Forks of the Kern Update: It’s Open!
I cannot tell you how many emails I have answered asking about when the Forks will open again. As of Today, 5/13/22. IT’S OPEN!
Just got word from a buddy who said, “Western Divide, he said Lloyd Meadows and the Forks will be open as of today. He said they’re “in the process” of clearing it all out, and “there may be escorts”, but it will be open for sure for my trip on Sunday. I even got my Wilderness permit approved.”
Beware: There are a couple of barriers to your fishing fun when the Forks finally does open after its 2 year hiatus. Firstly, in high flow of the main river, the little kern river crossing (which is part of the Forks trail) can be treacherous. Secondly, the Upper Kern is just difficult to fish in flows over 500CFS. It has everything to do with the willows, trees and other bushes that line the river. It’s just hard to find spots in the river to wade in safely when “it’s up.”.
2-nighter on the JDB trail: May 1-3, 2022
- Sunday: 545 CFS
- Monday: 560 CFS
- Tuesday: 585 CFS
- Sunday: 92%
- Monday: 77%
- Tuesday: 52%
A muddy, rising, raging torrent of death topped off with 30 MPH gusts of wind. I was a week too late; the runoff has started. I caught it perfectly in 2020 and 2021. The Upper Kern will be pretty much unfishable to anyone but experts as it rises to over 1000 CFS through mid June.
On a full day of fishing on Monday, I got ~10 to hand losing about twice that many. So, considering the bad conditions and still getting around 30 takes one might think I’d be stoked. But, I expected to get 40 to hand and lose another 40 like the prior 2 years. Still totally fun. How can getting takes on a size 4 huck hopper in April not be fun?
Casting for Recovery:
I drove straight from guiding the Casting for Recovery Event near Yosemite to the Johnsondale Bridge. I cannot tell you what a pleasure and honor it was to help in that event. 14 ladies who stared down death in the gun barrel of cancer to get out in the outdoors for 3 days of learning about fly fishing. I was teamed up with an extraordinary woman. I’ll call her “B” because her story of breast cancer survival is personal. It was personal for me because my wife is a breast cancer survivor. “B” is a young beautiful lady originally from Toronto and now living in Temecula with her husband from Northern Ireland. I have been to Northern Ireland a few times; I have a first cousin there. So we had a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to fish a river teaming with trout. We were put on a pond that had not been stocked. To make it even more challenging trees lined this pond so a traditional overhand cast was impossible. Not to worry it wasn’t about catching. It never is about catching…is it? The night before the event, I tied a bunch of Squirmy Worms in the hotel room I had in Reedley, CA. The squirmy and the mop fly are now illegal in competition fly fishing events….for a reason….and I tie them with glow in the dark materials… it’s totally cheating…I don’t even sell them on this site anymore for that reason. I only use them when teaching beginners. So, yea, perfect for an event with beginners like casting for recovery. So, I started by teaching a roll cast. But, we talked through what an overhand cast would be…the 10-2 thing.. teaching the casts in that reverse order was a first for me. but, in the long term probably a good strategy I may use again. if you can roll cast you can fly fish anywhere. Especially on the Upper Kern where it’s tough to find room for an overhand cast. “B” picked it up pretty quickly. She clearly has an athletic set of genes in her. Well, sure enough…within 15 minutes a huge largemouth took that squirmy super close to the shore in 1.5 feet of water . Unfortunately her teacher (me) didn’t focus on how to set to deeply because I never dreamed we’d get a take. It was an enormous bass and I was clearly more excited about it than “B”. ? we only got a fish for 2-3 hours. I could have done that all day with her and had the time of my life. So fun.
“B” is headed to Scotland this summer…and yes, she’ll fly fish with her husband. I’d really love to get those two on the annual couples trip to the forks this fall. And I told her as much. The casting for recovery event was just a great time. All the guides and support staff are simply awesome people….as you’d imagine. I can’t wait to be honored to do it again.
Upper Kern Backpacking and Fishing Details:
I had a long 3 hour drive south and east into the sierras from the Casting for Recovery event to the Johnsondale bridge. While driving I checked the flow and my heart just sunk. The river was rising. I knew exactly what that meant: I was too late.
I got to the parking lot at the JDB around 3:45PM and took off with 42 pounds on my back from the at 4pm. I knew I had a couple hour hike and that I should get to camp well before the sun went down at 6:30. I did not see a single sole from the minute I got on the trail until I hiked out and reached the parking lot on Tuesday at 10:15 AM. Nice. But, it was hard not to stare at that rising river as I hiked in. It had a brown tint to it too. It was already blown out.
If you are a backpacker, you know the hassle and stress of getting your campsite set up while racing the sun. So, I didn’t get a cast in that first day. I didn’t have time to string a rod. And that was fine. I knew I’d have a full day tomorrow. I just love the occasional backpacking alone thing. It so good for clearing the mind and letting go of the stress of every day life.
Also, as I my habit I was asleep pretty early. Between the long day, the hike, jack daniels, a fire and bbqing a steak I hiked in I was pretty toast. I retreated to my tent to listen to fly fishing podcasts and was soon asleep. And that means I was up and out of the tent at 5:45am. Guess what I did first. I stared at the river. in that low light of the morning when the sun is rising i said to myself, “It’s big; but, It doesn’t look that bad.” So I strung a rod. Although I hadn’t seen any I had heard the salmonfly hatch was still on. I had tied a dozen for the trip so I quickly tied one on and got in position for a 6am cast. It made a simple 40 foot cast straight up river on the seam. The light was so poor it was hard to see that huge salmonfly coming back at me. But sure enough I saw what looked like a take and I set hard. I was on. I laughed as I released it because I have not caught many fish that early in the day. Then I made the mistake of saying to myself, “this is going to be a good day.” because it was exactly then when it hit me: The first cast fish jinx… I cannot tell you how many times that has happened to me.
Well, I know that upper couple miles of the JDB stretch like the back of my hand so I fished all day where I knew fish held. But, when I wasn’t getting consistent rises I faced the reality of nymphing by way of the Huck Hopper/Dropper. The prior two years of me fishing the JDB stretch in April before the Forks opened I absolutely killed on dries. Not this year. I was just a week too late. The river huge, dirty and blow out. The flow was tough to get the flies down in the deeper water. And I knew I had to get them down because the water clarity was only about a foot. That was why I wasn’t getting rises. The fish just couldn’t see through the dirty water. But there are two plunge pools up river from the trail end where I did pretty well on Huck Midge Perdigons in less than 3 feet of water. Then that wind came in. I guessed 30mph gusts because I was actually blown off a rock I was standing on in the river. At points it was really hard to get a drift but I kept fighting through it. What else was I going to do? I’m not much of a sit and wait guy.
Out of the ten or so to hand only one was a larger Kern River Rainbow (KRR). All the others were in the less than 10” class. Most of which I guessed to be 2 year fish. But, the reality of the conditions and the river still rising made me decide I’d hike out early the next morning instead of battling all day again.
So, I hiked out early in the morning after breaking camp and was on the road in Huck-Truck by 1030AM back home. My next adventure will be at the forks. Most likely end of June / early July. Hope to see you there.