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Tim Huckaby’s Upper Kern Fly Fishing Outlook for 2024

Tim Huckaby’s Upper Kern Fly Fishing Outlook for 2024

What a tough fishing season 2023 was for the rivers of the Sierra Nevada. And specifically difficult at my beloved upper kern river.  I should have known something was up when me and my buddies tried to get into the Forks for the end of season: 3 days in mid November 2022… and were stopped by too much snow and a giant fallen tree on unplowed Forest Road 22S82.

There’s huck truck… stuck on unplowed forest road 22S82 with a giant tree in the way in Nov of ’22

2023 was all about high flows.  It is the simple fact that all rivers just fish a lot tougher in high flow.  Even when the Upper Kern is not blown out in muddy conditions, if the water is higher than the willow line it’s just going to be tough to get in position safely for a cast.  Last year, the Upper Kern River just never backed down into a fishable state…. Only experts (or those who hiked more than 10 miles upriver, above the confluence of the Kern and the Little Kern) had any modicum of success there.

And like the Kern’s buddy to the North, the Kings River, it is just really tough, if not dangerous to fly fish the Upper Kern in high flows.

That’s me hiking upriver from the Huck Site looking for good water in 400+ CFS conditions.  Picture Credit: Valerie Rose Hirschberg, a guide client of my who brought a DSLR using actual film!

My definition of the Upper Kern is up river from the Johnsondale Bridge. I have written many times that the Upper Kern fishes great below 250 CFS.  When it’s below 250 CFS the Upper Kern is crossable in many stretches.  When crossable, you can get a fly almost anywhere.  You can get a fly to places on the opposite bank that just are not possible to reach without crossing. And with lower flows there are just not many places where a trout can hide from an artificial fly.  Well, the Upper Kern never really came down below 400 CFS in any significance for the entire 2023 season.  And in early March of 2023 it went to 24,000 CFS!

As I write this article in early January, 2024, in California we are at the lowest snowpack level in 10 years. This is a sharp contrast to last year, the biggest winter in California recorded history.  What is interesting, though, is that the current runoff is still at the highest level I can remember for this time of year… by far.  It’s still hovering at 400 CFS.  And it’s January.  We should be seeing the upper kern river flowing well below 200 CFS in January.  It’s twice that volume right now.  What does that mean in terms of fly fishing the 2024 season?  Well, maybe nothing.  The River could back down to a trickle.  Runoff depends on many factors not the least of which are the density of the snowpack and the temperature.  But, it may mean we have to add 400 CFS to the normal springtime runoff… which would be bad for spring and summer fly fishing on the Upper Kern.  We’re waiting to see how the Spring Runoff period goes.  And when the road to the Forks Trailhead is going to open.

That’s a KRR in the hands of my buddy Addea, who nailed it right at the Huck Site.

Western Divide Ranger district opens Forest Road 22S82 and the ~2 miles of dirt road (Forest Road 20S67) to the Forks trailhead when:

  1. They are confident the snow has backed down enough to clear indicating the winter is over.
  2. That is when they can clear the roads of the boulders and fallen trees blocking the road from the prior winter’s storms.
  3. The Little Kern River Crossing (which is part of the trail) is not too crazy dangerous which coincides with big flows on the Kern.

In my 20+ years of fly fishing the Forks, the opening can be as early as the beginning of April and as late as the end of June.  It’s not like Western Divide Ranger District has unlimited resources to get the road open quickly.  It’s the simple and sad fact that we have consistently cut our forest service budgets for decades in California. Technically, the season is May 15 – Nov 15.

So, I’ll be watching the flow of the Upper Kern River every single day until then.  Feel free to check in with me.  I will pay special attention at the beginning of March.  Historically in March, before the runoff period, the flows can be well below 400CFS.  The Forks trail won’t be open.  But, if the river is in shape and the weather cooperates, I backpack from the Johnsondale bridge upriver 4-5 miles and get a little springtime fly fishing in.  That was not doable successfully (or safely) last year.

Epilogue

That’s Val standing at the Huck site in the exact position of where the big tree with the swing used to be.

 

For you Huck Site Fans: I cannot tell you how many emails, txts and conversations I had last season that started with “Did the Huck site survive?”  It did.  The “Huck Site” is a primitive campsite on the Upper Kern River 4.2 miles from the Forks of the Kern Trailhead.  I have been working on that site for over 20 years.  It’s a popular site for many reasons.  And now it has survived the ‘21 fire and the ‘23 flood.  But that atmospheric river in March of ‘23 and the 24k CFS that came with it took its toll. Because of the steep decline of the river down from the site, the rapids that go with the decline, and flat area across the river downstream from the Huck Site, water didn’t build up to the level of where the firepit is and when we put tents.  But it got close.  Remember the tree swing?  It’s gone. In fact, the giant tree that the swing hung from is gone with it…without any trace of it, roots and all.  You can’t even tell a huge tree was ever there.  Of course that means it has opened a 50 foot long unobstructed area for casting. I had trimmed the branches on that tree for over 20 years so that people could get a side-armed roll cast under it.  Now, the entire tree is gone.

 

Fly Fishing the Mangroves Near Punta Abreojos, Baja, 2023

Dave took this picture of me struggling to get this big corvina into the net

Dave Zoby turned to me and said, “No one is going to believe this.”  I laughed and agreed.  The fishing was so good. it’s just laughable at points.  You see, Dave read my prior article on the annual SDFF camping / kayak fly fishing trip to southern Baja, 600 miles south of the border, from 2 years ago.  He then contacted me with an email asking if he could tag along for a few days on the next SDFF club trip to southern baja with the intention of writing a feature article on the adventure for a well-recognized fly fishing magazine.  My answer was, “Of course, Yes.”  I just didn’t have confidence at the time that he’d actually pull it off.  He did. Punta Abreojos in Baja is a long way from San Diego.  But, it’s a really long way from Casper, Wyoming.  Dave is professor at Casper College in Wyoming and a professional writer with numerous published articles in fly fishing magazines.  And now he is just another dear friend I have accumulated over this 30+ fly fishing journey.  Along with my Baja mentor, John Ashley and Dave’s dog Henry, we covered some serious water in the mangroves over 3 days during my 11 total days on this trip.

There’s Dave with the most cherished fish of the mangroves: the Broomtail Grouper

Dave’s dog Henry also made the trip.  Henry is a big black lab and a hoot of fun to be around while fishing. But, here is the irony: I’m not a dog guy.  At all.  I didn’t grow up with dogs.  The border collie we have at home I call, “Kelly’s dog”.  Which is a testament to how awesome henry is.  While Dave and I wade fished Henry would alternate between us, pointing like a hunting dog at the fish we’d hook up on.  If I hooked up Henry would run over to me and point.  Then he’d hang with me waiting.  Only to abandon me as soon as Dave hooked up.  That went on for hours and it was hilarious.  Now that I’m home, I keep telling kelly’s dog: “You’re not a fishing dog.”

There’s me and Dave with Henry doing that pointing thing…

Dave’s article on this trip will appear in the January, 2024  issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal Magazine.

With my description of this year’s encounter, I’ll attempt to augment (and not duplicate) the info & guidance I already did on this magical part of the world with my prior article.

This was my 3rd time to this part of southern Baja on the Pacific Side.  It’s an annual trip of the San Diego Fly Fishers club and this year there were 15 of us including 2 females camping on the edge of the Estero.   And man did I have fun with the group fishing for 11 days.

One of the big differences this time is that I used a different kayak.  In the prior two trips, I used a Hobie Mirage Sport.  It’s small and fast; two attributes that make it perfect for the travel there and for navigating the Estero.  But, stability was not one of its attributes.  It was subject to tipping in current and there was no possible way to safely stand up on it; even in the most calm water.  Well, I was lucky enough to stumble into a used Hobie Mirage Lynx Kayak that is perfect for this type of water, travel and fly fishing.  It’s built in the materials like a stand up paddleboard making it super light.  The boat is only 40lbs making it easy for me to load on top of my Tundra by myself.  Because it’s light and built so efficiently for travel in water it’s lightning quick.  Because it’s light it gets a bit pushed around in strong wind, but you can’t have everything.  The fact that I can stand up and cast on this kayak is pretty awesome.  Standing up was also pretty effective in letting me spot fish hanging at the edge of the mangroves.  It’s so stable I can pretty much walk up and down its deck.

this picture captures the mangroves pretty well. there are miles and miles of pathway through the mangroves. Someone like me that didn’t get the direction gene needs to pay careful attention not to get lost.

Fly Fishing Highlights

I’m still no expert in the Estero.  But, I can confidently say I am so much a better fly fisher in this place than I was 3 years ago.  And my results show it.  I’m not exaggerating when I told you I probably strung 10 straight 40+ fish days in a row.  Here are the species I caught the most:

  • Broomtail Groupers
  • Corvina
  • Corbina
  • Halibut
  • Bonefish
  • Spotted Bay Bass

But, I did catch a number of other species too.  I caught so many species in quantity I found myself getting spoiled.  I don’t like that feeling.  It’s the feeling of disappointment instead of joy when battling a huge fish only to find out it’s an enormous spotty when getting it close to the kayak.

I have fished in Hawaii a gazillion times and have thrown at more parrot fish than i can count. But, i never have caught one there. So, you can imagine my surprise when i caught a parrot fish in Baja.

So, it may sound strange that I did experience of component of failure on this trip… and actually like it.  It sets the tone for my number one goal for next year:  I did not catch a single fish on a popper.  And God I tried.  I tried every day to get the groupers and corvina to rise to my popper.  And I failed.  I’m not sure why it was so different from last year when getting a tight cast to the mangroves was rewarded.  It might be that the water was not as clear as it was last year.  Or colder?  Who knows?  Either way I have a goal for next year.

These big Corbina fight you right to your feet.

Also unique this year was the sheer amount of broom-tailed groupers I caught.  For the prior two years I really struggled to find them.  It made them special.  They are the target species and that was a challenge for me in prior years.  not this year, though. This year I caught a gazillion of them.  I also caught a gazillion big corbina (called the “ghost of the coast” here in Southern California and really difficult to catch in the surf).  They were rare for me to find last year.  For some reason, though, unlike last year I did not catch a gazillion Corvina.  I bet I only caught ~20 of them this year.  Strange.  Each year the estero gives you something different.  I like that.  We do this trip in Spring every year.  It sure would be interesting for me to fish it in each of the seasons.  Another goal.

Kainoa

Kainoa: his first trophy shot

Hands down my favorite part of this trip in terms of fishing was teaching Kainoa how to fly fish.  Kainoa is a 20 year old, straight A college student at UC Irvine and was there with his dad, Rich.  These are great people who are fun to be around and veterans of this trip and of Baja.   And both are veteran conventional tackle fisherman.  This type of fly fishing in the Estero is not conducive for success for beginners.  You really do need at least a 40 foot accurate cast and good line management and quick line stripping skills for success.  So, I was confident I could get him casting proficiently.  But, not so confident he was going to get takes like I would be with a beginner on a trout stream.  Because of his prior fishing experience, he took to the overhand cast quickly.  I even taught him to roll cast so he could get the line in position for a big overhand cast.  It was his pickup that was impressive.  A good line pickup off the water is hard to teach.  That type of skill just seems to only come with hours on the water; not from a beginner.  Once he mastered the pickup he was averaging an efficient cast about a 1/3rd of the time and recognizing what happened on the failed casts.  So, he was way ahead of a normal beginner.  But, that stripping the line thing is physical and takes some dexterity.  He was getting better…. But, not getting takes.  And it didn’t help that people were catching fish all around him.  He stayed with it, though.  I gave him some space to figure things out like I do with every beginner and fished myself.  But, by the end of day one he had not gotten a take. Day 2 was a different story.  He caught a small spotty and it was high five time with pictures.  I joked that I taught him 6 of the 7 elements of fly fishing.  But, failed to teach him the 7th: the trophy shot.  It wasn’t just a few minutes later when I looked over and saw his rod bent in half with him losing line.  I quickly set my rod down on the sand and ran to him fumbling with my camera.  After a decent battle we could see it was a big halibut.  A beginner without any fishing experience would have lost that fish right at their feet.  But, since Kainoa was not a beginner to fishing he used the rod and momentum to swing that halibut up to shore immobilizing it.  I was hooting and hollering and clearly more excited about it than Kainoa.  Since Rich and Kainoa were going to harvest this fish we had time to do a proper trophy shot.

Kainoa in battle

We always remember the ones that got away more than the ones we catch and release

On the last day of fishing I got out on the kayak early with the group.  And we all absolutely killed.  Mid day the gang headed back to camp in fear of the afternoon winds which had been brutal every day.  I decided I was going to push it to the max (temping fate with the winds and current of tide shift) because it was the last day.  But, I did stay close so that no matter how bad the current or the wind got I’d have less than ½ mile to peddle back to camp.

Alone now, after successfully fishing “grouper alley” pulling a few broom-tailed groupers out of the mangroves I found myself close to the main channel, a ½ mile entrance and exit of the current into and from the pacific.  There was an amazing channel against the mangroves that I fished on foot a few days earlier on the other side at low tide so I peddled over to see what stage of tide it was in.  Unfortunately, where I waded on sand was already under water.  So, with no place to put the kayak safely while the tide rose, I turned to figure out what I’d fish next.  I had always done well stripping fast while trolling in the main channel for bonefish so that was an option.  Facing the ocean, I saw the current ripping in by a point of sand.  That formed a current seam of 2-3 feet of slow water behind the protection of sand with the current ripping by in 5-10 feet of water on the other side of it.  The type of water that would be epic in a trout stream where the trout use the least amount of energy in the seam only to dart out into the current as the food goes by.  But, here in estero I had only experienced predators in the base of the mangroves or in deep water.  So I moved the kayak into position and casted into the current seam.  My line tightened.  Hung up.  I immediately envisioned breaking off and calling it a day… calling it a trip.  We’ve all had this happen: Then my hung up line started moving.  It was slowly moving away from the ocean towards the mangroves.  At first I thought, “Darn, I foul hooked another shovel nose shark.”  But, then I thought to myself, “There’s no way a shovel nose shark would be there in that position unless he randomly swam right into my strip.”  That is when I felt the head shaking.  It now realized it was hooked in the face.  The fish picked up speed.  I had him on the reel but was losing line as he picked up speed dragging my kayak with him.  I chased him like a captain would do on the open ocean getting an angle fighting to get the line back the line.  Multiple thoughts ran through my head.  I assumed it was a huge halibut.  But, it could have been a legendary grouper.  Could it have been one of john’s infamous red pargos?  Then the fear set in: 20 LB flouro, a size 2 hook that could bend out.  and what I had the most fear of: two knots involved I personally tied…

i can’t figure out how these young folks do such awesome selfies holding fish. i’m terrible at it.

After a number of runs.  After about 10 minutes of battle I got him to the leader and up to the side of the boat…..  I still didn’t get a good look, but it did see it was a monster.  Too big to pull onto the kayak and it was not tail hooked.  He shot away again.  around the 20  minute mark I tightened the drag to max.  this was no cheapo reel.  It was a high end Orvis large arbor designed exactly for this type of battle.  20 lb flouro.  The fish was toasting my reel at full drag.

Now the fish had dragged my kayak 200 yards in the main channel, and it appeared to have intentions of dragging me out to sea.  ½ mile away was the door to the open ocean.  Getting dragged out to sea was not an option; too dangerous.  So, I man’d up and horsed him, risking breaking him off.

It was the end of the day and the wind was up; The surge / chop was up.  There was no one around to witness my battle. I kept going through scenarios in my mind convincing myself there was no way to land it…. then as quickly fantasizing about hauling a halibut the size of my kayak back to camp.  I fantasized how I’d kill it because I didn’t have a tool with me to do that.  Then as quickly I switched to fantasizing about taking a picture of it on the shore and dragging it back into the water to let it go.  I fantasized that I was now “old man of the sea”….with no one crazy enough to still be out fishing; no one to see me in this battle; no one to believe it.  I looked down to my reel and I could see the backing coming.  It’s my hang up.  But, I just believe there are so few scenarios (if any) where a fly fisherman needs to be in the backing.  Getting pulled into the backing is for amateurs that don’t know how to fight a fish and don’t care if the fish dies as a result of the battle. it’s really hard on the fish to get all the way into the backing if you intend to release it.  again, that is my hangup.  That is when I decided “enough is enough” and decided the battle needs to stop whether I lose this fish or not.  I took a 45 degree angle towards shore about 50 feet away and peddled like crazy.   My strategy was to beach the kayak with the rod held high, get out and battle the fish on foot.  I knew it was risky in terms of losing the fish.  But, the battle was getting unsafe and I was alone.  I got out quickly and beached the kayak.  but the fish was going the other way taking out line and now my rod was parallel to the water, full drag, and the fish was still headed out to sea.  I lifted the rod so it could help in the fight,  It was not long after that when it broke off.  I have to admit I was bummed.  I typically laugh when I lose a fish.  I reeled up and there was some consolation that the flouro broke right in the middle of my leader and not in either of the knots.  I peddled the ½ mile back to camp getting pounded by the waves, fighting the current, but still in a fantasizing state of mind.  I fantasized about fishing in the main channel on next year’s trip.  Another goal for next year.

That’s John on the GPRMS radio from his truck “El Mucho”. we use the radios to communicate with each other as we caravan across Mexico

Fly Fishing Guidance

As mentioned prior I’m no expert yet at fishing the esteros of southern Baja.  But, each year I learn a little more.  And each year the Estero fishes differently.  3 straight years I have seen different conditions which demanded different types of flies, fly lines and tactics.

I can tell you this, though, with conviction: The color of the fly I fished in the estero this year was insignificant as compared to the structure of the fly.  It should be stated that many of my fishing partners, some of whom are experts on the trip disagree with me.  They only fish yellow or chartreuse over white.  Those colors definitely work.  And those colors are the only colors that they fish.  well, I fished every color I had and everything worked….as long as my fly was in the right part of the water column.  What did not work were flies that were designed to fish in the wrong part of the water column.

There’s Kim Jones in battle with a big Corbina. Notice the tide coming up on her. In about an hour she’d be in 5 feet of water in that spot

In my notes from last year I remarked that I tied too many clousers.  Last year the fish were mostly in the top of the water column so I was missing them.  I was stripping back flies below the fish in the water column because clousers have big, weighted eyes.  So, this year I must have tied 3 dozen unweighted deceivers.  And guess what?  This year, most of the time the fish were in the bottom of the water column so it was the clousers that didn’t work last year, that worked great this year.  In my notes to myself from this years trip… which I’ll read 11 months from now as I prepare to tie for the trip, it says: “tie clousers in all sizes of eyes so that you can cover all parts of the water column”.  It also says, “Design a deceiver like pattern that has a little weight to it to fish in 1-3 feet of water”.  I have some ideas…

Punta Abreojos

Leonor & Bacilio gave each of us a couple cans of fish from the Cooperativa. when i got home i made Abreojos Chipotle Fish Stew with my yellowtail with Leonor’s recipe and it was spectacular

Hands down one of, if not the most special experiences on this trip was finally getting to visit the tiny city of Punta Abreojos and being invited for dinner into the home of Bacilio & Leonor Romero.  The drive is about 15 minutes from where we camp.  This tiny city is run and managed by a cooperative.  In the US we call that a “co-op”.  In mexico it’s called a “Cooporativa”.

I have to admit I used GPT to help me with the next part:

Punta Abreojos is a small fishing village located on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Fishing cooperatives, also known as “cooperativas pesqueras” in Spanish, are organizations formed by fishermen to collectively manage and sustainably exploit marine resources in their area. These cooperatives play an essential role in promoting sustainable fishing practices, protecting the environment, and ensuring the economic well-being of their members.

Typically, fishing cooperatives have a set of regulations and guidelines that govern fishing activities, such as defining catch quotas, enforcing fishing seasons, and establishing sustainable fishing methods. By working together, fishermen can have more control over their livelihoods, negotiate fair prices for their catch, access credit and resources, and participate in decision-making processes.

Bacilio is one of the profession fishermen of the Cooperotiva.  The Cooperotiva has their act together in terms of conservation unlike many Mexican towns on the pacific (and frankly much of the US) that are “fished out”.  The cooperotiva at Puntos Abreojos even  has a full time watch for poachers.  They are famous for a lobster season that they regulate and manage.  Their ocean is a healthy one.  They manage a thriving ecosystem.

here’s the gang at the home of Leonor and Bacilo.  From the back of Tom’s head clockwise: Michael, Bruce, Kim, me, Gorge, Rich, Kainoa & John

I met Bacilio last year through John Ashley on this trip.  God only knows how John originally met Bacilio… and that is a testament to John.  Last year Bacilio brought his home-made ceviche to camp for us.  Just a surprise gift.  That is how awesome he is: a bunch of gringo fly fishers come into his town and he welcomes them with open arms and brings them gifts of food.  This year Bacilio showed up at camp with Leonor and a pot of Frijolies Charros.  Leonor knows her way around a kitchen.  In broken Spanish we communicate.  Of course, the more alcohol John and I consume the better Spanish speakers we are.  Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked when Bacilio and Leonor invited us to come over to dinner on Saturday night….all of us.  We drank beers and laughed.  We were served “sopa de albondigas de pescado” (fish meatball soup).  It was specatular.  I could have called it goo there.  but, no.  out came the fish tacos. It was an honor and I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how to repay them for their generosity and kindness.

Let’s just say Leonor knows her way around a kitchen. This is the set of ingredients for the abogondigas soup

Summary

If you have read my stuff on this site before or have gone on a fly fishing trip with me, you will remember my tradition of “the ceremonial last cast” right before ending a fly fishing trip and leaving.  I pack up everything except for one rigged fly rod and when it’s time to go I execute.  Typically it’s 5-10 casts and mostly I get skunked.  I never change the fly that is tied on from the day before and many times that fly is not appropriate for the conditions or time of day.  And that doesn’t matter to me.  So, after 11 days, after 2 hours of packing HUKTRUK, and after mounting the kayak on the Yakima racks on top, ready to go I announced to the gang, “Time for the ceremonial last cast.”  I walked down to the water and within 4 casts I caught and released a halibut.  I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Steve Rinella, an accomplished writer and TV personality from one of his Meat Eater hunting shows.  So, I have taken the liberty of slightly wordsmithing Steve’s comment from one of his shows because it reflected my thoughts at the time so well:

“As we prepare to leave this place.  I’m as entranced as the first time I came here.  I alternate between excitement about plotting my return and pushing even farther into the mangroves.  And dread about the idea that this place and people will change somehow into something unrecognizable; something less unique.  I try to grab onto snippets of visual memories and to lock into my brain those moments that most exemplify the things I love here.  In hopes of keeping the images from fading away from my mind the way things seem to slip into the currents of time.“

High Tide. I took this picture from the back of Huktruk where we camped

My Quest to Learn Popper Fly Fishing for Largemouth

Is that the rainbow trout popper i built, painted and tied hanging out of this largemouth’s face? Why yes it is…

I came to the shocking reality of the largest winter in California recorded history in February of 2023: Most of the places I love to fly fish in the Sierra Nevada will not fish well (because of runoff) until August or later this year.  And some of those places just will not be accessible at all this year because the roads are destroyed (or will become destroyed when the big runoff comes in June).  I know my way around a trout stream.  I have been fly fishing for trout for decades.  So, in the beginning of 2023 the writing was on the wall: I would not be able to do my annual springtime fly fishing trips for trout in the Sierra Nevada and I’d be lucky to do any fly fishing in the Sierras by August.  If I wanted to fly fish I would have to find alternatives.

So, I made it my quest to learn as much as possible about freshwater fly fishing for Bass with popper flies.  In the fly-fishing club that I serve as president, The San Diego Fly Fishers Club, we have quite a few experts at “the bass thing”.  And we have many lakes in and around San Diego County that support healthy populations of largemouths, smallmouths and many other fresh water fish species willing to take a fly.  I have caught plenty of freshwater bass in my time.  I have fished for bass on top plenty of times successfully with Huck Hoppers.  But, I had heard these legends of popper fly fishing and was intrigued.

How fun does this look?!

So, with a ton of internet research, reading books and magazines, and many discussions with the experts I had access to, I learned as much as I could.  Then I put what I learned into practice on 6 fishing days over 3 different lakes during the months of April and May, 2023.  This is my account of that journey from February to May of 2023.

I have an obsessive personality.  I’m not obsessive/compulsive where obsession ruins the rest of my life.  But, when I set out to learn something…. Well, let’s just say I don’t half-ass it.

The first component I got obsessed about was building, painting and tying popper flies.  We use them religiously for the dorado in baja.  But, when talking to the experts like Jim Brown (long time San Diego City Lakes Manager and godfather of fly fishing for bass in san diego), he mentioned that fishing with popper flies is the ultimate in fun when fly fishing for bass.  It’s pretty obvious why: you fish on top like a dry fly and the bass rise to the popper.  The thing that is different from trout, I was told, is that “Some of the takes on top are viscous”.  So, I made a little visit to the man-cave of my friend and expert John Ashley.  He showed me the popper flies he made, painted and tied.  I was shocked.  He showed me his Copic Airbrushing system.  Well, $100 later with a small compressor then turned into ~$200 in supplies.  I was worried because I have very little artistic talent.  I’m an engineer by trade.  And there is very little guidance on the painting part of popper flies on the interweb.  but, through some practice I managed to paint some trout and frog popper flies.  They looked pretty good, I must admit.  Which made me worried that they wouldn’t work.

this is one of a handful of frog popper flies i built, painted and tied.

With the popper flies I had made and the knowledge I’d gained from the experts I headed out for 6 fishing days spread over 4 weeks with some confidence.  I had success.  But, I was humbled during many points.  Here is a short chronicle of my adventures:

April 21-23: Squaw Lake

Every year the San Diego Fly Fishers Club does a weekend of camping at Squaw Lake.  Because of calendar conflicts… and because it’s right in the heart of spring trout fishing in the sierras (in every year but this one), I had never got the choice to join.  I really had no idea what or where this place was until after I decided to join in and go.  After staring at google maps I could see that it was part of the Colorado river system right on the California side of the border with Arizona (the river being the border).  But, I had no idea what I was in for.

I’m in love with my Hobie Lynx Kayak.  i get so much range out of it and can actually stand up and cast.

On the guidance of my fellow club members, I did the dawn patrol thing so I could get there early and secure a decent campsite.  So, I was in the water in my kayak by 10am.  I was fishing alone.  The first thing I noticed was the current.  It really is part of the Colorado river and a float tube would be almost impossible except for close to the camp.  I fished a popper for a good couple hours before I gave up.  I failed to fool anything to come up to the top of the water column.  I fished what looked like really good water with tons of vegetation on the banks.  So, I switched to a medium sink like and more traditional clouser like patterns and started catching fish.  in the main channel while drifting under current and doing a very fast retrieve I caught a striper.  They pull like crazy but don’t jump like a largemouth does.  I caught a few largemouths here and there but, I wouldn’t call the fishing crazy good.  There were long periods without takes.  It was during one of those long periods I noticed what looked like an entrance to a protected lagoon.  I stared at Gaia maps on my phone and sure enough it was a 100 by 100 yard lagoon behind brush.  You’d couldn’t see through to it by looking.  But, there was a tiny entrance protected by weeds underneath and brush on both sides.  I made a run for it and made it through.  And that is when it got nuts.  I was fishing water that didn’t see a lot of flies, if any, and was killing.  Really I should have switch back to the popper.  I could kick myself now for not doing that.  But, I was having so much fun raling largies I didn’t.  after an exhausting day of fishing I got back to camp and John Ashley, my bass fishing mentor and friend was there.  he said, “I know the lagoon you are talking about.  Just wait until tomorrow.”  Little did I know at the time.

fighting the current through the narrow set of channels on the way to imperial reservoir

“if you are up for it, tomorrow we’ll go to Imperial Reservoir.”, John said.  I shot back, “we have to load our kayaks and drive somewhere?” “Oh no, my friend, we’ll do a jungle boat cruise against the current to get there.”  Well, that mile long physical adventure of a journey turned out to be an epic day.  I am pretty sure I landed over 25 and lost just as many.  I caught a ton of largemouths including a couple stripers.  But, my favorite part was when, in a small lagoon I found john and switched to a popper fly to fish with him.  He watched me and immediately said something like, “What in the hell are you doing? No no no.  that’s all wrong.”  In all the guidance and discussions I had about popper fishing for bass I somehow failed to glean the most important information: how to strip back the fly.  I was stripping it back fast like you fish for dorado in the open ocean.  In freshwater bass fishing you cast the popper fly as close to the bank as possible.  Then you let it sit for a painfully long amount of time before jerky slow strips.  But, it was the end of day 2 and I still hadn’t caught a bass on a popper fly.

Stripers, at least the ones i caught, fight hard but don’t strike on top and don’t come up for a fly.  The only success i had with catching stripers was stripping fast in deep water.

What a special oasis in the desert this place is.  But, I have to wait until the winter to get back there.  Understand you can’t just go out there to Squaw Lake any time of the year.  It gets hotter than hell out there.  It’s a winter and early spring fishery.

doing these selfie trophy pics with my iPhone is a challenge that I’m already tired of

May 5-6: Lake Mead

When a business trip to Las Vegas for the startup I’m working with appeared on the calendar, I reached out to the las vegas fly fishing club for guidance on how to fish lake mead.  What I got in return from Kris, member of the board at the Las Vegas Fly fishing club was incredible help.  Especially on where to camp and fish.  It’s faster for me to drive to Las Vegas than fly so I threw my float tube in the back of my truck and did another dawn patrol drive.

I had the entire place to myself. The drought: the actual high water mark is above where i’m taking the picture

It took a small section of legit 4WD but when I got to the lake, I literally parked 5 feet from the shore in an oasis of coves of crystal clear water and had the entire place to myself; not a sole for miles in any direction.

This time armed with one of Jim Brown’s Fenwick fiberglass rods from the 70s, I tied a popper on and attacked… for hours without a strike before switching to a sinking line again convinced I’d never catch a largemouth on a popper fly.  Discouraged, I was mentally ready to get skunked.  But, with a medium sink line and a shad looking clouser I hooked up, battled and released a nice sized striper.  “It took 3 hours, but I finally caught a fish.” is what I txtd my wife, Kelly.  I caught a couple more fish over the next hour or two.  There were smallmouths.  Cool.  But it was slow and I still had not seen a largemouth let alone a shad boil.

Much of Lake Mead allows disbursed camping on BLM land.  I spent 20 minutes building this campfire pit.  Then disassembled it when leaving.  I ultimately believe this will all be under 50-100 feet of water again within a few years.

It was the end of the day so I peddled (My Hobie Lynx is a peddle driven kayak) back to camp, made myself a cocktail, cooked a steak and listened to my beloved Padres get whacked by the Dodgers.

“Today is a new day.” I told myself at sunrise.  And I had until 3pm when I’d pack up camp, drive to the strip and clean up at Caesers before the software launch party I was to attend that night.  As I staggered out of the bed in my truck, I noticed another truck about 200 feet away.  I was not alone.  After making myself a cup of coffee I spotted the guy.  He was a gear fisherman and he started early.  I walked over to where he could see me and shouted hi.  Well, soon enough he wander into my camp and we chatted a bit about the fishing.  He was a nice guy for sure.  I didn’t learn anything though because he was a gear fisherman.  For the next 20 minutes while I scrambled to get ready to fish myself he literally fished right in front of my truck.  But, he didn’t catch anything.  Hmmm…

I caught a half dozen or so small mouth bass.  but, i never managed to catch a largemouth in Lake Mead… or any fish on a popper fly.

By the time I got into my kayak to fish it was close to 8am.  for the next couple hours it was slow.  I caught a smallmouth and that was fun.  My goal was to fish the shoreline and all its coves going north for at least 2 miles.  Then it happened.  I caught a smallmouth that barfed up a shad as I was pulling him in to release him.  But, the shad was tiny.  Like 1 ½” tiny.  I was fishing shad patterns that were over 3”… over 2 times the size of the naturals.  So, I scoured my fly boxes for a smaller shad pattern and found a small streamer in white that would have to suffice.  It did.  I started killing.  And I was pleased because I figured it out.  It took me like 6 hours of fishing to figure it out.  But, I did.  It got so good that in the process of unkinking my medium sink like I hooked into a big fish with the fly just sitting there skimming the bottom.  After a significant battle it turned out to be a big catfish.  In that final 2-3 hours I caught about a dozen fish.  half of them smallmouth and half of them stripers.  There were no largemouth to be found and I still hadn’t caught a fish on popper flies.

My large net skews the size of this catfish.  it was pretty huge and drug me around in my kayak for a while before I could tire him out.

May 10 & 12: Barrett Lake

Barrett Lake in San Diego county is world famous.  It is a very special place.  It has been covered in fishing magazines and television shows for years.  It’s so special that when reservations / tickets go on sale for Barrett each year, it has to be done on Ticketmaster.  Jim Brown told me that many years ago, the late 70s I believe, when they decided to hand over the ticketing season for Barrett over to Ticketmaster it was the first time Ticketmaster collapsed because of scale.  Realize, at the time Ticketmaster had already successfully handled tickets for the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra tours.  So, now you fly fishers can relate to the young folks you recently saw crying in social media because Ticketmaster collapsed for the 2023 Taylor Swift tour.

As much as i hate my iPhone, it sure does take good pictures.  I lucked out on this picture.  this big largemouth jumped and flipped in the process.  I probably lost him in that process.  Notice the mirror image of him on the lake.

Lake Barrett is restricted to catch and release, single hook, barbless fishing; rare for a bass lake.  It also is one of the many reasons the fishing is so good there.  Its season is just 3 days per week (Wed, Sat & Sun) for 4 months starting in May.  Tickets are released monthly on a controlled basis and the access is limited to a small restricted amount of anglers on those days.

I have been lucky to have fished Lake Barrett for the last 3 years.  and I have had a lot of success there thanks to guidance given to me from Kim Jones, who I call, the “Queen of Barrett”.  But, I had never popper fished there.  and I had always fished in a float tube which basically limited me to about a mile from the dock.

I had to txt my buddy Kim Jones and ask her what the hell this one was. “Black Crappie”. Even they rise to a popper fly at Barrett

Well, the SDFF club has the rare pleasure of renting Lake Barrett for a single day of exclusive use each year from the city of San Diego.  It costs a bunch of money and hassle in terms of permitting and insurance and such.  But, we know what a special thing it is for our members, so it is worth all the expense and hassle.

Back to Ticketmaster.  I had the day/time of the go on sale for Barrett for months on my calendar.  I got myself logged in on Ticketmaster at least 10 minutes in advance saying to myself, “This is the year I get to fish on opening day.”  I seemed to be sitting in some form of electronic queue. By the time it was my time to purchase the first 4 dates were already sold out.  sigh.  Just like every year I bought the first available.  Now I was pissed because the day I picked, Wednesday, May 10 was just 2 days before the Friday date that the SDFF club had the lake.  I figured I’d give the tickets away until I said to myself, “what the hell.  Even though it’s a huge drive there and back I’ll fish it a couple days before and provide that intel to the rest of the club who would fish it a couple days later”.

Just another big Barrett Bass

I talked to Jim Brown the day before my first shot of the season at Barrett and he said, “If I were you I’d fish poppers all day.”  So, even though I had still yet to catch a largemouth on a popper fly I resigned myself to that plan.  And yea, I was worried.

It was early like you are supposed to be and I headed out on my kayak.  I had already lost my fishing buddy (jim Casteluzzo who I treated to the day) because he got in the water a good 20 minutes ahead of me.  So, alone I attacked the western side of the lake in a northern direction towards Pine Creek.  As previously mentioned, I have fished barrett before, but never in a kayak (which has a much larger range than a float tube).  And I still hadn’t caught a fish on a popper fly.  So, my mission was to explore places in the lake I had never seen before.  And catch a barrett largemouth on a popper.

This is the typical “cookie cutter” ~14″ largie you fool at Lake Barrett. But, there are some monsters in that lake.

Well, I fired one of the rainbow trout poppers I made for the first 20 minutes with nothing.  I said to myself, “I know the fish are here. I know I can catch them with a medium sink line.”  I didn’t think you could be too early in bass fishing.  I was carrying two rods so I switched and immediately caught a huge black crappie and then a largemouth.  So, I grabbed the popper rod again with resolute.  Within minutes I had my first largie on a popper!  I was stoked.  Within two hours I had lost count of how many takes I had.  At one point I was all by myself laughing, all by myself, and saying out loud, “It can’t get any more fun than this.”  At the end of the day I figured I had landed over 25 on popper flies and lost easily that many to my lack of bass fighting skills and barbless hooks.

My favorite moment was a big largemouth that struck my popper fly on the way up on a jump….and jumped clear out of the water with the popper.  I set on him in the air.  You can do that with bass.  That would cause calamity with a trout.  Well, it was close to 4pm now and I was txting back and forth with my buddy Kim Jones asking her how late I could stay on the lake.  But, the reality was my over 60 year old body was killing me from all the fights with fish.  I could barely cast my arm hurt so badly.  So, I called it a day… a very good day and peddled it back to huktruk for the battle on the 5 north home.

Barrett really is beautiful lake in the spring.  I literally have 20+ pictures of the mirror image thing like this from the Hauser arm of the lake.

Well, I had intel alright.  And that word spread throughout the club.  2 days later I decided I’d try the Hauser arm of the lake because I had not been there either.  Since I had so much success 2 days prior I also decided I’d be in no rush and be happy with whatever happened.  But, it seemed like the entire other 50 fly fishers went down the Pine creek arm…. Seemingly armed with my fishing report of a 2 days prior.  I basically had the entire hauser arm to myself.  I marvelled at the calm water and the nature all around me.  I caught a lot of fish.  but, I wasn’t as “agro” about it like a couple days prior.   I probably caught half as many as the couple days prior. At one point I chased a huge largemouth chasing a bait ball of shad for over an hour.  It was futile.  By the time I got to where he struck, him and the bait ball were 100 yards away.  I fished a popper fly all day.  And was really happy about it.

Here’s another picture I totally lucked out on. notice the popper fly hanging out of the face on this one.

Conclusions

I have this saying.  I bet I have said it a thousand times: “Nothing fights like a Trout.”  I know I said it about the Corvina of Baja in the article I wrote here.

As it turns out, fly fishing for bass can be just as strategic as it is for trout.  And I learned the hard way that “matching the hatch” when it comes to fly fishing for bass, is just as important as it in in trout fishing.  It’s just not about bugs; it’s about figuring out what they are eating and matching the size and color.  Just like in trout fishing you have to observe, adapt and overcome.  I liked that part of bass fishing a lot.  I also found myself loving fishing on top for largemouths as much as I love drifting a dry fly down a river.

My quest completed multiple times: C&R largemouths on Popper Flies.  Of interest, I ultimately had success on a lot of different popper flies both that I tied myself and some that I bought….like this one…which is the crystal popper we use on Dorado in Baja of all things.

Fly Fishing Report -Lower Owens River – March 19-22, 2014

Fly Fishing Report -Lower Owens River

March 19-22, 2104

Wednesday March 19, 2014

Because of work I got a late start from Las Vegas.  It was an easy drive, but I forgot there is no fast food stops for like 275 miles.  once you leave las vegas you don’t see anything until bishop…except for the whore houses; and I did see a wild burro.  It’s an awesome drive over the mountain.  And a one lane road through the canyon.

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I got to the river around 3:30PM.  Plenty of time.  I parked on the west side of the river where sloffy scoped the spot last time.  it’s a scramble down the hill and a tough hike up.  2 fish landed, one nice one, 5 misses and snapped off on a huge fish.   There weren’t a lot of bugs but I did try to fish on top for 1.5 hours and had some success before I switched to the “bobber”

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Thursday March 19, 2014

I parked at the power plant at the pleasant valley river dam.  I did really well in this stretch the last time I fished it.  It’s difficult fishing; not for beginners because of the trees and overgrowth and current.  But, there is a ton of pocket water and good runs.

I fished downstream all the way to the lake….i have never done that…it’s a long way…and just killed…  tons of action all day.  Nothing huge, but a lot of wild fish.  Totally fun.   Even called sloff during it to tell him how good it was.

No bugs, no risers, though.  I Fished the bobber all day and killed on huck-birds-nests as the trailer fly.  A few on the zebra midge above.  I probably landed 30+. And because of the difficult fishing I missed a bunch.  The best fish was one I stalked at the confluence of rock creek…exactly where I caught a fish the last time I went there.

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I moved in slowly but a big fish still saw me from 30 feet away and spooked…. So I paused and waited and he moved back in to place.  I casted up from him and “whack!”.  But, wait, no, not him.  a much smaller fish…. Darn.  I pulled him quickly out of that run so I could have a shot at the big one.   not expecting him to be there, let alone not spooked, I casted and “whack!”  much heavier… it’s him!  great battle, netted, pictured (above and below the water) and released.

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As I worked my way down river I forgot how beautiful that upper wild stretch is.  The entire stretch must have been awesome before the power plant and the dam.

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Overall, I believe the majority of the fish I caught were those wild brown holdovers from last years spawn.  8” to 12” fish the jump like crazy and fight like hell.

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Friday March 19, 2014

This time I tried an adventure….and I wont’ do it again.  I went on the dirt road on the west side of the river again, but went another 1.5 miles south looking for fly fishing trails down the mountain.  I found a place to park, but it was the cattle road and the trails down were for the cows.  I saw lots of cows to the south.  Really loud cows.  So I walked down the mountain and to what I thought was the quickest route to the river…mistake… totally overgrown and blocked…. Barely 2-3 places to fish in the first mile of hiking up river.  So I essentially started right before where I parked the first day.  Lesson learned.  Tons of calories huffing and puffing in the hot sun; which is not that bad either.

I caught two little wild browns on the bobber downriver early and then it just shut down….  no bugs; no action.  Non one else was catching fish either and there were a lot of guys on the river.  I talked to a lot of them.  I went a good 1.5 – 2 hours with nothing…beautiful stretch of river.

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Frustrated, I said to myself, “Screw this, I’m going to the streamer.”  That was around 230.  And it’s exactly when Brocky txt’d me begging to take him fishing.  He was my good luck charm.  For the next 3.5 hours I constantly battled huge wild fish.  One after another…. 4-5 from the same holes!  I worked back downstream.  Constant strikes on an olive, bead headed rabbit strip streamer I did not tie.  Some of the strikes were so violent I cut open my finger on the fly line ripping out line and cutting through my hands.  And for that entire 3 hours brock was txting me to take him fishing.  J

The highlight was an 18-19” fat hen that jumped numerous times.  I had to finish it up through the rapids.  It was a long huge battle and the fish still was hot after beaching her and taking her picture.

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I probably landed 20+ fish over 14” on that little streamer.  Awesome.  Interestingly enough there were a lot of fishermen on the river and no one was doing well.  They were all on the bobber.  I fished until around 630pm and even though I had some daylight and was doing well I fished all the way down, beyond my car and into the cows.  And was a bit worried about how to navigate back to my truck… which was well founded worry because I did run into some dead-ends and had to hike backwards.

Saturday March 22, 2014

Well, after 2.5 great days of fishing I was set to drive home early so I could work the weekend and do chores before mark and Kelly got back from Orlando.  But, how can you turn down a 14 year old that begs you to take him fly fishing?  You can’t.  When a 14 year old begs to you to take him fishing, you take him fishing.  So, my man Brock and I tackled the C&R section of the Lower Owens for ~4 hours.  In general terms it was not slow…we saw action all day.  But, for some reason we couldn’t land a fish to save our lives.  Of course when you guide a 14 year old you are not fishing a lot… you are tying rigs and pulling flies out of trees and tying on new flies and undoing tangles and teaching about reading the water and doubling back to get his forgotten backpack riverside and teaching about the hatches.  All totally worth it.  I love that kid and I love that he loves to fly fish.

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I did sneak in some fishing on top with dries when the hatch went off and did pretty darn well.  It took me forever to find the right caddis.  Once I did, I saw a ton of strikes.  Mostly small fish, but I did have a nice 14” brown take me on top and I battled him for 45 seconds or so before he went ballistic and shook my barbless hook.  That was worth the day.  Well, that and fishing with brock.  Fishing with my man Brock was a highlight of the trip.

 

Send Your Automated Build via Hightail (Formerly YouSendIt)

Here at InterKnowlogy we are always looking for ways to optimize our business. We’ve been using automated builds for sometime now. They are seriously one of the best things since sliced bread! Who doesn’t love to see a giant green checkmark stating their check-in succeeded. Or yelling names down the hallway when someone else causes a huge red ‘X’ to show up due to a failed check-in. As long as those names are aimed at you that is… We’ve been struggling with one problem lately with our release builds. If we have someone working offsite and they need to get the build after it completes they have to VPN into our network, go to the build directory, and copy the deliverable to their local machine. We do a lot of really cool graphically intense applications, which can mean large deliverables. This then turns into a really long difficult process to get a single deliverable. After a lot of discussions we come up with a really cool idea to use

Automatic UI Transitions in Windows Store apps

When you’re making apps intended for modern touch hardware, it’s important that your UI feels alive, fluid, and in motion. Some of Microsoft’s XAML controls will give you this motion for free, like Panorama in Windows Phone and the FlipView in WinRT, but other than that it was very difficult to duplicate the built-in animations and transitions of those respective platforms. The WinRT platform introduces the Transition API that applies to Controls and Containers that can apply a built in animation in a response to a predetermined trigger. Transitions are applied to individual controls using the Transitions property, and to Panels using the ChildrenTransitions property. For example, adding an EntranceThemeTransition to the ChildrenTransitions collection of a Grid will cause all children of the Grid to automatically slide in from the right when they first appear.