Tag Archives: Upper Kern River

Forks of the Kern – San Diego Fly Fishers Club

July 15-19, 2020

I serve the board of the San Diego Fly Fishers Club.  For years, I have taken club members into the Forks.  If you read on this site you know how much I love the Forks.  I promised to do an “official” club trip with a larger group and I’m sure glad I did.  The “cat herding” of organizing and planning was well worth it.  We had so much fun.  9 tents in the huck site – a new record.  We set a lot of new “first times” and new records at “The Forks”.  I’ll elaborate some of them below.  What a great and diverse group!  From total beginner fly fishers to advanced experts.  I spent a lot of time guiding some of the beginners and absolutely had a blast doing it.

The weather was fantastic; never too hot.  We always seemed to have a breeze.  There were no mosquitos, but that is pretty common at the forks.  There is just not a lot of standing water near that raging river like there is on the eastern side of the sierras.  My guess is that is got to 80 degrees riverside.  But, the nights were cool; all the way in your 18 degree sleeping bag cool.  My guess was it got under 50 at night.  That is a big swing in temperature which is common at the Forks.

Steve Vissers in battle. Steve and I fished this run just 1/4 mile up river from the huck site for an hour and absolutely wrecked. lots of big fish.

We ate (and drank) well too.  I did not lose weight on this trip.  And I was doing 30K+ steps per day which included hiking, bushwhacking and fighting current.  I did the sous vide thing on a huge steak and lamb chops because there is a forest wide ban on campfires so I couldn’t grill them.  I hiked in a little butter and flashed them in my titanium frying pan under my jet boil.  It worked perfectly.  In terms of adult beverages here is what I noticed flowing: scotch, JD, bourbon, wines, beer….and port wine… now, that is a first.  And clearly not a sacrifice.  Since this is only a 4.36 mile hike to the huck site it offers the opportunity to carry a lot more weight going in and hike out that canyon much lighter.

Check out that giant steak i did by sous vide at home then flashed at huck camp

Everyone caught fish – The fishing was great.  Not a surprise because at those low flows the fishing is always great.  The 4 straight drought years a few years back provided some of the best fishing on the upper kern ever.  Some of the advanced fly fishers did really well.  Lots of big Kern River Rainbows well.  “Top 5 fly fishing trips ever” well.  At 240 CFS the river was crossable in many places safely including right at the huck site.  Like I have said on this site many times if you can fish the other side of the river you will put your flies in places where the fish just rarely see artificials.

Is that a Huck hopper stuck in that big fish’s face? why yes it is…

I’m a big believer in that 3 fly set up I detail in the Forks guidance document with the 3 titanium bead beldar stone pulling down a size 16 green caddis cripple.  I call it the Upper Kern river special.  It’s wildly effective.  I only fished that rig for 15 minutes, catching 2 kern river rainbows quickly.  I didn’t need to nymph.  I fished 98% of the time with dries.  Mostly Huck Hoppers.  Most of the time I fished a double dry with a battleship size 4 huck hopper above, trailed 18” behind by a size 12 huck hopper.  Color did not seem to matter.  I fished tan, brown, grey, black and green and they all got struck.  But, I wish I had those huck hoppers size 4 in yellow with me.  I did not.  there were yellow naturals on the banks and trails… all huge like 2s, 4s, 6s.… with a yellow body and black streaks and yellow wings.  A lot of them.  My guess is that the yellow huck hopper would have done well.  The reason I stopped nymphing when it was so effective?  A large kern river rainbow struck that big huck hopper with the beldar stone and the green caddis cripple below.  I set hard.  There were a lot of jumps and a battle.  I tried to release the tired fish quickly.  It was easy to remove the big huck hopper from it’s face.  But the 3+ feet of flouro and two nymphs were wrapped around the trout; not good.  I snipped the tippet in multiple places quickly so I could release that fish unharmed.  When it swam away I said to myself, “why redo that nymph rig all up again with its 5 separate knots when they are just going to rise for a battleship sized huck hopper.”  I never nymphed again on the trip.  There was no need to.  I saw consistent rises to huck hoppers all trip long even when the river warmed.

I have started tying a lot more size 12 black huck hoppers. they imitate so many naturals including queen flying ants

The flow was at 240CFS, which is drought-like flow.  And really bizarre for July to be so low on an average snowpack year.  It has to do with the amount, frequency and temperature that the snow falls and freezes.  I measured the river temp at the huck site in the morning at 58 degrees.  That is in the range that trout dig.  It is melted snow from Mt. Whitney, afterall.  But, after 35 miles in direct sunlight and air temps over 80, the river rose to 72 degrees by eod.  Typically, trout hate that warm water.  But, we all were getting rises in that water temp and catching fish.  Which means they were hunkered down at the bottom in the cooler channels and pockets and shot to the top to feed.  Don’t get me wrong.  There definitely was a lull in action from 11:30AM to 3:30PM.  But, I cannot explain why the fishing picked up in the later afternoon with those warm water temps.

Bruce Bechard fishing the tail-out at the huck site

As mentioned, we had a number of new firsts on this trip:

  • The way it shook out ½ of the group hiked in on Wednesday morning with me scouting and securing a site. and the other ½ hiked in Thursday. My plan from the beginning was to hike in a day early, securing a spot big enough for the group.  Then hike all the way back out and lead the group in the next day.  But, a bunch of these folks wanted to just hike in with me a day early.  Hiking back out provided an opportunity.  My buddy jeff kimura joined me in hiking back out with an empty backpack.  I filled mine with a 20 can box of coors and a few more random beers and some fresh food and jeff put a huge watermelon in his pack.  Both firsts.  I have to be the first 58 year old to hike a case of beer 4.36 miles up from the confluence on the forks trail.  And there is no way a full watermelon has made it that far up river.

Eric Miller, Angelina and Jeff Kimura eating watermelon at the Huck Site

  • I just realized this was the first 4-nighter I have ever done in the forks. Between the demand of work and family I just have never had the time to do anything longer than 3 nights.  It’s been mostly 2 nighters.  And honestly by the 5th day I was having so much fun, I wanted to stay a few more days.  A lot had to do with the fun group and a lot had to do with the awesome fishing and a lot had to do with not facing the reality of 5 days of going dark from work.  I do have to figure out how to do a 7-day trip to the forks.  I just have not been as far up that river as I would love to.
  • The rope swing at the huck site – I get emails all the time about how fun it is for kids. But, I had no idea how many “adults” could enjoy that thing.  With that late afternoon rise in water temp, a few found a 20 foot swing and 10 foot plunge into the deep pool in front of the huck site a welcome relief and a lot of fun.  Me?  I hiked in a pair of swimming goggles and swam / floated the run in the huck site chasing / spotting fish.  I knew that pool was deep.  I didn’t realize how deep.  It was eerie how deep that pool is.  The bottom was just beyond site even with goggles.  Even in that low flow it was deeper than 20 feet.  And the water was cold below 5 feet deep.

Angelina with Eric looking on at a graceful entrance to the big pool at the Huck Site.

Eric Miller executing on his now infamous 1/2 back flip of the rope swing

Bruce Bechard, grandfather, pretending like he is 14.

The cache is now overwhelmed with great “stuff”.  I’m going to have to start thinking about a more permanent container to survive the winter.  We have 3 saws of all sizes with extra blades, nippers for cutting back those pesky willows.  Cooking stuff.  A tent. Wading shoes. Etc.  But, thanks to Jeff Kimura the cache now has a quality camp table.  Too big for a backpack he hiked it all the way down the mountain holding it.  No more leaning over awkwardly, with back pain, to cook at the huck site.  If you want to use the cache and/or contribute to it download the “Guidance and Directions to the Forks of the Kern” doc.  Yes, I do realize it will be vandalized again by broadcasting it’s existence this.  Like it has been vandalized a few times going back in history.  It is still worth it to me to share.  If vandalized, I’ll just move it farther up the mountain and simply build it up again.

Animals and Calamities

If you have read on this site before I always say, “There are always calamities in backpacking.  You just hope they are little ones and you can overcome them.”  Short of the cuts, bruises and lots of muscle soreness our calamity ratio was pretty low.  I counted 3 broken rods, but we had plenty of spares.  I’m pretty confident everyone fell. It’s just part of the “tax” when fishing that river at such low flows.  I fell at least 3 times.  All 3 were “refreshing” without pain.  in that low flow the silt accumulates on the polished granite and it can be like stepping on ice.

The animals seen down at the forks included coyotes, deer, water snakes, rattle snakes, California king snakes and the normal smaller mammals.  No bears.  At that temp they are way up in altitude.  I’m sure mountain lions saw us, but we didn’t see them.  We had middle of the night visitors even though we hung our food.  They can’t help sorting through the trash bags.  I should have hung them.  But, something happened in the middle of the night that will be a mystery forever.  We put all the cold storage food and the booze and beer in mesh bags in the river.  They are secured to the bank.  On the first morning one of the mesh bags was pulled out of the river and the bottom was surgically opened as if with sharp teeth or claws.  Only the fats were consumed, like butter, which is typical of a predator…typical of a bear.  But, I find it hard to believe that a bear wandered into camp in the middle of the night with 9 tents scattered around and no one noticing.  A racoon?  It would have to be a strong smart one… or one willing to get in the water.  I have never seen a racoon at the forks.  A river otter?  So rare.  Maybe.  I have no idea if they eat anything but fish.

I did have a terrifying moment.  If you fish places like this, you are going to have incidents like this.  Because of the low flow I was getting into a position on an awesome run that is absolutely impossible to fish except in low flow.  I slowly worked myself into position.  I looked toward the bank and was staring face level at a rattlesnake coiled, eye to eye at 3 feet away… definitely within its striking distance.  Its rattle was not going off, but it was tucked back into a crevice in the rocks so it might have been if free.  In fact, it probably would have been.  Well, I jumped away from it, straight into the river and said, “that’s it. not fishing here.”

this beautiful stretch is where i came face to face with the rattlesnake

My favorite moments of the trip:

….were not from my own fishing….although I did catch a bunch of quality Kern River rainbows and one Little Kern Gold-bow.  They were all from fishing with beginners:

  • Delia Cooley – this gal loves to fly fish! It didn’t take me 30 seconds to figure out her husband John was a stick.  He has a beautiful cast.  So, it was super fun to take the “husband guiding the wife” thing off his hands for a few stretches.  It was clear Delia had been taught how to overhand cast.  But, still a beginner. It was her willingness and eagerness to take instruction that was so fun for me.  It got us quickly to roll casting…. A must on the upper kern for success.  Then we moved to multi-current drifts with both upstream and downstream mends, where fish are located, inside and outside seams, downstream setting skills…shoot, we even made it to a really advanced skill: letting a drift swing to the bank and tighten to tension 40+ feet downstream.  Then doing a tension / inertia cast 40+ feet straight back upstream.  Getting 30 foot drift coming straight at you with line control.  Then as the fly gets within 10 feet, roll casting it on a 45 degree down to the run in front of her to drift it out 30 feet and do it again.

I just love this picture John took of me and Delia

  • Jay Gross – I think this might have been one of Jay’s first fly fishing trips. A true beginner.  I had 2 favorite moments with Jay.  first was that witching hour at the end of the day where you can barely see and typically you can throw a size 18 anything.  Well, I complicated things for him by adding a size 20 midge emerger 18 inches down from his top fly.  The take was like a rocket.  I screamed, “Go!”  and he set hard.  He got into a short battle with a 12”- 14” kern river rainbow.  ….Size 20 barbless hook.  Well it shook him after about 10 seconds of battle, but he fooled him and fought him so I call that a catch.  I was most certainly excited screaming, “Wooo!”  Earlier in the day a similar thing went down.  This time in broad daylight in a clear river I watched it like was in slow motion.  A similar size fish shot up from below, grabbed his huck hopper and took it down.  It couldn’t have been more than 20 feet in front of us.  I screamed “Go!”.   that fish took the hopper to the bottom in clear view before head shaking it out of its mouth.  Jay didn’t “go”.  I said, “Why didn’t you set?”  he said, “I didn’t see it.”  I laughed and he laughed saying, “I don’t see very well.”
  • Jeff kimura – Jeff was a beginner last year. He is no longer a beginner. It is of pure coincidence that we met in person.  Because he lives right down the street from me.  Now he has the fly-fishing bug so badly I feel like I have to apologize to his wife, Diane.  Because I know from experience that his “bug” won’t be cured and is just going to cost more and more money.  Jeff caught a big one.  It was every bit of 15” and bordering on 16”.  And it was a football.  And it’s tail was a fan.  That in itself is special for a Kern River Rainbow.  But, the best thing is that he caught it in kern flats.  I don’t think I have ever caught a big fish in Kern flats.  It’s popular, easy to cast, and sees a lot of pressure.  It went down like this: We were leap frogging each other as we plowed up stream to Kern Flats.  I was upriver from Jeff when I heard the shout.  I looked down river and his rod was bent sideways.  The fish was downstream from Jeff and running downstream hot.  I thought he was doomed.  It’s so hard to get a big wild native fish back up river.  You have to chase them. We never got to any detailed fish fighting skills.  Of course, I was so excited for Jeff I threw my rod on the bank and was running to him yelling “Go with him Jeff!  Run downstream with him!”  After I caught up to Jeff he had a lot of line out and the line was still in his hand.  It could have been in the backing.  I was screaming, “rod tip high!”  “Get him on the reel!”.  After I said, “Jeff, get him on the reel.” For the 2nd time Jeff said, “I can’t.  my drag was set too light.  He came close to spooling me when he ran and bird-nested my reel.”  I laughed.  Jeff fought that fish like a pro holding the fly line.  I know an old guide trick about landing fish.  We didn’t have a net.  I ran downstream from the fish, working my way back splashing and scared the fish back up stream to jeff.  When jeff got him close and tired I said, ok swing him in and beach him.  I think I shocked Jeff when I said that, but the fish was still hot and not only did I want a good look at that fish I knew jeff would too.  I knew we could do it without hurting the fish. Jeff swung him perfectly on momentum not pulling too hard into polished granite in about 2 inches of water.  I pulled that huge hopper out of its face, placed the fish in Jeff’s hands and he released him after making sure he got enough breaths to take off.

Upper Kern River – Johnsondale Bridge Trail

April 3-5, 2020

A big Kern River Rainbow with a size 12 grey Huck Hopper Hanging out of his face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the COVID-19 work at home thing is killing me.  let’s just say in addition to the stir crazy I was stepping all over my wife’s (of 31 years) toes.   I travel a lot in my job and have for over 20 years.  So, because i have been home full time for weeks, my lovely bride of 31 years is ready to kill me.  My wife is not used to me in her castle.

As for the stir crazy…. well, it boiled over last week for me.  Being home 24/7 for a guy that constantly travels in his job and loves talking in person to engineers… I couldn’t take it anymore.

So, I backpacked the johnsondale bridge (JBD) trail and camped for 2 nights on the upper kern.  I called the Western Divide Ranger district before going and short of verifying my 2020 CA fire permit and the social distancing advice I got, they were totally supportive.  The JDB trailhead is about 20 miles downriver of the forks trail crossing of the little Kern River above the confluence of the Little Kern River and the main fork of the Kern.   The JDB trail has a lot easier to access on right on mountain road 99 just 15 miles north of kernville.  I really wasn’t worried about social distancing on that trail.  And I was right.  I hardly saw any humans for 3 straight days.

The contrast in the JDB trail and the Forks trail is significant: The JDB trail is pretty flat with very little elevation gain or loss.  but, unlike the Forks trail which is mostly dirt, the JDB trail is a lot rockier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best thing about this trip, though, was meeting up with a couple young fly fisherman who found me through this site.   These two, Jason Headley and Joey Castellanos are over 20 years younger than I am.  And because of meeting them I am no longer convinced the generation below me is doomed and going to destroy the world because of their lack of interest and experience and knowledge of the wilderness.   Because of these two, I have hope for humanity after I’m long gone.   I’m used to teaching kids about the wilderness.  These guys taught me things!   Do you know how to identify a Jeffries Pine and that it smells like vanilla?  I do now thanks to them… and now I am motivated and have already started learning about the native pine trees of the sierra Nevada mountain range of California.  These guys joy of wilderness, and their joy of the fly-fishing experience and their positive attitudes was intoxicating.  It made me rethink the way I have taken some of the fly-fishing experience for granted.

One of the great things about the Upper Kern River is that the crystal clear water sometimes allows you to spot fish.

We txt’d on my way up so I knew they had a couple hours of start on me.  For some reason, I was skeptical I’d actually run into them while hiking.  The trail is rugged, wild and gets away from the river in spots.  But without seeing a single soul I ran into them in a primitive site right off the trail just 2.5 miles upriver.

Another Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 12 Huck Hopper hanging out of his face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I initiated the discussion about the virus immediately.  I’m a traveler and have been in airplanes just ~4 weeks ago.  So, with social distancing in mind we agreed to camp next to each other, but, 150 feet apart.  Clearly you cannot get close fly fishing together.  On the trail we kept the proper distance and even at the campfire we were separated appropriately.  We did the cleanse hands thing with any food we shared.

Interestingly enough, I had only backpacked and camped on the JDB trail once before.  A few years back.  It was the first time I ever backpacked alone.  And this was the exact same primitive spot.  I knew the run in front of it was a great spot to fish.  But, I didn’t want to get any expectations up with Jason and Joey because I wasn’t so sure the river would fish well so early in the season.  So, we started to set up camp, geared up and commenced to fish right in front of the site.  I hooked up on a dry fly on my 2nd cast….hmmm…  we continued to hammer the stretch of river right in front of the site and we all did well.  Hmmmm….

Joey And Jason- lifelong buddies and fly fishermen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We leap frogged each other for the rest of the day.  I tend to move quickly….to my discredit… I’ll do about a max of 20 drifts and move.  So I got way ahead of Jason and Joey at times.  Not a problem.  I just didn’t want to worry them.  We did well that first day.  By the end of the day I reflected that I fished dry flies all day long.  There never was a reason to switch to nymphing.  There were bugs and rises all day long.  Caddis first, then a pretty epic mayfly hatch.  Midges were around all day.  There were scattered huge (like size 14) mayflies that appeared to be drakes.  Those Kern River rainbows really keyed on them.  I did not have anything to match that big bug and it really didn’t matter.  My hook to land ratio at the end of the day was pretty bad.   In the Upper Kern I am happy with a 50/50.  That was not the case this day.  I hooked a lot of fish.  I only landed very few.  Tiny barbless dries and those native and wild Kern River rainbows are just a bad combo for landing even for the experienced.  No big deal with me.  I want them to shake off at my feet and not have to touch them anyways.

Icicles do not make for a pleasurable “sun shower”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, we got back to camp by nightfall, and it got cold quickly.  The campfire helped. We feasted on fresh food.  I hiked in a pork steak and they had a deer tenderloin.  After eating plus of few sips of JD, I was exhausted so I hit the sleeping bag early like usual.  I woke up a number of times during the night like usual.  My broken down old body just doesn’t relieve me of pain when I sleep on the ground.  So, I knew it got cold.  I just didn’t realize how cold. In the morning there were icicles on my sun shower.

This huge frog was sitting in pocket water. it’s hard to imagine it surviving the winter in that cold water while at the same time surviving brown trout attacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2, Saturday.  This was going to be a big day.  A full day of fishing.  I suggested to the guys that we hike to where we stopped fishing the day before and start fishing up stream from there.  They loved that idea.

By the end of the day we made it so far…so many miles upriver….to places I have never been before.  In staring at what my Garmin InReach 66i tracked me doing it looks like we made is almost 6 miles upriver from the JDB.  Amazingly beautiful stretches of river.  What is tantalizing is that the trail goes 11 miles.

Who knew?!  the Huck Hopper still got a ton of takes even though in April we are months away from the grasshoppers appearing

We all caught fish all day long and I mostly fished dries.  It was a great day.  Very physical.  25,000+ steps; many of which were climbing or fighting current.  We ate and the guys hiked out at sundown.  I was on my own now.  After warming up to the fire I put it out, then hit the sack early.  It didn’t seem as cold.  At 2am I figured out why.  It started raining.  There’s nothing worse than camping in the rain.  By the time I got out of the sack in the morning it was still drizzling.  This put the kabosh on another day of fishing.  I just wasn’t up for 40 degrees and raining knowing that would have squashed the hatches.  Still happy, I packed up camp first thing in the morning and hiked out in the light rain.  Then drove home, plowing through LA with zero traffic because of covid-19 and everyone working at home.

Hey, Jason took a picture of me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have written many times before that there are always calamities in backpacking.  And that backpacking is about managing calamities.  Well, I had my share this time.

Calamities:

  1. When I put my 6 weight Winston b2X together the lower section folded in half, broken. It wasn’t from the backpack in.  that is for sure.  My guess is TSA broke another one of my rods.  It’s not the first time it has happened.  They see the graphite in the metal detector and take the rod out of it’s sheath and case.  And they never put them back correctly.  I was in montana fishing just 3 weeks prior and that is undoubtedly what happened.  Unfortunately, Winston, although they make awesome rods, is not one of those fly fishing companies with awesome customer service nor warranties.  It costs $150 to fix that rod.  New ones list at $900 so it’s a tough choice to get it fixed.  It’s not the first time I have broken that rod.
  2. My garmin inReach 66i failed again… I didn’t send messages. It has not worked right ever since I purchased it 6 months ago.  It’s a drag because my delorme inReach worked for about 10 years flawlessly.  It still does.  I have been through 3 bouts of technical support with garmin.  It sure looks like the device itself is the issue.  I sure hope I can talk their tech support into replacing the device; even if I do have to pay a fee.  Because many times already I have stress out my wife, kids and friends telling them they can communicate with me while in the wilderness and I’m dead silent in return because the device has never worked well.
  3. My truck was broken into while I was in the wilderness. Right in the Johnsondale Bridge parking lot.   That is a real bummer.  The stretch of river from Kernville to a few miles out of town is well known for car break ins.  Like many small mountain towns, Kernville has its drug related issues too.  The bad guys pulled the back window on the shell of my truck, locked, hard enough to where it bent and popped open.  I have had bears do that twice to me (hilarious stories in themselves), but never by humans.  Fortunately, I didn’t have much in the back of the truck.  They stole my arctic 7 day cooler. It’s a yeti knockoff; but still expensive.  The cooler had 2 Coors lights in it.  They also stole an empty fly rod tube.  There was no damage to my truck.  So, the loss was minimal.  It just kinda’ sucks….honestly makes me feel badly for people who feel the desperate need to do things like that.

Jason in release

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When all was said and done, I did not see another fly fisherman other than Jason and Joey the entire time Friday to Sunday.   I did run into a couple really cranky old guy spin fisherman on a day hike.  It was 30 minutes later when I found out why.  As I waded up stream I ran into a huge kern river rainbow resting on the bank in 3 inches of water.  He had a huge mepps lure with the treble hook hanging out of the side of his face.  I sure wish he would have let me pull that out of his face.  Even with those barbs, that hook will disintegrate after a few days and work it’s way free.

Jason in battle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t excellent or great fishing, but it was good.  I fished dry 90 percent of the time and hooked a lot of fish.  When I did switch to nymphing, twice, I immediately stopped because the rises started again.  I tried a streamer once for 10 minutes in a deep pool and failed.  I switched back to dries and had success in the very same pool.  There were really good mayfly hatches in the afternoons; midges all day.   Even 7am rises.  Really fun.  I will now plan at least one trip up the JDB trail each spring before runoff forever.  The key is hiking in as far as possible up stream.  The River has already started its runoff period so my next chance in there will be on the forks trail mid-summer when it gets back under 500 CFS.

Here is the current river conditions as of this writing (April, 2020):

https://www.dreamflows.com/graphs/yir.681.php

Notice how the river is way way under the beginning of runoff even in the drought years.   Since we had a normal snowpack year that tells me we are going to get a herculean jump in river flow in May which will provide very dangerous conditions.  They call it the Killer Kern for a reason.  I always wonder if the river can get to 20,000 CFS putting the bridge in Kernville in jeopardy.  I’ll be watching that river like a hawk…and dreaming of getting back in there in the summer.

Forks of the Kern: Fall Fly Fishing on the Upper Kern River

October 17-20, 2019

Is that a huck hopper hanging out of that big kern river rainbow’s face? yes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was only the 2nd time I have done a trip to the Forks in the fall…after over a decade of trips into the canyon. This annual trip is with what I call the “gear group” because many of the guys that join this trip are actual reps in the outdoors industry. All great guys; this year 5 of us. I learn so much from them in terms of outdoors gear and food and clothes. I gladly do a little fly fishing guiding (and provide the flies)…which is so fun for me.

The first and most striking contrast to the spring and summer down at the Forks is the colors. It has been consistently shocking how many trees are not pines in the canyon; trees that turn colors in the fall. And leaves that fall in the river providing more interesting challenges (and annoyances) to the fly fishing. The Fall also produces cold nights and cold morning temperatures. Backpacking gear is expensive and I slowly upgrade through time, but man is it cold in October. I need better cold weather clothes and gear. The day time temps are fantastic, in the high 70s. but, the nights get into the 30s.

The most surprising thing about the Upper Kern in the Fall is the Beautiful Colors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other striking contrast from Spring/Summer is the fly fishing. Since I have only been twice to the Forks in the fall, I’m really learning a lot about the difference in the fly fishing that Spring, Summer and Fall produce at the Forks. In the Fall the river is cold. I measured the water temp in the morning on this trip: 44 degrees. By eod it only got to 48. The ideal water temp for trout fishing is 54. That meant really slow mornings. I knew that going in. I have had plenty of buddies and “electronic buddies” from this site giving me fishing reports on the Upper Kern. So, there was absolutely no rush to get to fishing after staggering out of the tent in the high 30s in the morning. On the 3 days I fished I rarely got any action (or saw any rises) before 11am. Plus, let’s face it, wet wading in 44 degree water is…well…not fun. I not only experienced that sharp burning sensation of bitter cold, but also having my feet and ankles go numb. And here is a first for me. just washing my face with river water in the morning gave me an “ice cream headache”.

One of the guys that joined me on the trip was a longtime friend, Martin Löef. Martin reps Katadyn….who’s products have made my life so much easier at the Forks. On this trip I had a one liter and a 3 liter Katadyn Befree. They are a godsend. I can’t imagine backpacking without them. I have not used my steri-pen in a couple years because of the Katadyns.

My buddy Martin took this picture of me worshipping the giant NY i hiked down for us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time where we thought this trip was just going to be me and Martin. I told him from the start I’d guide him and enjoy doing it.   After setting up camp at the huck site, upon arrival, Martin and I did a little bit of fishing right in front of camp. The rest of the group wasn’t due to arrive until that night. I could see right away that Martin had casted a rod before….so that was encouraging. He also expressed the desire to only throw dries flies. Guiding someone with that attitude is a pure pleasure. So, the next day, the first full day, Martin and I headed over the mountain (rattlesnake creek) and didn’t start fly fishing until the other side. There is a run over on the other side that has always produced excellent dry fly fishing for me, so I was still curious to see if it produced under these fall conditions with zero bugs in the air. It requires some agility to get in place and Martin, a bit older than me, is quite the fit, agile outdoorsman. Sure enough the minute we walked up to it, we saw an aggressive rise of a small fish which is typical of the Kern River Rainbow. After I explained where I wanted him to stand (on a rock in the river) and cast from, I contemplated a number of things that were a bit of a concern:

  • That run requires at least a 30 foot cast to be effective. 40 and 50 foot casts with long drifts are more effective.
  • You have to cast straight up stream with the fly coming straight back at you. That is a not only a line management nightmare for beginners but, typically a late setting frustration too.
  • putting a huck hopper on him. there we no rises or even bugs in the air. That rise we saw was on something emerging…most likely a midge. Huck Hoppers in the forks of the Kern tend to induce rises.

No need to teach Martin the Overhand Cast: check out that loop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, purely to check out his overhand (because a small fly is easier to cast than a big ‘ol huck hopper) cast I decided I’d leave the size 16 parachute adams on that I tied on the night before when he was fishing from camp. I’m so glad I did. It couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 casts before he got a rise to that fly. He was slow to set, as I imagined and there was line g. I screamed “Go!” (I have this weird new habit of yelling “Go!” Instead of “Set!”).   Well, I laughed and congratulated him on fooling the fish. I counted 6 more strikes on his casts without success in setting before I decided to intervene and do a little drift and line management lesson. Once we got that worked out he landed his first Kern River rainbow. Which he fought with the line in his teeth instead of his non casting hand. We worked that out next. But, he kept missing the sets. I could clearly see the trout taking the fly down but he was so slow to set. It’s then he got honest with me. “I can’t see that far.”

“casting beyond your site.” We have all done it. Either because of glare or simply because of that big 60+ foot cast is beyond our site. Setting on the splash (or in this case your buddy screaming, “Go!”. It’s not very effective. Until it is. The truth is that martin admitted he needs glasses or contacts or something to see far. I laughed and told him I’d continue to scream “Go!”. Which I did a few casts later. And this time he hooked a big fish and tightened up on him. He was pulling hard enough to pull the fish’s head out of the water and sure enough snapped that fish off on 5x. it was pretty cool though. Martin missed a lot of sets, but fooling trout is still enjoyable even if you miss them. So, I was having a blast, hooting and hollering. I think martin got 12-15 fish to rise, hooked 3 and landed two when all was said and done. we had a great day together and hiked more than 4 miles up stream from the huck site.

Here’s Martin with one of the Kern River Rainbows he landed on the day we fished together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some other things I noticed that is so different from fishing the spring or summer that will be of help to those sneaking in to the forks this year before it closes or simply any time in the fall:

  • I caught 4x as many fish on dries then I did nymphing. That exact thing happened the last time I fished the forks in October. It was the strangest thing not having success on the nymph and still getting a significant number of takes on top on the huck hopper. I may not have been getting it down far enough in the faster runs. In fact, that probably was the case. My “normal” spring / summer rig is a size 4 huck hopper (that is huge), followed 4 feet down by a large rubber legs which is super heavy, followed another 18” down by a huck rainbow warrior or huck green caddis nymph.   That rig is wildly effective there in spring or summer. I was floating a smaller huck hopper I was prototyping (see below) that couldn’t support the weight of my “go to” rig. So I went without the heavy rubber legs. The only thing is…. I put the other beginners on the bobber; which could support the normal rig and they were not getting a lot of takes.
  • In my trip this summer (august) I noticed an abundance of grass hoppers that were light grey in color and from size 8 to 12.  There are a myriad of different species of grass hoppers down in the canyon and one day I’ll be able to identify all of them. I’m not a total believer in color because I have read a lot of the science and trout see colors differently in different light conditions and distances. What does matter a lot more is size and shape. But, I did tie a number of prototype grey size 8 huck hoppers and, as I suspected because they matched the naturals in size and color they really worked.I caught at least one trout every day right in front of the huck camp. And half of them were quality fish. I believe it’s not so much about that being a great pool, run and tail-out as much as it is the times of day I fished. The point: in the fall, fish until the sun goes down. That last 2 hours as the day closes is the most effective time. And that is most likely because that is the part of the day where the water is warmest.

    Another big Kern River Rainbow with a grey Huck Hopper stuck in his face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The river was just a little too high and cold at 330 CFS for crossing safely. There were definitely places in the river, maybe a handful, over the 6 mile stretch I fished, where you could cross at knee level. But, 1, the river was so cold to wet wade and 2. once across there is no river trail and not being able (or willing) to trek in the river meant it was long stretches of bushwhacking before finding a cross back to the other side.

  • Note: the “Forks of the Kern” trail sign which indicates where to turn on the dirt road that takes you to the trailhead is not only still broken, but, in even worse shape: both poles broken and propped against a tree. It’s really easy to miss now. the directions are painstakingly detailed in the guidance doc, but, the right turn for the trailhead is exactly 36.8 miles from the junction of Mountain Road 50 (MR-50) and Mountain Road 99 (MR-99) near the tiny town of Johnsondale.

 

This years fall “Gear Guys gang” at the Huck Site: me, Garrett, Greg, Geoff & Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

Unfortunately, the cache near the huck site has been compromised and pillaged. It’s not the first time. It’s a bit discouraging. But, it’s not like I’m devastated. I have accumulated a cache of extra supplies, tools, fishing equipment and even a spare tent over the years. Those that download the guidance document are encouraged to email me if they want to use it and I email very specific directions to finding it. Many readers of this site have added to the cache every year which is really great. For instance, the tools that others have left behind to help cut back the willows and branches making it easier on beginners have been a god-send. They are now gone. As is most of the cache.

 

I have received some criticism, even within my own awesome fly-fishing club about publishing how special the forks of the kern is on this site; how special it is to catch and release a wild trout that can only be found in a 20 mile stretch of river in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Using this site to enlighten and encourage fly fishers to visit the Upper Kern by way of the Forks trailhead has been a mixed blessing in terms of getting the word out on how special the forks is. I believe in conservation by awareness. I believe to stop the slow death of the great sport I love; to have the sport of fly fishing thrive to where it once was, us advanced fly fishers should give away their secret spots even to the point of giving up their favorite holes to beginners; especially young fly fishers. Some of my peers do not share that view.

There is more positive on this than negative. For instance, one of the downloaders of the guidance doc and users of the cache emailed me a few weeks back that he “put some work into the fireplace”. When I got to the site on this trip I was pleasantly surprised. The stonework at the huck site is in great shape right now. best ever. He must have put 2-4 hours into making that fireplace better.

But, the cache has been pillaged and needs to be built up again. What was different about the vandalism this time is that the gear in the cache that was too big to carry away (like the spare tent) and steal was actually hid a few yards away. As if these vandals were going to use it as their own for them and them alone on their next time in. I was lucky to find it.

 

So Fear not. As soon as I can get in next spring I will start building the cache back up and so will the many forks of the kern lovers and readers of this site. But, I have been forced to move the cache. It’s still not completely safe to vandalism again: it’s farther away yet still not a brutally physical hike/climb to find. I’m hoping it will not be as easily found randomly as where it was located for so many years prior so close to the huck site.

 

So, Forks of the Kern lovers: until I get into the Forks again in the Spring of 2020 (assuming a normal winter which this year was not) I’ll be writing about other my other fly fishing and outdoors adventures. And hosting a few guest posts.

Martin rolling out another well loaded overhand cast

 

 

Forks of the Kern Trail – Upper Kern River – October 8th, 2018

The Kern River Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am really getting to love these October trips to the Forks.  I think I’ll do it for the rest of my life.  The fishing is always good.  Not great…good.  And if you catch it right in October, not only can you catch some amazing night time hatches, but, with the nights getting colder those big rainbows know they have to feed before “going down” for the winter so they tend to wander out of deep water where you can get a shot at them on top.  The days are always warm; not wet wading warm, but all day in the sun sunburn warm.  The nights and mornings are cold, though…very cold.  And the best part for me…mostly because I’m left handed, is that the flows are so low in October there are many places you can cross the river.  So, not only do I get to fish the “left handed side”, but I’m throwing flies to water that has seen very few artificials over the season.

When hiking in it’s easy to forget you are in Mountain Lion Territory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The absolute best part of this October, 2018 trip to the Upper Kern River by way of the Forks of the Kern Trailhead was the group.  We planned this trip a year in advance because one of the guys joining me was Rudi Van der Welt; an old friend that actually took me to the Forks for the first time many years ago and taught me the backpacking thing and many skills to survive in the wilderness.  The reason for a year in advance?  Well, Rudi now lives in Sydney, Australia.   He flew all the way to LAX (18 hours) to backpack into the wilderness.

Joined by Rudi was the guy that actually taught me how to fly fish over 20 years ago, Tim “Big Daddy” Hoffmann.  Big Daddy (nick-named by me because he has 5 boys, all huge and all geniuses and athletes) and I have been friends for 50 years.  That is not a typo.  Yep, we went to school together starting in 1st grade…where even then he was a full head taller than me.  Both Big Daddy and Rudi are outstanding fly fishermen, experts, guide-level fly fishermen.

Left to Right: me, Jeff Kimura, Rudi Van der Welt, Tim Hoffmann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, it makes sense that rounding out the 4 of us was a new friend from the neighborhood, Jeff Kimura.  Jeff is…well now was a completely green fly fisherman.  He really lucked out having the 3 of us teaching him.  But, we really lucked out because of all the high quality fresh food he hiked into the canyon.   Jeff is super fit, recently qualifying for the Boston Marathon and frankly if you are not hiking in 2-3 pounds of booze you might as well hike in fresh food.

The first rub was that Rudi showed up wearing a boot: “I recently tore my Achilles tendon.  I’ll be fine.”  In Sydney, he went to the local fly shop with his boot and had them install a sole with spikes in it so he could wade in it safely.  Classic.  The very first time I went backpacking…to the forks…with Rudi….he almost killed me.  I swear we would have hiked in 10+ miles if I had not thrown in the towel at 6.  He’s a total stud and even though he had to walk funny with one leg pointed side-ways he still hiked all the way in, fished all day for 3 days and hiked all the way out – total stud.

Who is crazy enough not only to hike the Forks of the Kern Trail in a boot cast, but to have wading spikes installed into the sole? Rudi is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a quick 2-nighter, Monday to Wednesday so I didn’t expect to see many people and that was certainly the case.  We did see people hiking out on our way in.  And it just so happened that one of the groups told us there did stay in the “huckaby site” and left us a bunch of firewood…. Nice.  However everyone we talked to hiking out said they didn’t do too well fishing.  Hmmmm…..

Upon getting to the site we unpacked and set up quickly so we could fish the balance of the day.    I hooked up quickly and the rest of the day went pretty well in terms of rainbows hooked and landed.  “Fishing seems pretty good to me.”, I said to myself.

In terms of flies, well, I just have so much confidence in a handful of flies that I have developed slowly over the years fishing the upper kern.  They just work no matter what the conditions.  I tie most of the nymphs crippled because over the years I have found that wing shucks and fluorescent wings just seem to work better there.  The

is still my “go-to” nymph for the Kern.  In that crystal clear water the fluorescent and U/V materials I use just do such a good job attracting.  It imitates a number of water born insects that are native to the Kern: The spotted sedge, the green rockworm, Chironomids, etc.  Hung 3 feet below a Huck Hopper is a deadly combination.  Rounding out the group of go-to flies for the Kern are the Midge Cripple and the Huck-bow Warrior.  I also have been experimenting with my crippled version of Cal Bird’s famous Bird’s Nest fly.  But, I have not perfected it yet in terms of size and proportions so I’m not going to sell it on the site yet.   On this trip all the flies I just mentioned above caught fish.

Another big Kern River Rainbow with a size 4 Huck-Hopper hanging out of his face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I worked variations of another new fly all year and it’s close to being ready to sell on my site.  it’s a stonefly nymph imitation.  And it’s black.  There are no black stoneflies that hatch on the kern (browns and goldens only).  But, big black stonefly nymph imitations have always worked there.  It really seems like there are always stonefly shucks on the rocks in the river….almost like they hatch all season long from April to October.  I know that can’t be true.  The skwallas and goldens hatch during the spring.  The little brown stoneflies hatch in the summer.  It’s kind of a pain in the ass to tie, but, this fly kills.  It imitates a number of the nymph forms of the naturals in the river like skwallas, stoneflies, salmonflies, and damselflies.  I tie it huge…like in 6-8 and 10 so it’s easily seen and the perfect first fly of the dropper from the huck hopper.  So what is the problem?  it’s too heavy.  Have you ever heard of a nymph being too heavy?  Well, in this latest set of variations I tied them with 2 tungsten coneheads.  My intention was to get that 3 feet of tippet under the huck hopper down as quickly as possible.  The result was it dragging a size 4 (which is huge and very buoyant) huck hopper down with it.  So, I did very well with it, but the constant mend of the huck hopper to get it floating is not practical for the average angler.   I’ll swap out that middle tungsten cone with a smaller bead and it should be good to go.

A Kern river rainbow with a new fly i have been working on in his face; a huge and heavy stonefly nymph imitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I plan to get those flies on the site by next spring.  I’ll battle test them winter fishing in a variety of places that are not the Upper Kern by way of the Forks because it will be closed.  But the section above the Johnsondale bridge stays open all winter long (although it does not winter fish that well) so I’m sure I’ll get some time in there along with many other rivers and creeks in the eastern sierras.

BTW, based on a great suggestion from a reader, I have added a bunch of Kern River fishing guidance to the “Guidance and Directions to the Forks of the Kern” document you can download off my site.  I charge $5 for it, but I donate 100% of that to CalTrout at the end of the year.

The cache I have hidden near the “huckaby site” has grown pretty large and quite impressive.   Along with my friends so many readers like you have added quality items to the cache. The saw and nippers are still the most valuable tools.  But, there is a growing group of kitchen items, extra fuel, a tent, wading sandals and wading boots.  On this trip I buttoned the cache down for the winter and this year it should do just fine because there is no longer any food in the cache.  Even with a smell-proof bear bag, the bears still got to it last Spring.  I don’t expect any issues when I retrieve the cache next Spring.  If you are reading this and want to use the cache just send me an email.  I’ll take care of you.  you can

Whether hiking in or hiking out this is one of the best views of the Upper Kern from the Forks of the Kern Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My most remembered moment was a fish lost.  Why do I always remember the fish lost and not the ones landed?  On this trip I caught enough 16 to 18”s to call it good fishing.  It was late into Tuesday the only real full day of fishing and I hadn’t hooked, let alone landed, any of those monster 20”+ Kern River Rainbows that are so famous up there.  So way up stream I fished on the “left handed side” of the river (often called “river left” by spey casters) where it is not possible to wade.  So, I was up about 20 feet in the air on a little cliff like shelf.  I casted into a riffle  that really didn’t look fishy after hitting some pocket water unsuccessfully below it.   Sure enough a monster shot out from nowhere.  I set hard.  It jumped and I could see it was over 20.  But, it shot down river quickly and I should have stopped it by horsing it at the risk of losing it there.   I didn’t.  And that was my fatal mistake.  It went around a large boulder on the opposite site of the river and downstream.  I failed to flip the line over the boulder as it swam like a torpedo downstream and the line tightened.  I couldn’t get in the water and navigate across (too dangerous and I didn’t feel like doing a brad pitt and jumping into 45 degree water) so I lost the fish there…telling myself over and over how badly I screwed that up.

On the 3rd day we broke camp with the intention of getting a head start on our assault of Lake Crowley in float tubes so short of 10 or 20 casts there was not a lot of fly fishing the Kern on the last day.  All in all it was a great trip.  And like every trip to the Upper Kern just too short.  I’m now in fantasizing mode where I will watch the upper kern flows every day for 5 months wishing I could be at the forks all the way until next April.  That is a long 5 months.  Don’t feel sorry for me, though.  I’ll be chasing the not so rare Andes trout at 14K feet in Ecuador in a couple weeks.

And Backpacking Gear Review

October 20-23, 2017

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

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

DSCF0258

The Upper Kern River crew:

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

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

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

solunar-kern

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

Backpacking Gear Review

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Report

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report

Forks of the Kern Trail Head

August 25-28

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Upper Kern River 3 miles upstream from the confluence of the Little Kern River

Upper Kern River Upstream from the Confluence of the Little Kern River

Well, the Fishing under 600 CFS on the Upper Kern is better than it was at 800 earlier in the month.  But it’s the simple fact that you still have to be a good, advanced or expert fly fisher to do well there right now.  In all my experience of fishing the Upper Kern from the Confluence of the Little Kern up river from the Forks of the Kern trailhead I’d saying it’s fishing at a 3 of 10 right now…. understand a 3 at the Forks is a 9 in most eastern sierras waters.  It’s that good.  And it’s my prediction that this upper stretch of the river will not fish well for everyone until it gets below 350 CFS.

You’ll do well if:

  • You are a good or better fly fisherman who can get a tough cast to soft water with a good drift.
  • You know how to and have the skills to drift a big deep hole and eddy.
  • You are fit enough and are willing to bush whack and rock hop and climb to precarious places to get that perfect cast, risking flies to overhanging trees
  • You are willing to hike the 3.5 miles upstream from the confluence over the mtn and up stream of rattlesnake creek.

You’ll do poorly if:

  • You are not an experienced fly fisher: Intermediates or beginners are still going to struggle in the high water
  • Losing flies pisses you off
  • You do not take risky casts…which ultimately means you will lose flies to overhanging trees.
  • You aren’t good at reading the water
  • You can’t get a drift in the seams of fast current
  • you don’t have a handful of casts in your arsenal
  • you don’t know what “soft water” means.

I hooked up about 20-40 times a day in the upper kern depending on the hours I put in and the hiking I was willing to do to find the soft water.  I had a dozen or so rises to my Huck hopper.  I landed a good amount of small to medium sized fish.  I lost a bunch of big fish.  Anyone who says fishing with barbless hooks doesn’t matter is fishing stockies.  When you fish barbless in the upper kern you will get shook  on multiple jumps or you will simply lose fish that bolt straight straight down stream through rapids into your backing where you have no resort but to tighten and lose them.  In this high water there is no way to chase them downstream.  You’d have to swim.  And only brad pitt does that well in movies.

I hooked a lot of these....landing them was rare. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

I hooked a lot of these….landing them is special. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it's face

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it’s face

I did, though, catch something very rare at “the site”.  I caught a 20” brown.  Browns are rare in the upper kern.   I have never caught a big one.  It was after dinner and a couple whiskeys.  It was almost dark.  I made a couple casts w’ my hopper / dropper in the big hole and my hopper went down slow.  I tightened and felt weight.  But, there was no jump.  8 times out of ten the kern rainbows jump.  It was dead weight…no head shake.  My buddy mike and I both said, “it has to be a sucker.”  When I got it in we were shocked.  I big male brown with many years behind it.  It took a flashy rainbow warrior I tie which is weird.  I must have totally lucked out and drifted it right into his face.  Clearly this was a rainbow eater to get that big.  Mike wanted me to kill it because it’s not native, but I couldn’t.

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

 

The Little Kern River Upstream from the Confluence

The Little Kern River is fishing really well right now; really well.  And it’s no wonder since it has been a trickle for over 4 years of drought.  I pulled multiple fish out of the tailout just 200 feet up from the Forks of the Kern crossing.  Quality fish too.  not just little ones. But, I did not and still have not caught any goldens out of the little Kern above the confluence.  They have all been rainbows.  I wonder how far you have to bushwhack to get to the goldens from there.  I’d love to talk to someone who knows.

But, in fishing the little Kern right now, all the bullets from above apply…. Even more.  There is no little kern river trail.  It’s a complete bushwhack, frequently requiring river travel as the only means to get up stream.  It’s small water, but raging and deep in spots.  The rocks are much more slippery than in the main fork of the Kern so fishing your way up stream is slow even for the most agile and fit.  And because of the canopy it can be dark…great for fishing, but not so much for walking upstream in current in 2+ feet of water.  I went down….water to my neck….almost broke it and my Winston rod in the process.  Was it worth it?  totally….  But, I was alone.   That is not a place to be alone.  No river trail.  No humans.  No nothing.  A bad accident there could really be bad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t have a lot of success or experience in this section of the Little Kern River because I chose not to fish it, on guidance and common sense during the 4 years of drought: warm and low and too stressful on the fish.  But, I spent 2.5 hours fishing it and absolutely killed.  I fished about 1.5 miles up from the confluence.  I had takes in almost every stretch of castable water.   There are a lot of tailouts, pools and pocket water.  I had multiple fish runs (which I did not have on the Kern).  And I hooked some big fish in that little river.  notice I said hooked.  i am no beginner.  I have caught thousands of trout on a fly rod in my close to 30 years of fly fishing and I have never found harder fish to land than the kern river rainbows.  I hooked 4-5 big fish in that little river and landed zero.  The behavior is pretty much the same: set the hook.  The fish jumps.  Then the fish either jumps multiple times going ballistic until the barbless hook gets shook or bolts downriver into the backing.  I even had a big rainbow go so fast so far down that little stream that after snapping off, I had to walk it backwards untangling most of the 100 feet of my fly line from all the rocks and willows it tangled on it’s run.  One day I’ll hike the Forks trail and dedicate a full day or more to the little kern.  It’s not safe to do that alone.  It takes a unique fisherman to want to do the bushwhacking in small water that I love so much.

Upper Kern River – Forks of the Kern Trailhead

August 25-28, 2016

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

Me and Mike Gilroy ready to attack the Forks of the Kern Trail

I met Mike Gilroy at the June 2016 meeting of the San Diego Fly Fishers Group.  He was a new member of the group and it was his first meeting.  We immediately became friends.  He’s a lifelong hunter and fly fisherman.  His story was that he just retired and moved to the seemingly barren fly fishing opportunities of San Diego from the plentiful fly fishing opportunities of Seattle area.  My takeaway was that his wife wanted to retire to a warmer climate.  You can’t fault her for that.  I did my penance up in Redmond, WA for a year serving Microsoft.  The sun never came out that year (97/98); Never.  It is true.  There is an abundance of fly fishing opportunities up in the Seattle area year round.  I always carry a fly rod up there when I visit Microsoft.  Mike was a little bummed when he described having to move away from all the fly fishing opportunities in Washington.  That is when I told him about the Upper Kern River.

One of the many Kern River Rainbow's that MIke battled to hand

One of the many Kern River Rainbow’s that MIke battled to hand

I told Mike about battling the “badest”, biggest trout in the world.  That the Kern River Rainbow is its own species and we’d have a chance at Goldens and “Gold-bows” too.  And I told Mike how you have to earn it by backpacking in to them.  Well, Mike is like me.  He took that to heart and committed immediately.  Because of my travel schedule I set dates more than 2 months in the future.  But, I had always wanted to fish the upper Kern in August and never afforded the chance because it gets hot in August; really hot.  And I could never get anyone to go with me at that time of year.  And Mike did commit.  He started training immediately with hikes.  He trained the entire time.  I trained too, but at one point I was a bit worried about a 6’5” guy north of 65 kicking my ass on the trail.  So I trained pretty hard too and although I didn’t drop that 15 I need to, I did get in really good cardio shape.  As you’ll read later I needed it.

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

On the 1100 foot decent into the canyon to get to the Upper Kern River

I had already been to the Upper Kern over the Forks of the Kern trail twice this summer so I knew we’d see really good river conditions (low).  And that meant the chance at good Huck-Hopper fishing.  I cannot tell you how many pictures I have taken over the years of a big Kern River Rainbow with a Huck Hopper hanging out of its face.

We did a lot of planning.  Mike came over to the house and I showed him all the stuff I was putting in my backpack and told him how I hoped to be under 45 pounds.  I should have emphasized it.  I told Mike that it usually takes me less than 45 minutes to lose the 1100 feet in 2 miles to get to the crossing of the Little Kern River.   Mike set expectations with me that he would take a lot longer than that; not a problem.

Mike and I were going to meet at the Lower Peppermint Campground which is just 15 minutes short of the trailhead.  I have painstakingly created detailed directions and guidance to the Forks of the Kern that I provide to anyone who emails me.  And they do quite a bit after internet searching and stumbling into this blog.  Mike was going to travel north to fish the Kings river a couple days early and camp out of his truck.  The plan was that he’d find and camp at the Lower Peppermint campground during the day Thursday and I’d drive Thursday night hoping to get there before 12AM.  But, I got the panicked call from Mike early Thursday, “They closed the road because of the Cedar Fire.”   I told him not to give up just yet.  Mike was trying to get to the campground from the western entrance which goes right though the fire.  I called the Kern River Ranger station and they told me the roads from the south were still open…”…for now.”.  So, Mike did the long detour all the way down to Bakersfield and back up through Kernville.  But, he called me again from Kernville.  “The fire is bad here.”  I had been tracking the fire all day on CalFire.org and the other governmental fire tracking sites.  It wasn’t really close, but it was pushing towards Kernville.  Mike was seeing the smoke.  I told Mike to go on in.  It’s another 1.5 hours to the campground/trailhead from Kernville in a Northern Direction.   Way North of the fire.   I knew he’d be fine.  The problem is there is no cell signal North of Kernville so I knew we wouldn’t be able to communicate.  What I didn’t realize was what I’d run into a good 12 hours later when I got to Kernville that night.

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

The Kern River Rainbow as shot by my Olympus Tough T2 camera

I left Carlsbad at 7pm as planned to avoid the traffic when plowing through LA.  As I drove up the Kern Canyon from Bakersfield I had to pull over numerous times for fire trucks to pass me.  “hmmm…” I said to myself.  I wasn’t as worried about them not letting me through as I was leaving Mike stranded in a place he never had been before with the thought of him backpacking by himself.  As I pulled into Kernville it was Armageddon.  I could see flames at least 30 feet high to the West.  I said to myself, “My God.”.  But, I was still more worried about the road closing and stranding Mike.  Thank God I made it through.  I learned later they closed the road behind me the following day.  But, only for 24 hours.  That was long enough to prevent my buddy Grant from making it through, though.  He never did join us.  We didn’t know then we practically had the Upper Kern River to ourselves.  I pulled in just after 12am and found Mike’s truck in my favorite site easily.  I was asleep within 15 minutes of turning off my ignition.

Friday morning Mike and I said hellos, described our journey and soon our trucks were headed for the trailhead.  At the trailhead I couldn’t smell any smoke, but there was a haze in the air.  Mike weighed his pack at the trailhead and it was over 50 pounds.  “Hmmm…”  I told him there had to be something he could offload.  He maintained there was not.  That ultimately turned out to be a mistake, but much of the most important things I have learned about backpacking were from my many mistakes.

The Little Kern River Crossing

The Little Kern River Crossing – with a rope tied across to help

We hit the trail together by 830AM and it was nice and cool.  It did take a while for us to get to the Little Kern crossing; longer than I had ever done it.  but, Mike’s a big guy and a stud at 65.  I kept telling myself (and Mike), “I hope I’m still doing this at 65.”   After the little Kern crossing Mike needed a rest.  This is where I made my first mistake.  I should have emphasized (instead of just giving him the option) of finding the closest primitive camp site right there.  But, Mike was hell bent on making it to the Huckaby site that day.  And that next 2.2 miles in the heat was very physical for Mike.  With ¾ mile to go I told Mike I was going to charge forward to make sure the Huckaby site was open and double back.  Thank God it was open.  Upon doubling back I offloaded a few things from Mike to make him lighter and we made it to the site after 4+ hour very physical journey for him.  Finally at the site he took his shirt off to cool off.  “What the hell is that sticking out of your chest?” I asked.  “My defibulator.” He joked.  “What?!”.  He had a pacemaker and had by-passes and heart surgeries in his past.  Now, I was feeling really badly for almost killing him on that hike!

Half of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern RiverHalf of the trip accomplished at the Little Kern River

Mike rested a bit and I partially set up camp.  But, I was dying to fish, so I rigged up a huck-hopper dropper, walked up 100 feet to the tail out that is at the top of the site and within 5 casts hooked up with a nice 14” Kern River Rainbow that battled me all the way down to Mike.  We kept that one and ate it for dinner.

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me.  To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

Everyone seems to love the taste of trout except for me. To me they taste like they eat bugs; becuase they do

My battle sent the adrenaline through Mike, causing him to rig up.  He soon landed a really nice Kern River Rainbow right in front of the site.

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the "infamous" Huckaby primitive camp site

Mike with a nice Kern River Rainbow caught right in front of the “infamous” Huckaby primitive camp site

Right after that is when Mike found the best treasure in the history of my hiking in there: Two Coors nestled nicely in the river.  Since Mike doesn’t drink I got them both!  How awesome is a cold Coors on a hot day on the Upper Kern?!

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

Another new first for me on the Forks of the Kern Trail: a beer

We continued fishing and setting up camp never wandering far from the site and we did well.  We turned in early; I mean really early both because of exhaustion and because the rangers invalidated my fire permit.  No fires in the golden trout wilderness on this trip.  Which is a total drag because having a campfire riverside is one of the best parts of this trip.  It’s a shame us responsible folks have to suffer for the ways of the ignorant.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

A view of the tailout at the upstream end of the camp site.

The next day (Saturday) we fished up river for the first half of the day.  We did well too.  It wasn’t crazy good; I was having trouble getting fish to rise to my hopper and there were no bugs of significance in the air.  But, we were catching fish regularly on nymphs.  And the best part was that the river was tame enough for me to cross in a few places.  That meant Mike and I could fish together, him on the “right handed side” of the river and me on the “left handed side” as we marched up river a mile and a half or so.

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

Mike battling his way up to the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek

It was getting hot and we waded all the way up to rattlesnake creek before we determined it was too dangerous to go on.  That is also where I lost a really nice big rainbow on my hopper.  I hated having to turn back after that.  But, I Did.

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever.  and i have been going there a long time

For the record i have never seen the Forks of the Kern Trailhead parking lot empty; ever. and i have been going there a long time

We made the mile and a half back to camp, ate and watered up a bit and fished downriver from the site for the balance of the day.  Mike found a great run and really killed in it.  That pleased me.  We ended the fishing day by dry flying at camp as the sun went down.  We kept one of Mike’s trout this time and ate it along with the backpacking food.  But, without a campfire and the sun down it was in bed early again.

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Mike getting deep right in front of the camp site

Sunday we did a really smart thing.  We broke camp in the morning and backpacked all the way back to the Little Kern, crossed it, then followed it downriver to a site at the confluence of the North Fork (main) of the Kern and the Little Kern River I had always wanted to camp at.  I knew the fishing was really good down there.  This cut in half the big hike out of the canyon the next morning.  But, I was still a bit worried about Mike’s hike out because it is very physical hiking out of that canyon; especially in the heat.  Without setting up my tent or unpacking in any way I hit the run in front of the new site at the confluence and did really well as I worked up stream.  I walked back to camp, gathered up Mike and we worked downstream and I had battle after battle with big fish.  So fun.

<

Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

Another feisty Kern River Rainbow

As the sun set and we ate our dehydrated back packing food I had accomplished something I had never successfully managed before: We had eaten all the food; we wouldn’t have to carry any out.  But, because of not being able to have a campfire I had to pack out all the trash.  Monday morning came way too soon and I have to admit I was worried about Mike and the hike out.  Without telling him the plan I had already decided I was going to plow out of that canyon as fast as I could unload my pack, and head back down empty to offload some of his stuff into my pack.  I let him get a 15 minute jump on me because he was ready as I scrambled to pack up all my toys.  I was very pleased when I didn’t catch him until he was about 1/3rd of the way up the mountain.  That is when I unveiled my plan to him.  He probably didn’t believe me.  I made it to the truck in 50 minutes, emptied my backpack and headed back down.

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was.  It fought like crazy and it's huge.  But, alas, it's just a lowly sucker

I had to ask all my fly fishing buddies what the hell this was. It fought like crazy and it’s huge. But, alas, it’s just a lowly sucker

I reached him about 2/3rds up the mountain and we offloaded some of his stuff into mine.  He assured me he was fine.  So I told him I’d was going to plow back up, sun shower, then have a beer while waiting for him.  And that plan would have went great until as I was enjoying my beer I heard a gun shot.  Mike was carrying a gun.  “Damnit!” I said to myself.  So without a pack and a beer in my hand I headed back down again.  I didn’t have to go far before running into him, exhausted.  It wasn’t his gun.  He made it.  What a stud.  Again I hope I’m still doing it at his age.  Great trip; great friend.

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River

Tim and Mike posing in front of the mighty Upper Kern River