a dry dropper rig with a huck hopper on top….and every nymph I tied on seemed to work.  naturals like my green caddis cripple and attractors like my rainbow warrior cripple both worked great.  But, the dropper thing didn’t last long because I started catching fish on the huck hopper again.  And with a dropper during a fight, it typically wraps around the fish and double hooks the fish or gets caught in the gills.  I always want to catch and release with the least impact and stress on the fish.  I’m the guy that tries to shake fish off at my feet. So I just cut off the dropper part and fished size 12 huck hoppers successfully until the witching hour.  Then I switched to size 16 and 18 Missing Links.

That GoPro 8 my brother gave me is simply an amazing camera.

Over the course of a full day of fishing and ~3 more hours of fishing on the night and morning on both sides of that day, I landed 3 fish over 18” and lost 3 fish over 18”.  I caught plenty of fish in the 10-14” range.  I saw plenty of trout fry on the banks; a great sign of a healthy river.  Every fish I caught was a rainbow.  But, it appeared to be many different types of rainbows; there were chromers and really dark spawning looking like rainbows.  I understand they have a lot of species of trout in the kings that have turned wild and reproduce with much success.  In contrast to the Upper Kern, none of the many fish I caught jumped.  The wild native Kern River Rainbows are just jumpers and go ballistic….and make them so hard to land.   On the Kings I never had a fish run me down river or go nuts like they do on the Kern.  Don’t get me wrong the fights were great: lightning runs you’d expect from wild fish.  Shoot, I even broke a fish off….and then switched to 3x so it wouldn’t happen again.  My hook to land ratio was a lot greater than I typically get on the Upper Kern.  I chalk that up to the difference between wild fish and wild natives.  There are very few places in the world that only hold wild natives.  The upper kern is one of those places.

I spent most of the day on Friday fishing my way up the Middle Fork of the Kings River.  It had the least info on it.  It was the hardest to access.  And I was told was the most rugged.  So, I couldn’t resist; that is the adventure gene in me that sometimes borders on unsafe.  I think I fished a couple miles up stream and I caught fish the entire way, but it was so rugged it could have only been a mile.  There is no river trail, nor is there much river bank.  It’s mostly wading upriver through giant slippery boulder fields.  I caught a good amount of big fish in the Middle Fork when all the intel I got from others said I would only catch small fish.  It was such crystal clear water on the middle fork that many times I could see the fish so I got to hunt them.  I got to see some refusals too.

Saturday morning, I fished the South Fork from the trailhead for a couple hours and did well.  I ran into an experienced fly fisherman that told me he had been coming there for years.  He told me downstream there were many lunkers and that he caught a 21” the day prior.  When I go back I’d like to take a shot at those lunkers downstream on the South Fork.

 another quality rainbow from the South Fork of the Upper Kings River

Favorite Moment: Like many, I always seem to remember the fish I lost more than the ones I land.  But, there was one special experience I will remember from the Kings.  After the bear sighting I climbed / waded my way up to a plunge pool into crystal clear deep turquoise water.  I didn’t notice all the lunkers in ten feet of water on the opposite side yet because there was a large fish working on top right at the head in some current.  I slowly moved, out of the water on the rocky bank to 30-40 feet.  I could see the fish was feeding on a ~10 second cadence, but I could not tell what the fish was rising on.  He was tailing too, like a bonefish so my guess he was catching the emergers before they hatched and flew away.  I carefully stepped in the water to a casting position.  I said to myself, “he’s going to strike on the first cast and I will only get one shot at him.”  I had that black size 12 huck hopper on and for a second considered switching to a size 16 missing link.  For a second.  I waited the cadence, then casted and the huck hopper.  It landed perfectly upstream in the current.  When the huck hopper over his head he whacked it violently and I set hard.  It was a great battle in that large pool.  After a few minutes I put my GoPro on its tripod in the water and pulled the fish to it to witness the fight.  Out of the water it was a really darkly colored beautiful trout north of 18”.  He was still pissed off when I released him.

The Adventure

My god what a rugged place.  I’m not a lifelong backpacker.  Backpacking is a means to an end for me.  I am a fly fisherman.  I have learned quite a bit about backpacking over the last decade.  But, over half my backpacking has been in the Forks.  I have backpacked parts of the JMT and cottonwood lakes above 12k feet and other places in the Sierras.  But, I have never backpacked a place that is so rugged there are no trails.  Once the trail down into the canyon ends there is no trail.  It’s too rocky for trails.  My buddy Warren who has taught me so much about backpacking backed out of the trip last minute because of the smoke forecast.  So, I hiked in alone.  Thank God, I found a place for my tent downstream quickly.  Over the entire 3 day adventure I only saw 4 primitive sites and I covered many miles.  And two of the sites required river crossings.

The view down to the confluence from the Yucca Point Trailhead

I was looking for an alternative to the forks of the kern and technically it is… but the trail is not maintained…. It’s more like a bush whack / fishermen’s trail.  The bushes and branches grab you constantly.  There are a number of deadfall detours that take you off trail too.  And once you get down in the canyon there is no trail. It’s too rocky.   You are truly in the barely explored wilderness.  I also talk about the “tax” of the forks.  It’s that 1100 foot decent over 2 miles into kern canyon.  Well, the “tax” here is much more significant.

The Kings River is not for the faint of heart.  I had my lightweight Orvis wading boots.  It was hot enough not to need waders.  I’d guess it was about 300 cfs in both the South and Middle Forks.

I did two nights and had my share of calamity with a couple falls.  No biggie; just pain.  I’m banged up, strained, cut, and bruised.  The smoke moved in on Friday night.  On sat morning before the sun came up I could smell it.  when the sun came up it was there.  I txt’d from my garmin satellite tracker to my buddy Warren for a smoke report.  He told me it was going to get bad.  So, I caught and released a handful more trout that morning on the South Fork where I had not fished yet. Then hiked out mid day on Saturday before the smoke got bad.

spot fishing / hunting for big trout in clear water in the middle fork of the upper kings river

Surprises / Fun Facts / Stories:

  • The Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in North America. That is quite a fun fact if you have been to the Grand Canyon.  It has steep canyon walls and where I put my tent was at the base of the southwestern side.  Why is that interesting?  Well, I was shocked by the fact that It was pitch black by 6:30 PM and not light until after 7AM.  There is only so much you can do in the tent for 12 hours in the dark.  Thank god for the podcasts I download to my phone before leaving and my solar charger….which, btw, I had to do a river crossing over the S. Fork to get it in the sun.

    my stuff set up at the primitive camp site i was lucky to stumble into

  • The other issue I was surprised by was the river flow. I used this graph to gage what I’d be in for: https://www.dreamflows.com/graphs/day.660.php which read 70 CFS before I left. 70 CFS is nothing…a creek.  As mentioned already I didn’t find 70 CFS; more like 4 times that.  The other shock was that the high-water mark was 30 feet above the waterline.  That is more crazy than the “Killer Kern”.  Like I said earlier I’d guess it was about 300 cfs in both the South and Middle Forks.  That means after the confluence my guess would be about 600 CFS.  I only saw one place after the confluence where a cross was possible even though I did not attempt it.  but I can only imagine that river in the springtime at over 20,000 CFS.  They call it the “Killer Kern” and that is because people can drive to the Kern; there is access.  There have been 294 deaths at the Kerrn river from 1968 to May 2018….because you can drive to good portion of it.  If there was a way to drive to the Upper Kings it would kill a lot of people.
  • You have to plow through the national park to get there. That means paying a fee.  I needed a re-up on my yearly national park pass, so not a problem.  It’s just so like me to plan so carefully for so long and not even notice that the drive takes you through Sequoia National Park and out the other side.
  • I ran into 3 hunters and actually saw them before they saw me. And for Gods sakes I was the one standing in the river!  Nice guys.  But, I’m not a deer and really didn’t want to get mistaken for one.  I never did hear a gun shot, but I was only there a couple hours on that last day. So I don’t know if the deer and the bears won this day.
  • Helicopter story – on the night after hiking in I was fishing the witching hour and doing well. Then from nowhere, a coast guard helicopter blew in…one of the big ones with a bunch of people on board hanging out the open doors of the side doors… it was only 100 feet over my head.  Blew my hat off…  It circled around me up and down the river.  Talk about knocking down the hatch.  At first I was like, “holy shit, they are here to get me because there is a fire close”.  But, I waved to the guys hanging out the side, and they waved back.  They didn’t use their loud speaker like I have seen in search and rescue.  They circled me about 10 times even landing downriver at one point.  So, I figured they were just doing search and rescue drills.  Pretty impressive.  But, kinda’ ruined the hatch I was working.  It would have been nice if they used their loudspeaker to tell me not to worry.
  • On Friday when I fished the middle fork I saw a small bear crossing the river about 200 yards ahead of me. And then I hooked up.  By the time I was in a place to look up again at the bear it was gone.  Little bears are sometimes accompanied by pissed off big female bears.  So, because I was alone I was a little wigged out.  Yes, of course I forgot my bear spray back at camp.  Yes, of course I fished it straight through.
  • This was the first backpacking trip i have done without having to use a jetboil, let alone a camp fire.  There is currently a forest wide ban on anything ignited because of the fires.  I survived.  i had jack daniels.
  • Falls / Injuries – I came back home bruised, strained, battered from this trip. God didn’t give me much, but he did give me the agile gene and I’m athletic for a little guy.  One of my best buddies calls me “goat-boy” because of it.  it’s a nice attribute to have if you are a wading fly fisherman.  But….
    1. On the way down the trail I felt that tinge I have felt so many times before over the last decade. I have been an endurance runner since my 20s.  but, a decade ago I started suffering a chronic injury when running.  It starts with a tinge in the back of my calve.  It’s a tear in the sheath that holds the muscle.  If I keep running the hernia gets worse and worse.  So I have learned to stop and give it a few days to heal.  Well, I felt the tinge early in the hike down.  By the end of the trek I was limping.  Uggh….
    2. Well, it got so dark so quickly on that first night I had trouble hanging my food. i couldn’t find a branch low enough if you can imagine that.  Because it was dark after one of my throws (rock attached to cord) I stepped back into nothing and fell down a hill in the dark.  It was dirt and bushes there…thank god.  And I did manage to turn mid fall and land on my stomach instead of my back (bad).  But, I bent my pinky backward when I landed and feared it was broken.  It was not.   But, it was very strained and sore.
    3. I started using a wading staff this year to quickly navigate up stream in the Kern and I brought it on this trip. But, even with that I took a fall end of day on the middle fork when I was already tired from the crazy ass adventure of wading and climbing.  This fall was from a bit of distance though.  I stepped down on a dry rock in the river and my wading boot just never caught anything; it slipped immediately and quickly.  I fell with some velocity and hit my right knee and stomach on rocks at the same time.  At 58 falls are just not the same as when you are young.  I haven’t had that much pain in a long time.  I literally sat in the river for 10 minutes collecting myself in pain and hoping to back down the swelling in my knee.  The pain in my stomach was like nothing I had ever experienced.  At one point I thought I was going to chunder.  While sitting in the river collecting myself I couldn’t help but think if I hit my head my corpse wouldn’t be found for a week.  “That’s it.” I “called it” at that point and slowly limped back to camp using my wading staff arguing with myself if I had pushed the safety thing a bit too far by being alone.
  • On Saturday morning early I crossed the river by my camp and walked down river on the island to the actual confluence of the middle and south forks. I think I hooked a couple and/or caught a couple fish on the middle fork there and in the actual confluence.  Great water for a streamer which I will do next time.  But, out of the wilderness from downriver on the middle fork comes a young guy; very fit… “excuse me is that the yucca point trail?”.   I laughed, pointed and said, “yea, it’s right there.”   He seemed relieved and smiled.  I knew no one had hiked in between when I fished up river and then, so I asked, “I fished 2 miles upriver yesterday and didn’t run into you guys.  So, where in the hell did you come from?”  “I think we made it about 7 miles upriver.”  Aghast I said, “my god.  You must have made 50 river crossings in the process.”   He said smiling, “you could not imagine what we have seen and been through.”  I said, “oh yea I can, I almost killed myself just fishing it a couple miles.”  They were ultra light backpackers.  No tents, no rods, basically dry clothes, wet clothes, a lightweight bag and food.   One of them, my age, but as fit as a 20-year-old, had a waterproof pack.  He literally floated on his back through the confluence to get to the other side to hike out.

You know when you get splashed in the face when you are trying to release a hot trout? Well, this is what happens a split second before that.

Summary

The Kings River is not for the faint of heart.  The “tax” here is more significant than the Forks of the Kern.  But, the fishing makes it worth it for crazy old guys like me.  I cannot wait to get back in there.  Next time not alone, though.  The Forks of the Kern is tame compared to this place.

Interestingly enough the Yucca Point trail is not at altitude.  It’s ~3,100 feet at the trailhead.  So, it probably gets very little snow, if any.  there is actually poison oak there.  There is no shortness of breath like hiking at altitude.  But, it does get hot; very hot.

The Official Forest Service site says it’s 3.6 miles long with a 1,360ft descent and ascent.  That translates to a 1.8 mile hike with 680 feet of descent.  My GPS, which has 2” resolution, said the hike down was 1.29 miles.  Although I haven’t looked at the actuals yet from my garmin inreach satellite tracker, I bet that descent was close to 1000 feet.  Google Earth says the altitude is 2,058 feet at the confluence which supports my theory that the decent is ~1000 feet.  It’s funny how many of the official sites are so wrong.  The content for them was built years ago before technology.

Since I cannot get into the upper Kern for the close of the season, I am hoping to get back in to the Upper Kings before the season closes November 15.  11/15 is the end of the fishing season in most of the sierras and typically an epic fishing time of year….and bitter awful cold.  Since the Forks of the Kern will most likely not be opened again until next Spring, the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River by way of the Yucca Point Trail is the only legit alternative I know of for the fly fisherman who is willing to pay it’s “tax”.  The tax is significant.

you can’t miss this sign on hwy 180