The 4-year California drought is over. I’m no scientist; and I have no right to say that. But, I don’t have to be. I have been watching the flow charts for the Upper Kern River because I just can’t wait to back pack into the Forks of the Kern again. And the river is big again. it’s big and it’s nasty again; at least from a computer it was. It’s been four years since I have seen the Upper Kern River at normal levels. This post is about me dying to see it for myself.
Last year I backpacked into the forks of the Kern the day they opened the road (NFs2282 / Lloyd Meadow Road) on April 21st. This year because of the snow pack, I doubt I can get in there until June or even later. We just have so much snowpack. I’m told we are at 125% and two more big storms, at least, are lined up to pound the Sierras.
I had a business trip to Lemoore, CA which is in the central valley 350 miles north of where I live in Carlsbad, CA on March 9th, 2016. I call the upper Kern River my home waters. Sure, I have fished the Mammoth and Bishop area rivers for years. But, I have not commanded them like I have the Upper Kern. And the Upper Kern is just so remote, wild, and physical that few people do it. So, it really is my favorite river to fly fish that is within driving distance.
Well, on this business trip, I just couldn’t resist a 150 mile detour to see the Upper Kern River myself. I went to the Johnsondale Bridge to see just how high the River is. As a point of reference the Johnsondale Bridge, which really is not in Johnsondale, just south of it, is twenty miles North of Kernville. The reason it was a 150 mile detour is that all the mountain roads are closed in the winter. I had to come up from the south through Kernville.
Like I have said many times before, “The only good thing about the 4 year drought is the fly fishing on the Upper Kern”. The drought turned the Upper Kern from a raging class IV & V wild river to a tame, easy to fish, crossable river. For the last 4 years there has not been a spot of water in the upper kern I could not cast to and much of the river was wadable with many crossable spots. Those days are over. At least they are over until the next drought.
Last year in April the flows were under 200 CFS; in March even lower. What I found was flows of over 700CFS
And now the river is back to normal flows, if not higher than normal.
I have a favorite run with a tailout and some good pocket water just a 1.5-mile hike up river from the Johnsondale bridge. I always catch fish there. So, I wadered up and with a 5 wt started my hike to the spot. when I first crossed the bridge I looked closely. I could see the river was up. But, it’s slow moving water there. I couldn’t tell just how up it was. By the time I got to my spot it was a totally different river. Firstly, the willows that sprouted and grew in the 4 year drought at the side of the river were now underwater. Which means wading in front of them was now in deep, swift water. My little run in normal flow was now a dangerous one. I had to perch myself on submerged boulders where the penalty for failure is significant. secondly with the water so high making the drifts into the channels had now become fast which require me to weight down my nymph rig. And lastly, and what makes the Kern so challenging in normal flows is that the river is so big again I couldn’t wade to a point where I could cast to the opposite side of the river. And a 60 foot roll cast is just not realistic. All this combined with the fact that not a single bug was in the air meant that I had a 1.5 hour casting lesson.
And isn’t that the great thing about fly fishing and rivers in general? Just when I thought I had mastered the upper Kern mother nature changed it all up again so I need to learn it all new again.