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The State of the Upper Kern River – 2023

Update – June 28, 2023

If you read my article below and watched that video you are going to be shocked by this incredibly surprising great news:

As of today, 6/28/2023, The Forks of the Kern is Open!

Yep, it’s true.  Steve Day of Golden Trout Pack Station just called me with the news.  I then called Western Divide Ranger district and confirmed it.  As it turns out the private businesses (ranchers, loggers, etc.)  that are on Forest Road 22S82 fixed it themselves.  They couldn’t afford not being able to get in there.  My guess is that Western Divide Ranger District then went in and fixed the dirt road to the trailhead.

of course, the river is currently a raging torrent of death at 5,500 CFS and rising right now.  It’s unfishable.  Just crossing the Little Kern River that is part of the trail would be a challenge, if not impossible.  But, i will be watching the flow closely through July and get in there as soon as possible and report back.  Remember that the Upper Kern fishes best under 500 CFS.  if you are an advanced / expert fly fisher, you could manage under 1,000 CFS.  But it would be difficult to find fishable water.

I was resigned to the fact that the Forks would be closed the entire year like it had been in two prior years after the fire.  So, this is just awesome news for someone like me.  I’ll be guiding under the permit of Golden Trout Pack Station this year.  If interested in fishing with me guided on a backpacking adventure contact me to discuss details, questions, etc.


This is the article I have procrastinated on for months.  But daily I answer so many emails, calls, txts, messages about the 2023 fly fishing season for the Upper Kern River.  It’s time to come clean on the reality of the situation.  I have talked to a few experts and done a ton of research.

It’s official: 2023 is the biggest winter in California Recorded History.  The mountains above 12,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada, we have a lot of them, have over 75 feet of snow. 

On March 10th, 2023 my beloved Upper Kern River shot up from 500 CFS to 26,000 CFS in just 12 hours!  By the time that water reached Kernville the river was at 39,000 CFS and there was worry of the bridge being compromised.  The bridge did survive.  On the Upper Kern, I doubt anything at the huck site still exists. My guess is even the fire pit is gone.  The good news is that type of flooding flushes the Kern of it’s silt and makes for a better spawning habitat.  We want wild native Kern River Rainbows spawning in abundance.

So I have some news and it’s not necessarily good.  The biggest winter in CA history has already wreaked a lot of havoc.

I recently heard from Western Divide Ranger District that the road to the Forks of the Kern Trailhead turnoff, FR 22S82, is destroyed in numerous places. 

Check out this helicopter video footage of FR 22S82. It’s shocking.  The road is just gone in multiple places.  There are landslides and boulders as big as cars on that 20 mile stretch.  God only know what that 2 mile dirt road stretch looks like that goes to the trailhead.

Video Courtesy of Jim Uni

Western Divide Ranger District told me it is very unlikely that the forks of the kern trailhead will be opened this year.  That’s all they can say right now.  There currently is no official word.  IMHO, It’s going to take 10s of millions of dollars to fix that road.  Since it leads nowhere and so few people live on that road, it’s not going to be a priority like fixing highway 180 is on the western side of the Sierra.  And come springtime there will be a lot more roads to fix.

So the reality is that you will not be able to come even close to driving to the Forks of the Kern Trailhead this season.

 I have been discussing this with my backpacking fly fishing buddies, the forest districts and Steve Day of Golden Trout Pack Station.  You have heard the saying: “Where there is a will there is a way”.  Well, with fly fishers, where there is a river, there is a way.  The yearlong closure of the roads to Forks Trailhead means the backpacking into the upper kern are just going to be longer, harder and more arduous this year.   It’s also just a given that the river won’t back down and be fishable until august.  It’s funny that for years I thought of the Forks as a difficult trail.  Now that it’s gone, I think of the Forks TH as convenient. Realize that the Forks Trailhead was closed for 2 years just a couple years ago because of the fire.  Talk about a river getting a break to recover: for 3 of the last 4 years the Upper Kern won’t feel the pressure of us waving sticks throwing artificials at it.

Here are the most legitimate options for Backpacking overnighters for Fly fishing the Upper Kern this season of 2023:

  1. Lewis TH near the town of Ponderosa and the clicks TH.  Currently you can’t do it because the roads are destroyed.  Nor would you want to do it now because of the snow.  But, the roads will most likely be fixed all the way in to this trailhead by summertime.  it’s 4wd to the TH.
    1. Lewis TH to the Forks TH – 8.5 miles + the 2 miles down to the confluence
    1. Lewis TH to Kern Flats – 12.5 miles.  1400 ascent; 4000 decent
    1. Lewis TH to Hole in the Ground – 13 miles with 4k of elevation gains and 2k of loss on the hike in.
    1. Lewis TH to grasshopper flats – 12.5 miles with 4k of elevation loss and 2k of gain on the hike in.
  • Freeman Creek Trail to Forks TH – 7 miles to the forks TH + the 2 miles down.  Near quaking aspen and just north of Ponderosa.  500 feet of elevation, plus 1800 decent, then the 2k decent to the confluence.  Not at elevation.
  • Blackrock TH to Painters Camp – 9 miles starting at 9000 feet and losing 4,000 feet in the process.  This is a brutal hike out where you have to gain back 4k feet and you are already at altitude.  So, you do it with a stopover at Jordan hot springs half way.  9 mile creek there fishes well.  I did this one last year and the fishing is spectacular.  So is the camp.  So is the scenery. 
  • Rincon TH to the forks – 12 miles.  9 miles of straight motorcycle trail awful until you descend down to the forks from the other (south) side of the river, bushwhacking a good portion of the way because the trail is rarely used.  2500 of ascent and 2700 of decent.
  • Johnsondale Bridge Trail – 5.2 miles.  Easy access on the highway from Kernville.  The trail is much more rugged than the Forks trail and a lot more used and fished.  The trail officially ends around 4 miles where the logical continuation is up the old mining trail to the rincon trail.  But, you can climb and bushwhack your way another 1.2 miles until the canyon walls are so steep and the water is so deep you can’t go any farther.

Of all these there are 3 that are the most logical for the backpacking fly fisherman:

  1. Easiest – Freeman Creek Trail to Forks TH – 7 miles to the forks TH + the 2 miles down. 
  2. Farthest up river – Lewis TH to grasshopper flats – 12.5 miles with 4k of elevation loss and 2k of gain on the hike in.
  3. Blackrock TH to Painters Camp – 9 miles starting at 9000 feet and losing 4,000 feet in the process. 

There are other ways to get to the Upper Kern for the adventurous, young and fit and fearless, of course.

The “Other” Issue

The white elephant in the room is, of course, flow.  The largest snowpack year in California recorded history is going to start melting in June, if not earlier. 

The havoc has yet to even start.  When that snow starts melting.  Well, it’s going to cause flooding conditions and destroy roads.  Hopefully, it won’t take more lives.

According to LADWP, April 1 snow surveys came back with historic results. We surpassed 2017 (the biggest year in the past 50 years), and 1969 (the biggest year on record), and set a new April 1 high snow level with the final snowpack recording 296% of normal April 1.   That is just short of 70” of water content that will mostly melt and wreak havoc below.  See the details here.

The question I’m asked the most is: “When will the Upper Kern be in shape to fish this year?”  I use the gauge above the Fairview dam on the Dreamflows site to track the river flow here.  My general rule is that the Upper Kern fishes great when the river gets below 500 CFS.  That usually happens at the end of June / Early July.  This year that won’t happen until August…if we are lucky.  Sure, you can successfully fish stretches of the river when it’s higher flow.  But, it’s just harder to wade.  It’s harder to get a cast for a legit drift.  And it can be dangerous. 


So, what is the good news?  Well, it’s ultimately going to be a better river as a result of this big winter.  Also, a legitimate way to fish the Upper Kern this year is to have Golden Trout Pack Station do the heavy lifting. 

Over the last 20 years I have run into owner Steve Day and his wranglers, horses, and mules of Golden Trout Pack Station many times on the Upper Kern River and have come to know him as a genuinely great guy.  let’s face it… Steve’s business and the services he offers are pretty awesome.

So, for those of you, like me, that dread a 11 mile hike at altitude with a 4,000 foot gain and 45 lbs on your back… One of the modalities Steve’s business offers is called a “dunnage trip”.  That is where mules carry all your stuff and you hike in (separately) empty.  But, the mules don’t just carry your backpack… they carry coolers full of ice and fresh food… and beer.  And you hike in empty.

This would be a legitimately fun way to fish with or without me.  To have the mules carry all your stuff, depending on group size, it’s ~$400 per person, max of 150 lbs per mule …. fresh food, beer, coolers, everything.  You hike in empty.  In addition to that are guiding fees if you choose to use a guide. 

Contact Steve Directly from the Golden Trout Pack Station site.  Feel to contact me to discuss details, questions, etc.

Final Notes

Last season I was lucky enough to guide and teach a young film maker, Micah Conrad and his wife Dasha, how to fly fish.  Now, there are addicted fly fishers.  if interested to see the fun had when I’m guiding check out the two short videos Micah produced on the experiences here:

Fly Fishing a REMOTE River for Wild Trout with a 30 YEAR Fly Fishing VETERAN –

EPIC FLY FISHING and Backpacking a JAW DROPPING Remote River! –

So, there it is.  I can / will live without another season of the Forks of the Kern Trailhead….at least by driving there.  I sure as heck am going to hike there.  I trust you can too.  Look forward to seeing you out on the river… no matter how much harder / farther it is going to be to get to it.

Forks of the Kern – Upper Kern River – August 15th, 2019

In my years of hiking into the canyon to fly fish the Upper Kern River by way of the Forks of the Kern Trail I don’t believe I have ever gone in August. It’s always hot; brutally hot in Kernville in August. Trout don’t like hot. In the drought years the river was just too warm. But, in all honesty in the one of, if not the biggest snowpack years in recorded history, I had been waiting since April, watching the flows almost every day, for that river to back down enough to be fishable. I literally waited 4 and a half months. I can’t believe I have gone in there in April in the drought years and had to wait all the way until mid-August in a big year. It’s going to be a short fishing season on the Upper Kern in 2019. But, August means big hoppers. And there were tons of naturals. I noticed that the majority of them were grey. I have never tied Huck Hoppers in grey. As a result of this trip I now do. BTW, there we also a significant population of yellow grasshopper naturals: Both in wing and body color.

Abby with what looks like a monster…. a little trick i do with the camera.  That trout is 6″
















Joining me on this 3-nighter were two of my sister’s kids: my niece Abby, 17 and my nephew Tommy, 15. Tommy went in a couple summers ago with me. This was Abby’s first backpacking experience. Both are beginners as fly fishers.

The river was between 750-650 CFS.  That means the Little Kern River Crossing was easy for me; about at my thigh. But, I’m a “goat” and have 30+ years of wading experience.

Tommy Crossing the Little Kern River.  He’s taller than me for sure and it was over his knees
















The key to this hike in and out was going early because of the heat. We left their house in Pasadena at 4am. That got us to the trailhead in time before it got super-hot. Note: the sign at the dirt road turn to the Forks trailhead was broken in both poles and propped against a tree. Very easy to miss.

When we got to the trailhead there were two young fly fishermen hiking out. Since they had fly rods I approached them and asked how the fishing was. After just chatting for a couple minutes one of them said, “Wait, you are Tim Huckaby!” I laughed. His name is Casey and he thanked me for giving him guidance in email. I do that so much I didn’t even remember. Great kid. Passionate about fly fishing. He was in the middle of the California Heritage trout challenge. We need more fly fishing kids in the world.

So we said our goodbyes to the kids and the 3 of us took off before 9am. By the time we got through the Little Kern Crossing I could tell the both of them were losing steam. This is the xbox generation and let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of training by them before the trip. I said to them, “We only have 2.2 miles to the Huckaby site. But, there is a chance that there will be people in the Huckaby site. There are plenty of other good sites before it. But, we may have to double back; to get to the ones after it, it’s another couple miles and over the mountain. And I don’t think we’re up for that today.”   I could tell there was relief by looking at their faces. Well, the last good site before mine is the one with the long cement picnic bench and the remnants of a cabin that burn down many years ago. When we got to it I could tell they were exhausted and hot. I told them, “I have camped in this site before. It’s a good one. Why don’t you guys stay here and I’ll hike to the Huckaby site to see if it’s open. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.”   Again, I could tell by their faces they were relieved. So, I picked up the pace and hiked towards the site I have been working on for years. And sure enough a large family was in the site I developed. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. We only saw 2 groups the entire 4 days in there and one of them was a big family in the Huckaby site. We had not seen a sole until I ran into this nice family. They were super nice people. mom, dad, grandma and 3 teenage kids.   They were going to be in the site 2 of the 3 nights we were going to be there. Not a problem. I love that people use that site. Many take my guidance and improve it. Many have added to my “not so secret cache.” We talked about fly fishing and I offered a ton of guidance. Eventually the dad said, “Wait, you are the guy with the blog! I love that blog.” I smiled and said, “Yea, I’m Tim Huckaby.” He said, “Tim Huckaby, Yes! I need to buy your flies while you are down here.” I said, “You will not buy my flies. But, I will give some to you.” Which I did, of course….twice…the 2nd time with him wandering into our site at night begging me for more of my green crippled caddis nymph and convinced it was the only fly in the world that was working.

Tommy Fishing the deep pools from a high advantage point
















So I doubled back to Tommy and Abby and we set up camp in the “picnic table site”. Little did we know what we’d be barraged with over the next 3 days: 5 separate visits by rattlesnakes. At least 3 of them unique snakes. Two of them I had to shoe out of the site with a tree branch. The irony was that on the hike in I said, “I once saw a rattlesnake here. I know they are in here, but I have only seen one over the years.” My guess is because of the big winter we were one of the first to camp in that site this season and the snakes simply moved in when it got hot in June. After seeing humans I doubt they’ll hang around long.

One of the 5 rattlesnakes that came to visit us in the picnic bench site
















There is always a calamity backpacking. Little mistakes become calamities backpacking because you cannot easily fix them being so remote and such. And this trip had two of them. The rattlesnakes was the first one.

After setting up camp I started stringing the rods. The first two were rods I use as loaners. It’s not smart to let teenagers pack and fish with expensive fly rods. But, when I opened the reel case for one of them I said to myself, “oh no…” It was a reel with a sinking line on it. In a case that said “floating”. I lent it out and it came back in reverse and I didn’t check before leaving. Normally that wouldn’t have been a crisis. But, I didn’t have any streamers with me!   Honestly it turned out great because we had 2 rods with floating lines, and sure one was a $900 rod being used by a teenager, but it survived. And I guided 95% of the time which is the right thing for Uncle Tim to do in the first place.

Another big Kern River Rainbow
















We hiked upriver and both kids caught fish. Abby was the first on the board. What is it with females? They take instruction so well. By the time we left Abby was not only proficient with a fly rod, but figuring things out about how to move into position to get a good drift that I didn’t even tell her about. Both kids landed 3-5 Kern River Rainbows each of the 3 days we fished. There were a lot of missed sets and long releases as you’d imagine with beginners. Abby caught the most (most likely because I spent the most time with her).

Abby with one of her Kern River Rainbows
















Tommy caught the biggest fish: a 17” football. I still can’t believe he landed it because it shot downstream after he hooked it. I rock hopped over to him. he was standing 10 feet above the water on a rock so I couldn’t instruct him to chase it. There was nowhere to go (safely). I was thinking the entire time, “…barbless hooks…” But, he stuck him good. I told him, “Tommy, see if you can swing him into the soft water against the rock. Only there will you have a chance to pull him back.” And sure enough he did. Awesome fish.

Every day we saw good fishing until about 11am. And then it just shut down for them until around 4pm. I have seen lulls in the upper kern before, but not that long. It’s august after all. Well, because of the lull these two tuckered out (or just got bored) each day by about 5pm. That is when I snuck in an hour or so to fish by myself while they rested in camp. And I just killed. All dry flying. I can’t tell you which huck hoppers worked the best because they all worked in all colors in all sizes. There is always a late afternoon wind there before the sun goes down so I imagine that has a lot to do with it.

Tommy battling a monster…and losing it downstream…until i coaxed it all the way back up
















Every night we’d have appetizers, then S’mores in that order before dinner. We’d cash in early too exhausted from a long day of hiking and fishing. These teenagers slept so long I ended up doing a ton of work on the “picnic table site.” I cleared the entire beach. At one point I had climbed one of the trees and was sawing off the branches that impeded casting. But, I failed to catch a trout right in front of the site. It was not for lack of trying. The water was just too high and ferocious there.

On the first morning I woke up with the sun and after a coffee I decided to see if my secret cache was in tact. I needed the tools to clear the picnic table site. When I got to the Huckaby site that entire family was sleeping. And the cache made it another year! In fact it was in great shape.

On the 2nd day we hiked up stream to fish all day….Beyond Rattlesnake (the mountain crossing upstream from the Huckaby site). We were easily 3 miles up river when two kayaks floated by. I could not believe it.   I was so shocked I didn’t have a chance to say hi. I said to Abby and Tommy, “I have no idea how they got in here. They must have been dropped off by a helicopter.” I later learned that you can float the entire section of the Kern from the Eastern side by Mount Whitney to the Johnsondale Bridge with a brutal 2 day hike carrying a kayak. Hiking back, as we looked at raging rapids and waterfalls one after another we kept say, “I can’t believe they Kayaked this.”

Over the mountain there are numerous fallen trees blocking the trail. It’s pretty obvious that not a single pack of horses or mules had been on the trail yet this season. I guess there were just not enough resources in the budget of the forest service to clear the trees. I wish I could figure out how to help.

Abby, Uncle Tim & Tommy – those are good looking anglers….



Forks of the Kern Trail: June 28 – July 2, 2018

There is something about my first trip into the Forks each year.  The “lead up” generates tons of excitement and anticipation.  Mostly because I knew the flies we’d be throwing would be the first that the bad ass kern river rainbows had seen in 9 months.   I am not kidding when I tell you I was watching the CFS on the Upper Kern almost every couple of hours in the couple weeks prior to the hike in.

A big Kern River Rainbow scampering away angry after release
















Joining me on this trip in were two fly fishing buddies I had met in very similar ways…through the tech industry.  Josh Evans is a local Carlsbad guy and I have fished with him in Montana and Wyoming.  He’s a great fly fisherman and like me, has to be dragged off the river at night.  Honestly, he’s the only fisherman I have every encountered where I said with a cocktail in my hand, “I can’t believe he’s still out there fishing.”

Josh, Ronnie and me hiking way up river over Rattlesnake Creek for a full 6 miles of fishing adventure
















I met Ronnie Swafford at a .NET presentation I did at a user group in western N. Carolina over a decade ago.  I told the audience I took that gig because Microsoft paid for my t&e and I always wanted to fly fish the area.  We immediately became friends and he is really good about keeping in touch.  We fished in Colorado last year on the headwaters of the Colorado River near Grandby.  I had an open offer to him: “figure out how to get to LAX and I’ll handle everything from there.”  And I was really excited he took me up on it.

Ronnie battling a large Kern River Rainbow trying to get him back up stream.

















Backpacking in with 45+ pounds on our backs we hit the trail early, but not early enough to avoid the hot sun on Friday morning.  Typically, I like to lead most of the time because of my familiarity of the trail, my mountain goat like genes, and my awareness of the things in the trail that could potentially cause calamity.  I was just telling the guys about the many animals we could encounter on the trail.   But, sometimes I go too fast and I also like to stop and take pictures.  So, it was Josh that was in the lead, suddenly stopping saying, “Rattlesnake!  Right on the trail!”  Thank god he noticed it before stepping on it.  he backed up and I approached with the camera.  The Western Diamondback rattlesnake was a female, about 2.5 feet long near a water source (where he probably hunted mice) just warming up in the sun.  he was practically paralyzed; couldn’t even summon his rattle yet.  But, I still couldn’t get a good picture before he slowly crept off the trail under a rock.  It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes earlier when I said to the guys, “I know there are rattlesnakes here, but I have never seen one.”

I wish i would have caught this diamond back staring at us, but i just wasn’t quick enough with the camera
















Well that set the tone for the most animal encounters ever in my many trips to the upper Kern.  Well, Josh came face to a California King snake and 3 all of us saw Gartersnakes in the river at many points.

Results: Cutting the fishing into 3 hour sessions over the 3 days we fished we saw slow times right when we were supposed to (when the water warmed up) from about 12-3pm.  But outside of that range we experienced good, great and excellent fishing conditions.  The morning session on Sunday was one I will always remember.  It started with a first cast hook up of a 14” I managed to land under a tree and never stopped.  I hooked a fish in every hole, run, pocket water, heads, pools, tail-outs…everywhere I fished for about 4 hours.  I have always written in this blog that Kern River Rainbows are really hard to land and that was definitely the case.  but, I don’t want to touch them anyways.  I want them to come off right at my feet to be caught another day and that was definitely the case in this session.  I did hook some big fish (over 18”) and never managed to land any of them.  And that is fine….except for the monster I farmed on a huck hopper by setting the wrong way (up river).  Totally my fault and it’s going to haunt me until the next time I hike in there.


A big Kern River rainbow with a caddis nymph imitation stuck in his face that i tie and sell which kills in clear water


















We burnt a lot of calories on this trip fly fishing.  From the Huckaby primitive campsite we fished 6+ river miles in both directions each day we were there.  Each day culminated at the site, eating appetizers and sipping whiskey waiting for the crazy evening hatch to start.  in all 3 nights we saw significant size 18 dry fly fishing before it got dark.  One of the sessions was an hour and a half long!  And this is right in front of the site.  at one point I heard Josh say, “this is too easy. I’m getting struck on every cast no matter how bad my drift is.”  exhausted, we ended each day around the campfire eating dinner in the dark.

Me, Josh and Ronnie on the hike in to the canyon on the Forks of the Kern Trail

















My Highlights:

I know Josh and Ronnie have their own highlights on the trip, but I have a few I’ll remember forever:

  1. I have come to love guiding kids. I love teaching kids how to fly fish more than fishing myself.  Well, on the trail we ran into a threesome of a dad, son (Jake) and uncle.  They had kmart level spinning rods with giant shiny lures.  They told me they managed to catch one trout, but that Jake, 15, was dying to catch a fish and even got up at 5am to try…and failed.  which made sense considering the gear they had.  I asked where they were camping and knew exactly the spot.  So, I said, “I tell ya’ what Jake, I’m going to try to circle back at the end of the day and we’ll try to catch a fish together.”  At the end of the day Ronnie reminded me about the “promise”.  I was exhausted, but the 2 mile hike to them was the right thing to do.  I encountered them about a mile away.  There were in a great spot, a huge plunge into a deep pool with a 360 degree eddie on the side that always held fish, but really tough to drift.  So, I started with, “Ok, I’ll rig you up with “fly and a bubble” Jake, give me one of your bobbers.  “we don’t have any bobbers.”   Hmmm I said.  And I knew I was going to have to “McGiver” him.  I tied a small piece of wood on the 4 lb line he had on his cheap spinning rod and hung one of the flashy caddis nymph imitations I tie that was doing well about 4 feet under the piece of wood.  While rigging him up I explained the insect cycle and caddiss flies and as much as I could cram in about the science of the river.  I told jake his cast was going to be a lot tougher because of the 4 foot dropper, but if he could get in in the middle of the eddie he’d have a good chance at hooking a fish.  Well, after hiting the overhanging tree and me re-rigging him a few times, and then flat out missing the eddied a few times he managed to hit a cast perfectly.  It sank into the swirl, his wood indicator went down hard and he tightened up as a screamed, “Set!”   Jakes cheap ass rod was bent in half when a huge…I mean 2+ foot fish appeared.  I never got to the “ok, here’s how you fight a fish if you hook one” part and he farmed it….practiically pulling the fish all the way out of the water.  I was screaming “woo!” and jumping up and down and high fiving him telling him how awesome that was.  Jake was slightly disappointed, but excited.  he was telling his dad and uncle all about  it.  well, it was past 6pm and I had to get back to camp so I gave them a bunch of flies I tied that were working and off I went.  I’ll never know how they did after I left … I bet they did well.

check out that fan of a tail. it’s no wonder the kern river rainbow fights so hard 




















  1. Josh had to hike out Sunday afternoon in the hot sun. Ronnie and I were sipping whiskey around 7pm watching the river and waiting for the hatch to start.  I looked up across the river and screamed, “Holy F##$ck there’s a bear!”  I ran back a hundred feet to the site to get my camera.  For 45 minutes, sipping whiskey, we watched a juvenile black bear eating some type of berries off the bushes as he slowly meandered up stream.  It was never an issue of an encounter because the river was between us and him.  I have been waiting for over a decade at that site, staring at the mountain side across the river predicting it would happen one day and it finally did.  Awesome.

A black bear munching on berries as we watch from the Huckaby site across the river





Forks of the Kern Fly Fishing Report – Fall 2017 Version

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.


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.


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 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.


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


















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.

Cascade River, Marblemount, WA

November 10th, 2016

Huck holding his first Coho

Huck holding his first Coho

The reality is that most of my experience is fly fishing for trout; just a lowly fly fisherman that mostly gets to fly fish for trout; catching them and releasing them.  And that is the point in this post: because of my business travel I get to do some “exotic” fly fishing every once and a while.  But, when I wander outside of trout I’m a beginner.  And for me, and I realize this doesn’t apply to all fly fisherman, I just love being the beginner again.  I love being the beginner yet having the wisdom of “figuring it out”.  In this mode, the successes are so much more joyful; the failures are insignificant.  And that is where this story starts…

My buddy Joe is a big time strategic exec at Microsoft.  I lean on him (and others at msft) to explain the technical strategy to me and I have done that for years.  But, Joe is not a “Dork”.  Joe is not a “Geek”.  I hate those terms to start with because in the board room the word Geek is still a negative.   My point: Joe is a guide level fisherman.  He’s a God of steelhead.  He “owns” the pacific northwest in terms of fly fishing.  So, when I get to fish with Joe I cherish the moments and what I learn from him.

Joe and I planned to “play hooky” and fish a Thursday while I was up in Redmond at Microsoft months in advance.  I sent Joe an email: “Hey, I’m going to be in town and am going to fish on Thursday, November 10th.  What do I throw and where?”  He said, “You are fishing with me.”  Totally pleased… and now excited.   But to make a long story short, Joe has young twins.  He’s 15 years my junior.  His life is crazy.  He was just back from a business trip and he mixed up the dates.  At 530am I got the txt from him with the sobering reality I was on my own.

Fine.  Easy.  It’s not about catching anyways, right?  I don’t mind getting skunked as long as I get a good hike in the wilderness, right?  Then joe’s txts of guidance started coming, fast and furious.  He gave me a detailed plan.  As I headed north from Redmond in my rental car on the 5, I was re-excited.  Because Joe gave me enough of the “where and what” to instill my confidence of success.  His guidance was: head for the Cascade River near Marblemount and fish the stretch from where it enters the Skagit up to the hatchery.  That was enough info for me to use the interweb to figure out how to get there.  The next piece of guidance was invaluable: “you are fishing for dollies.” (Dolly Vardon; it’s a char.  It’s big and mean and it fights like hell).  “You may see some coho.  Cast at them and around them.  You may be able to catch them and the dollies are hanging around the cohos to eat them and their eggs.”

Check out that big ass articulated streamer i tied in this Coho's face

Check out that big ass articulated streamer i tied in this Coho’s face

Fishing for spawning salmon has always been a challenge for me and frankly for everyone.  They travel hundreds of miles from the ocean to a two-inch radius of where they were born (still unexplained by science) to spawn and die.  They don’t eat on the way and don’t eat period.  Their job is to spawn and die.  As fisherman (not just fly guys) we try to piss them off to make a primal response by fishing for them.

It took me 20 minutes to figure out where to park because of all the private property.  When I finally did figure it out if was staring at a bait fisherman across the river…well, a conventional guy…hammering a pool under the bridge.  I have to admit I was bummed at the time.  I really thought I could have the river to myself.  But, on the other hand I said to myself, “if he conventional guys are fishing, maybe I am in luck”.   And the river was crystal clear and wadable.  That pleased me intensely.  So, I geared up.  And when I was ready to fish the conventional guy was gone.  That was great!  These guys tend to sit in the hole all day cast after cast.  That is not me.  That is not fly fishing.  We cast and move.  So I moved towards the river where he was fishing on the opposite side of the river.

See those dark shadows right off the bank?  those are Cohos

See those dark shadows right off the bank? those are Cohos

And that is the point in the story where my stereotype of a gear guy changes.  He was on top of the bridge looking where the coho salmon where staging so he could figure out where to cast to them.  I didn’t notice him until I got down to the river.  He saw me and immediately engaged.  The first words out of my mouth. “I’m sorry.  I thought you moved on.  It’s your hole I’ll move down river.”  His answer, “absolutely not.  Cast at these ones” as he pointed down from the bridge into the river.   Nicest guy in the world.  So, I did.  But they were deep and I couldn’t get a drift down to them.  I gave that 10 minutes and crossed the river over the bridge to talk to him.

He was a wealth of knowledge.  But, I was streamer fishing.  He was fishing conventional with a typical bobber and eggs set up.  I told him I was going to move down river and he said he’d join me in a bit.  Great.

Because I could see the cohos I picked a fly that I tied a couple of.  They took me 20 minute each to tie: a 3 inch, purple, nasty, articulated, 3 red beads in between fly solely designed to piss off salmon and steelhead.  Good choice by me.  It worked all day.

One of the few pictures i successfully took by myself.  these big fish are hard to hold with one had.

One of the few pictures i successfully took by myself. these big fish are hard to hold with one hand.

So, here is where the fun started; just about 20 minutes after starting to fish.  I bushwhacked down river past him to some flat skinny water. On the hike I could see a handful of cohos “in love”.  Staging themselves, fighting, moving.  I entered the water as quietly I could below them and worked my way up to where I could make the 40 foot cast.  I could see the salmon.  I was hunting.  I was not fishing blind.  That is a really fun way to fish.  My first casts were awful.  My 10 foot 8 wt helios 2 is still at Orvis getting fixed.  I was fishing an 8 wt sage fli.  It’s an older medium action rod given to me by a buddy.  If you can cast you know that medium action rods and heavy sink lines are hard to cast.  When you add a 3” weighted streamer you realize you are not as good at casting as you think you are.  Well, it was really clear that I need to put it on their nose; the perfect cast.  At the same time, I was spooking them and when I wasn’t they still were moving around.  So, there was a little luck still involved.  Me talking to myself, “good cast…moving in…right there…he’s eating…SET!  And I was on.  And it was a big fish.  But, these poor salmon are “cashing in the chips”.  As I was to learn during the day, most of them just don’t have a lot of fight left in them.  But, they are huge…up to 20 pounds… so it’s still a fight.  Well, it was my first fish of many that day and I fought him way too long.  And I was calling my new friend up stream because I was convinced he would want to keep this one.  Once landed…and I really didn’t land him… my net needed to be 3 times the size.  But, I did have my landing hand so I could grab the fish by the tail and still be able to hold on.  He ran down and showed me why that fish wasn’t fresh enough to keep; I really wanted to give it to him.  It looked great on top, but you could see the degradation on the bottom of this coho.  But, he did take a couple pictures of me with it.  Taking pictures of 10-20 pound fish all by myself was very challenging all day long.

And that is how it went all day long.  There were points where I was hooking a salmon on every cast (they are really hard to keep on to land them).  I probably hooked ~25 cohos.  I never saw the gear guys staring at the bobber catching anything.  They were fishing the deep pools.  I was fishing the cohos staged in shallow water.  I had action all day long.  I landed around a dozen coho salmon and nailed a huge dolly varden right at the end.  And yes, I let them all go.



After working my way all the way down the river it followed the salmon to where the hatchery is.  I fished up the inlet to the hatchery and it got silly.  Thousands of salmon…just sitting there waiting for the hatchery door to open so they could do their thing.  It was silly because I was hooking up on every cast.  The problem was I was foul hooking some of them.  And that was a big turn off.  except for one foul hooked fresh salmon I got in the tail.  It ran 200 feet with my reel screaming.  It took me forever to land that fish.  But, once I learned what happened I was bummed so I stopped fishing there.  That is when I met another gear guy.  And older guy from the area with a cane.  Great guy; old man of the river.  We seemed to talk forever.  He gave me a ton of info.  Then told me he’d take to me his favorite hole on the river.  So, we walked by the hatchery and I got in his truck and we went.  I had about 30 minutes to fish because I had to make an event in Bellevue so he sat up on a 10 foot cliff in his favorite hole and I hiked down river.  But, I couldn’t find any fly fishable water.  It was all deep holes and fallen trees with a cliff above and no room to cast in back.  Clearly this was a gear guys place. So, I hiked back to my new friend and stared at the water around him.  I said, “I wonder if that soft stuff up stream hold fish.”  He wasn’t confident.  And it was a tricky wade.  There were fallen trees everywhere.  I had to walk through very deep silty water through the trees to get there.  I’m sure that intimidated most folks.  Anyways once I punched out there were a bunch of cohos to target so I told myself, “one more fish and I’ll call it a day and head south.”

So, I casted and swung, two steps, casted and swung, two steps.  I was putting them in the zone, but the salmon were darting around everywhere and it was just deep enough that I was only seeing their shadows.  I was getting toward the end of the run; it ended in a huge tree that fell perpendicular to the river.  Since I was targeting the salmon I totally forgot about the Dolly Varden.  And that is when I saw it race like a lightning, strike me and almost pull the rod out of my hand.  I set and it jumped 2 feet in the air!  At first I thought it was a steelhead.  But I could tell by the fight it was a big dolly varden.  It seemed to take me forever to land that thing.  It kept headed for the log and I kept pulling him hard away from it.  I finally landed it; curled in a ball it barely fit my net.  I quickly released it and it swam away fast and pissed off.  My friend yelled in congrats and I screamed, “Dolly!”.

I really wanted a good shot of this big Dolly Varden, but it was really hard by myself in 2 feet of water

I really wanted a good shot of this big Dolly Varden, but it was really hard by myself in 2 feet of water

As I navigated back through the trees to the shore, I silently thanked the lord and my fly fishing buddy ken.  I waved goodbye, hiked through the wilderness out to the road, un-wadered and broke down my rod at the rental car with a smile on my face and headed back south.


The Blue River

(a few miles North of Silverthorne, CO)

August 11-14, 2016

The Fish of a lifetime – 32” Rainbow

The Fish of a lifetime – 32” Rainbow


On Friday, August 12th, 2016 I caught and released the fish of a lifetime.  It was a 32” rainbow out of the Blue River.  I basically hit the fly fishing equivalent to a hole in one.  I have lost a handful of “fish of a lifetime” over the years.  That 8 foot tarpon I caught near Sarasota was a bucket-lister.  But, I caught him on conventional gear.  That monster brown I caught in New Zealand was a “fish of a lifetime”.  But, he was only 28”-30”.  In terms of a fly rod, even my first steelhead caught on the Hoh River on the Olympic Peninsula was smaller than this monster rainbow.  I lost that monster rooster fish in Costa Rica.  I lost the giant blue trevally at Mahaulepu on Kauai.  I lost that big rainbow on the wind river in WY.  I have lost many big corvina in our local surf; in fact, I still haven’t landed a big one.  I could go on.  This time the lord (and my fly fishing buddy Ken Bendix who passed from cancer a few years back) looked down on me, smiled, and decided it was time.  I’ll tell the story of how I caught that monster after some background.

Just another huge trout I landed on the Blue

Just another huge trout I landed on the Blue


What is it about this river?!  I made my annual trek out to the Blue River thanks to a value added friendship I have made over the years with master rod-maker, Tom Young.  Tom is a great guy, talented rod maker, good friend significantly younger than me.  But, really the best thing about Tom is how dramatically he “married up”.  Not only is his wife Serena awesome, but her parents own a large house right on a private section of the Blue River.  And it’s on two of those stretches that just have huge trout.  I thought there was no way I could top last year’s success on the Blue.  Well, I did.  Honestly I stopped counting the trout I caught and released over 20” inches.  They say it’s homeowners that feed the fish.  They say it’s the abundance of big mysis shrimp that the tout gorge on.  They say it’s the warmer water that spills over the top of the dam causing abundant bug hatches.  They say the wild natives feast on the smaller stocked trout in town.  Clearly it is because it’s private and does not see a lot of pressure.  All I know is I always seem to catch big fish here.

That’s me roll casting the sweet stretch right in front of the house

That’s me roll casting the sweet stretch right in front of the house


This trip was also special because my other buddy Jeff Winkler broke free to fish with us Saturday.  Jeff, Tom and I have been fishing Colorado together, once a year for years.  When I was a greenhorn fly fisherman Jeff went out of his way to teach me a lot about how to fly fish.  I wish I got to see these guys more often.  I know it was a huge sacrifice for “Wink-daddy” to drive the 2+ hour out to fish with us.  It was his anniversary weekend.  He had just moved and was still in the process of unpacking.  He’s driving his eldest off to college in just a few short days.  But, he just did it.  That is the type of guy he is.  He drove all the way out; fished all day with us; and drove all the way back. Wink-daddy also brought his brother in law, “Oly”; great guy and fireman just about ready to retire.  I only learned after he was gone that he was a first responder at Columbine.  Which I’m guessing he doesn’t talk about a lot.  What he saw must have been horrific.

Lastly it was special because my eldest, Camille, came up from Denver for a sleepover.  It was so fun to see her.  Friday night she tried to hang with me and Tommy in beers and cocktails.  Big mistake.

That is Camille, bored watching me and Tommy fish in front of the house, but, with a beer.

That is Camille, bored watching me and Tommy fish in front of the house, but, with a beer.


Another reason this trip was special is Serena came up with the kids on Saturday afternoon.  Those who know me well, can assume I had a blast with Kennedy, 6 and Dillon, 2. “Uncle Tim” is a mom’s worst nightmare when it gets close to bedtime.



The “thing” about fly fisherman

There’s a thing about fly fisherman.  Well, in general terms, because there are exceptions.  We give each other flies.  We help each other with intel and how to fish a river.  We are courteous and friendly to each other and often give up our spots to beginners.  We help when there is a need to.  So, I was especially proud of this incident.  Tommy and I were fishing downstream, which we typically don’t do because it’s so good upstream.  But, I pretty much begged him to cover some water we had not yet.  And what always seems to be the case I did my 5 casts and impatiently moved on while Tommy meticulously picked apart a run by drifting each inch.  So, I got ahead of him 100 yards or so and was approached by one of the homeowners.  Even though we were legal in the private water Tommy and I weren’t wearing the badge that the homeowners provide to indicate we were legal.  I don’t know why Tommy didn’t have them, but he didn’t.  Anyways a homeowner came out to the river’s edge and I knew exactly what he wanted to talk about because I was in private water.  So, I stopped fishing to go talk to him to tell him I was with the “Reitan Group at 777”.  I came out of the river smiling and before I could get a word out he said, “You are with the Reitan group at 777, right?”  I laughed and said yes.  And we shook hands and started talking fishing.  I love to talk fly fishing.  And just from talking it was clear Jerry Middel is a very good fly fisherman and pretty much “owned” his river.  And his house… my god…. Awesome with a deck right on the edge of the river.  Jerry said he doesn’t even need to put his toes in the river anymore he knows the river so well.  He can just fish from the bank.  But, up front on our conversation was one of my proud moments in fly fishing…. Well, guiding first timer fly fishing kids is pretty fun and rewarding, but this is for sure up there.  Jerry said something like, “Wait, aren’t you Tim Huckaby?  The guy that netted that big fish up in the hole for me and took a picture of me with it?”  I laughed because I didn’t recognize him, but vividly remembered the incident and said, smiling, “Well, you had your hands full with that monster.  Yea, I’m Tim Huckaby”.  Then Jerry scoured his phone for the picture that I took of him years earlier.

Check out Tommy's perfect loop

Check out Tommy’s perfect loop

A few years back It went down like this:  As is typical I got ahead of Tommy again fishing up stream and when I turned the corner I saw a guy battling…and I could tell it was huge.  Of course I was doing my patented “Woo!” as I watched Jerry battle.  When Jerry tired the fish I asked him if I could help him by netting it.  I did…and it was no small feat because the fish was still hot and it was huge.  The guides in Montana taught me how to net the fish with a stab into the water so I got him on the first try…. thank God.  Talk about pressure…  I told him, “I have to take a picture of you with that fish.  I’ll email it to you”. and I did.  And Jerry remembered years later.  Awesome. karma does come back.  Especially fly fishing karma.

"I can't believe these dummies fooled me."

“I can’t believe these dummies fooled me.”

The Story of the Fish of a Lifetime

About a mile up stream in a totally private section of the river is a hole.  It’s at the end of the private section Tom is allowed to fish on.  It’s a bend in the stream that has been carved deep by springtime runoff.  It’s one of the few places in the river where a big fish could thrive year round.  We have done well there in the past.  That is where Jerry Caught his monster.  That is where we have lost a lot of big fish over the years.  This is where Wink-daddy snapped off a monster on 3x on Saturday.

And it was one of those “last cast” things.  I believe Tommy and I had each caught a big trout in there and the hole went down as is usual.  We’d been there 15 minutes or so and it got slow.

Teamwork – That is Tommy helping me land another monster

Teamwork – That is Tommy helping me land another monster

I was marveling at an absolutely huge fish I could see right in the head of the pool.  But, I seemingly bonked a bunch of flies off his head without success. I even tried to take some underwater pictures of him. There was a reason he was big and he wasn’t about to get fooled by a dumb-ass like me who could see him.  Well I walked to the tail out fully preparing to leave and walk back downriver to where we started.  But, Tommy was still fishing the pool.  So, I unstrung my rod, pulled out some line and threw it straight up stream into the tail-out in fairly shallow water.  My Huck-hopper went down, I set, and said to myself, “Damnit.  I’m hung on a rock.  I’m going to lose my rig and it was stupid of me to even cast right before we leave.”  Then the rock started moving…slowly.  At first, I thought to myself, “Cool, big fish” because it was moving slowly into the pool.  and I had a lot of pressure on him (actually only after I landed it, did I found out it was a “her”).  I believe I said to Tommy, “I’m on.”  Who probably thought to himself, “damnit, I’m fishing the good part of the pool and Huckaby hooks a fish there in the crappy part.”  It continued moving slowly towards deeper water.  And then the fish realized it was hooked and got pissed.  It jumped.  And we got to see it for the first time.  I screamed, “Oh my God!!!”  Tommy screamed back, “Get your act together! Calm down!”.  Because seeing it jump we could see how big the fish was.  When this trout landed in the water…I will never forget the sound.  It was like a 12-year-old doing a cannonball into a swimming pool.  I bowed the rod like you are supposed to and then tightened.  She was still on.  And then it dawned on me: It’s on my 4 weight that Tommy built me and it’s on 5x, and I have 5 knots from my Huck Hopper down to the size 20 zebra midge I tied that was in the fish’s face.  All fly fisherman know that is a 3-way bad combo for landing a big fish.  Then it jumped again and I panicked again.  and Tommy yelled at me again to get my sh@#t together.  That is when it ran downriver.  And I chased after it.  Even though I was running, line was peeling out of my reel way into the backing.  My reel was screaming. Tommy came running after me.  I was going as quickly as possible but, I was huffing and puffing thinking to myself, “I can’t go on.”  I’m in decent cardio shape, but I was dying.  It’s a rocky river too so it’s not like it’s easy to run in waders and wading boots over slippery rocks.  I looked over my shoulder and tommy went down, in the rapids.  There he was rolling down the river but he popped up quickly, totally soaked and continue the chase.

It seemed like forever…maybe 20 minutes; maybe longer, but ½ mile down the river Tommy attempted to net the fish for the first time – it was so huge it didn’t fit and its head hung a good foot out the net.  It was huge and it was tired.  Tom did manage to bend the fish into the net.  We had to work quickly if we were to release it unharmed.  That is why I didn’t even bother to hold the fish “trophy style” and take a bunch of pictures.  I had the fish by the tail.  I didn’t want to drop it.  It was sucking pretty badly.  We got a couple pictures and got it quickly back in the water.  It took me a good 5 minutes of holding in the current before it swam off all pissed off.  If you look closely in the picture, there is a good foot of tail hidden by my hand.  Its tail was like a fan 8” tall.

This is all my fly fishing buddie's favorite: Look at my face. I’m shocked at the size of the monster

This is all my fly fishing buddies’ favorite: Look at my face. I’m shocked at the size of the monster

Not only was this the largest trout I have ever caught.  It is the largest trout I have ever seen.  That statement in itself should be impressive since I have fly fished so many times, for so long, in so many places, with so many professionals.  I have seen pictures of fish like that; many caught by my fly fishing guide buddies in Montana.  But, I have never seen a fish like that in person.  Tommy even checked the Colorado state record it was so huge. I was not close; 41”.

There’s 3 important factors to landing that monster:

  1. I was fighting that fish on a really nice custom rod built by Tom Young. I was out-gunned with that 4 wt, but because it was a was such a nice rod I still could battle it.  Email Tommy and beg him to build you a rod.  You’ll thank me; worth every penny.
  2. You don’t need a nice reel unless you need to fight a big fish. Because of that nice rod I splurged and bought a Galvin Torque T4 from the Platte River Fly shop.   You just can’t palm a fish that runs 100 yards at 20 knots.  Especially while chasing it.  you need the reel to help fight the fish.
  3. You need a wingman who knows how to net a big fish. Thank God I was with Tommy.  I owe him.  A fish that big on 5x cannot be netted alone without losing it or dragging it on shore.

Just 360 more days before I get to go back and fish the Blue…


The Deschutes River in Bend, OR

August 6th, 2016

When Kelly (my wife) said, “I want to visit my cousin Cindi in Bend.” I immediately said, “Done!”  and she said, “What? Is there a river or something there?”  I did two short morning sessions on the Deschutes River “in town” and did well.  Mostly dry fly fishing with the infamous size 12 bullet head skwalla.  And now I have checked off Red Band Rainbows off my bucket list.

The High Desert Redband Rainbow

The High Desert Redband Rainbow


Ted and Cindi built their dream house for retirement on a piece of land in the hills above Bend they purchased 20 years ago.  After staring at their address on the satellite images I could see the Deschutes was just ¾ of a mile away from their house.  What I could not figure out from a computer was how to get through the private property and how big the canyon was that I needed to hike into.  Oregon, like Colorado, is one of those states with tons of private property on the rivers and very little public river access.

But, I could see a trail from the satellite images that at the very least made it legal to get to the canyon.  It is called the Archie Briggs trail.  And you can catch that trail just yards from Ted and Cindi’s house.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that and even though I knew where the trail was, I discovered another marked public access trail right at the end of their street that seemed more direct and seemed to cut right through private property.  Big Mistake because it did not.  I should have stayed with my original plan.  Unfortunately, that was a 2-hour mistake on a day where I only had 3 hours for a fly fishing adventure.  When I finally did get to the canyon I was staring down a 500-foot cliff and scratching my head on how to get down.  So, discouraged, I continued walking up river on the Deschutes river trail on the top of the canyon hoping to find access.  And I finally did; right where I should have started….uggh.

The Deschutes River

The Deschutes River

But it was still quite a bushwhack without a formal trail to lose the 500 feet down into the canyon to the river.  And I was all alone.  When I got all the way down it was pretty intimidating.  Very deep pools with little or no casting or wading access.  The river seemed to have just enough water to make it impossible to cross too.  At least I was smart enough this time not to try to cross alone.  Well, I made a few casts in the area with no action so I bushwhacked my way a couple hundred feet up the river.  And that is when I started catching redbands.  I hooked 5; landed 2 of them in just a 20 minute stretch.  That is when my time allotment for the day was done.  My walk back to the house was only 30 minutes, all up hill.  Actually, I didn’t even make it back to the house.  Kelly, Cindi and her husband ted picked me up on the way for our day’s hiking adventure at Smith Rock State Park which is, ironically on the Crooked river.  I didn’t get the opportunity to fish there because I was with the 3 of them hiking, but, I sure wanted to.

Monkey Rock at Smith Rock State Park

Monkey Rock at Smith Rock State Park


The next morning my long time fly fishing buddy, “Big Will Garratt” met me on the trail on the way to the river.  Big Will just moved to Bend and he had not fished the Deschutes yet.  I gladly showed him the access point I had found.  We fished for an hour mostly together working our way about ½ mile up the river.  And we were both doing well fishing on top with our size 12 bullethead skwallas.  The Deschutes in the canyon is pretty rugged and accessing the river frequently requires backtracking up the cliffs to get around the overgrown trees and brush in the river.  In the process of doing just that I scared the hell out of a deer that was resting under the trees.  Actually he scared me more than I scared him.

Bill Will slaying Redbands on the Deschutes

Bill Will slaying Redbands on the Deschutes


But, alas my short time was up.  Interestingly enough I had cell signal down there and Kelly called.  She said, “I think I see you guys.  We are on the Deschutes trail and I can see a fly fisherman way down below and a half mile up.”  “Is that you?”, she said.  It was Big Will she saw.  She was ready to go on the next adventure of the day: brew pub hopping.  But, our dilemma was a 20-minute rock climb and bush whack back up to the entry point of the canyon.  I told Big Will we might as well get as much altitude we can before working our way back down stream to where we entered the canyon.  So we did.  Within 10 minutes we saw a number of deer trails.  And we made the decision to try to save 30 minutes by hiking straight up the canyon on the deer trails.  Crazy…because at points we were climbing with our hands.  When we did pop out up top it was only a 200 yard walk to where Ted, Cindy and Kelly were waiting for us on the trail.

Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Eastern Sierras

July 8-12, 2016


Just a mile into the hike you get a good idea of the beauty you are hiking into

I backpacked to the Little Lakes Valley from the Mosquito Flats Trail-head for the first time.   In fact, my backpacking experience was limited to the upper Kern before I went with my buddy from SDFF, Warren Lew.  Warren is a recently retired doctor who is a total stud and north of me in years.  Warren taught me a ton about backpacking the high country of the John Muir Wilderness.  And specifically he taught me how to “do” the little lakes valley from the Mosquito Flats Trailhead.  He also taught me how to dry fly in Stillwater.  I was a newbie before this trip never really having success and always resorting to the streamer.  I cannot wait to get back to this place.  And I fear that won’t be until next spring because winter comes fast here.

Your heart stops when you see a big golden like this one rise

Your heart stops when you see a big golden like this one ris

The fishing is ridiculously good.  The fish are generally smaller than the kern because of the huge healthy population of brook trout, but the quantity you catch is 4x.   I promise that any fly fisherman would catch more than 10 a day regardless of skill.  My wife could catch 10 a day there.  if Warren and I really wanted to I bet we could have caught more than 50 a day.  And yes, the brookies actually are delicious (they are a char; not a trout).

I bet I caught and released more than 125 fish (rainbows, brooks, and a golden) over 8 lakes and a miles of streams that connect them.  And 99% were on a dry fly.

Yes those are rises in one of the Gem Lakes right next to our camp.  but look closely.  You can see two brook trout that have jumped completely out of the water to grab the midges

Yes those are rises in one of the Gem Lakes right next to our camp. but look closely. You can see two brook trout that have jumped completely out of the water to grab the midges

There are so many positives about doing this, and I will detail the highlights below, but, there are some negatives.

The drawbacks are:

  • Altitude – it’s over 11k feet.  lots of heavy breathing. Every hike seems harder.  Everything is more extreme.  Hiking over Morgan pass was a challenge. We spent 5 days above 11K feet and I grossly underestimated how much colder it is up there.  we also got caught in a night time wind storm where it had to be blowing over 60MPH….which means not a lot of sleep.
  • You have to camp 100 feet away from the water – this is a stupid rule I still cannot understand the reasons for.
  • Bear Canisters are required – another stupid rule; what bear hangs out above the tree line? and frankly what’s wrong with just hanging your food?
  • The permitting process requires a visit to the ranger station in bishop; I don’t understand why it can’t all be done on the internet.

That’s me on Treasure Lake Number 2.  We caught a lot of big brookies here

That’s me on Treasure Lake Number 2. We caught a lot of big brookies here

The positives are numerous:

  • When you camp next to a glacier, you have snow to pour your Bourbon over.
  • Beauty – the sheer beauty of the mountains, much of which was above the tree line.
  • Fly fishing – ridiculously fun and easy.
  • So many trails and so many lakes within a 4-mile diameter.
  • I proved Mike Hilygus’ theory once again that a bullet head Skwalla in sizes 10 and 12 works everywhere.
  • You can make the big cast – talk about a great place to practice your double haul. Since there are no trees in many of these lakes (or they are sparse) you can do the 50 foot cast.  I was throwing my custom made 4 wt by Tom Young built on TFO BVK blanks.  And when I stood on big rocks I could swear I was getting close to casting the entire length of the fly line (100 feet).  of course setting at that distance is a different story.

“I can’t believe Huckaby fooled me.  I’m so bummed.”

“I can’t believe Huckaby fooled me. I’m so bummed.”

There were a number of firsts on this trip:

  • Most number of nights backpacking: My record before this trip was 3. On this trip we did 4 nights in the wilderness.  And I still had food leftover.  Yea, I lost weight on this trip.
  • My first “real” golden trout – I have caught plenty of goldens in my time and they are a blast because they hit so hard and it’s always dries. But, I have never caught a golden over 6”.  On this trip I caught a 14” golden.  A female; but, I earned it.  I was working a pod of big goldens and hooked 5 and lost all of them before landing them.  I must have spent an hour at it before I finally got one.

Check out the big golden with my fly hanging out of his face.

Check out the big golden with my fly hanging out of his face.

  • A double dry – I have caught two fish at a time just a couple times before. Once in Crowley on two streamers in a float tube.  Once in the Contoocook River in New Hampshire a few weeks back on a dry/dropper.  But, this trumps them all.  I was throwing two dries just to figure out what size I needed to get the big brookies to rise.  The first fly was a size 12 bullethead skwalla.  I trailed that with a size 14 spruce moth.  I had to make the big cast (see above) so the set was on a big splash; I didn’t see what actually happened.  But, when I made the set I yelled to Warren: “Big Fish!”.  It was a battle on my 4wt (5x), but as I got the fish close I saw it wasn’t one fish; it was too big 13” brookies.

Treasure Lakes 1 and 2

Treasure Lakes 1 and 2


Contoocook River, Henniker, New Hampshire

June 18, 2016

The Contoocook River, Henniker, New Hampshire

The Contoocook River, Henniker, New Hampshire

I planned a business trip to Boston months in advance and that meant getting Kelly free flights on points because she had never been to Boston.  It also meant ending the business trip in a long weekend in New Hampshire at our friends, Pat and Sabine Hynd’s house who live in Derry, New Hampshire.

And I knew full well, there was outstanding fly fishing in New Hampshire.  I just had two obstacles:

  1. Kelly, who is never happy about me stranding her all day while I fly fish
  2. The research I needed to do to figure out the closest river to Pat’s house that held trout

I never did overcome the first obstacle.  But, I did overcome the 2nd one by doing something really smart: I went to the New Hampshire Trout Unlimited Website where the officer’s email addresses were listed.  Fly fisherman are almost always helpful to outsiders so I wrote a simple email to the president, Ron Sowa.  Well, almost immediately Ron Emailed me back suggesting I fish the Contoocook River in Henniker, New Hampshire.  Ron and I went back and forth in email a few times where he provided great info for me before I realized he was a guide!  And he was so generous with free info.  At that point I felt badly.  So badly I said to myself “Screw it; I’m going to hire him for a full day and if she’s pissed so be it.”  Then I chickened out because of the sheer agony I’d have to endure, and thought about a half day guided with Ron.  At that point, to my extreme pleasure, Pat showed interest in joining me for some fly fishing.  Pat had never fly fished before and like many of my friends in the software world I was really looking forward to us fly fishing together, guided.

Pat Hynds, Master Angler

Pat Hynds, Master Angler

Then the wives got wind of it and totally put the kibosh on the idea.  But, the wives were willing to give us a morning.  So, it was going to be me and Pat leaving early, driving 45 minutes, gearing up, my teaching and guiding & fishing for 1.5 hours, and drive 45 minutes back in time for lunch and a big hike with the wives.  I have a goal of fly fishing in every state in America and New Hampshire was on the list so I was still very excited to check it off the list.

Well, I owe Ron big-time and I will repay him if he ever gets to the sierras in California….  Or I’ll just figure out how to get to New Hampshire again and hire him to guide me and Pat.

Big Rainbow from the Contoocook

Big Rainbow from the Contoocook

We fished the Contoocook river.   At first it was a bit of a challenge because we went upriver on the college side when we got to Henniker and it was froggy, big and deep.  I said, “hmmm”…  Then we went back over the bridge and downriver.  Immediately, there was a huge dirt parking lot with a dam looking structure, but I could see pocket water in the distance. But, there was a big swamp in the way.  I said, “hmmmm…”  I’m a bushwhacker, but, Pat was a first timer; I didn’t want to drag Pat through that mess.  So, we continued another ½ mile down the road to the next pullout and I almost fainted from what I saw: Pocket water, riffles, multiple runs, tail-outs.  This had it all in a 200-yard stretch.   But, no one was there so I said to myself, “Hmmm”.  It just seemed too perfect.  “Why were no other fly fisherman here?  It’s a Friday.  If this place were good then there must be something wrong.”

Another big trout from the Contoocook River

Another big trout from the Contoocook River

We’ll I geared us up and we wadered up there on the side of the road.  We wandered into the water.  It was a coffee stained clear that in the shade provided zero visibility; even with my Smith Chromopop polarized lensed glasses.  But it was not a slippery river like I’m used to in the East.  So, it wasn’t difficult to wade at all; you just had to go slow because you couldn’t see.  I did my lecture to Pat on where trout hang out and rest / feed and pointed out a few places.  And as we did I noticed a number of different bugs in including large Caddis and Yellow Sallies.   I said to myself, “hmmmm”…  We staged ourselves 20 feet below two large boulders where I knew Pat could make an easy beginners cast.  Then I started on a casting lesson for Pat.  On my second “10-2” thing teaching Pat to cast, I caught a small brook trout not even trying.  I said to myself, “hmmmm”…  Then I saw a large fish rise on the other side of the river and I said to myself, “hmmmm”…  I said to Pat, “Hang on one second I want to catch that rising fish.”  And I did.  and I said to myself, “hmmmm”…

More Underwater Fish porn from the Contoocook

More Underwater Fish porn from the Contoocook – this time a big Brookie

And it was just one of those days; a day that you remember forever.  But, a day I haven’t had in a while.  In fact, I believe the last time I had a day like that was on Lake Crowley close almost 20 years ago.  And I only fished for an hour and a half on the Contoocook River.  I think if I had all day I would have caught and released more than 50 trout.


  • I had a Grand slam with multiple brooks, rainbows, browns, & smallmouth
  • Most of my fish we caught on dries.
  • I caught 2 brookies at the same time (one the dry and one on the dropper)
  • And this was a first in my fly fishing career: I hooked a fish…well he caught himself… that jumped out of the water from between my legs to get my dry…through my legs and up a foot out of the water like shamu while I was releasing a fish from the dropper he was hooked on!

This is one of Pat's Brookie's that he fooled

This is one of Pat’s Brookie’s that he fooled.  See that big ‘ol nymph hanging out of his face after Pat’s perfect set?

And we only got 1.5 hours to fish!  45 mins up and back.  In that 1.5 hours I caught ~20 and I was “guiding” a beginner!  I have never ever left a river when the fishing was so good.  Even Pat caught fish!  As a first timer!  To his credit I have never had a beginner wait like you are supposed to when loading the rod.  He was the quickest study I have ever guided.  He figured out how to fight fish without me even helping.

The fish I caught went 6” to 14”.  I’m sure there were larger fish in that river.  I caught one fat rainbow jumper that was worth taking a picture of under water.  And many of the fish I caught had to be wild because I got a lot of jumps.  And every fly fisherman knows how fun Brookies are…

A Contoocook rainbow too big for me to take a picture of while trying to land him.

A Contoocook rainbow too big for me to take a picture of while trying to land him.

How we fished

I put Pat on an indicator (New Zealand wool style indicator) dropped by a large, size 12 bead headed black midge.  Dropped from that was a bead headed birds nest I tied.

And here’s where it’s really interesting: I did dry/dropper.  My dry was a size 12 bullet head skwalla (Montana fly company’s version).  I don’t even think they have skwallas (a huge stone fly) in New Hampshire.  But, it killed.  Just like my buddy in montana, Mike Hillygus, said it would.  Mike swears bullet head skwallas work all over the world because of the size and profile.  And I most certainly proved that in Poland last week.  And I proved it in New Hampshire yesterday.  This weekend I’m going to prove it on the Upper Kern river in the sierras where I am really curious to see if it will work.

So, if you want to fly fish in New Hampshire I strongly suggest you hire Ron Sowa from Reel New Hampshire Fishing Guide Service to guide you.  That would help repay my debt to him.  He’s headquartered in Manchester, NH 603.493.3857.

Reel New Hampshire Fishing guide service

Stillwater River, Montana – May 3-7, 2016

The Stillwater Water

The Stillwater Water

I had been dying to fish the Stillwater River for one simple reason: the guides don’t typically go there.  And consequently, it’s a lightly fished river:

  • it’s just about equidistant between Bozeman and Billings; about 2 hours from each. So the guides don’t go there.
  • it’s a freestone, so it’s subject to getting blown out, high and low water conditions. So, when it fishes well; it fishes really well
  • it is a river full of rapids which also scares away all the guides except for the ones that are the best on the oars. People drown on this river.

I had this trip inked for almost 9 months.  And it was a chance to fish again with my buddy Mike Hillygus who owns the Stillwater Outpost and is quite the guide, outfitter, and fly fisherman himself.  And the really best part of it was that my 20-year-old son Mark was going to join me.

Mark and Me

Mark and Me

I flew to Bozeman and Mike picked me up.  We arrived at Stillwater Outpost with plenty of daylight to fish.   But, I wanted to check out the lodge first because I was told it was the perfect place for the annual “get locked” trip that I plan, organize and run for 12-14 of my buddies each year.  and it is…  a converted barn with a bar to do the gourmet meals and cocktails.  Plenty of decks with views.  Even a driving range.  And the best news is that it will do at least 14 in beds and has plenty of bathrooms to go with it.  Eve my wife Kelly would love this place.

The “barn” at Stillwater Lodge

The “barn” at Stillwater Lodge


Now back to fishing….  I was just going to wade in and fish for an hour, but Mike would have nothing of that.  He insisted on a short float with him on the oars from about a mile up river to the lodge.  I caught two really nice fish (a rainbow and a brown) on dries right in front of the lodge!

The next day we did a big float on the Stillwater downstream.  It was hot; that meant the snow was melting.  and it was obvious the river was rising.  Mike and I caught fish, but the river was getting close to blowing out; it was losing clarity and the dead didymo floating down the river was causing issues.

How can you not love a place that has a brown trout propane tank?

How can you not love a place that has a brown trout propane tank?

That night Mark blew in from Bozeman just in time for another gourmet meal and cocktails…well he had a beer or 4; I had cocktails.  Mike’s buddy Andy, one of the very few guides that does the Stillwater stopped by for a beer or two also; Great guy.  And what I was to learn the next day: great guide.  Andy and Mike drove up river the next morning to check a really hairy stretch to see if it had enough water for the drift boat to get through.  Remember the water was rising and the chance to fish the upper stretch is a somewhat rare and exciting thing.  And they decided we could do it with two boats: Mike’s drift boat with me and Mark in Andy’s raft.  I have never fished crazy water like that before in a drift boat.  I cannot imagine rowing in that water; I’d crash for sure.  Mike is very good on the oars.  I caught fish on dries, but after I switched from dries to a streamer I killed.  I caught a lot of fish.  Mark stayed with dry-dropper and did pretty well too.  It was a great day and we fished in shorts and t-shirts because it was hot.

Mark with Andy at the Oars

Mark with Andy at the Oars

On our last day Mike insisted we make the 2-hour drive to the bighorn.  I was excited because that is where I guided my buddy Mike O’Laughlin; the one and only time I manned the oars for an entire float; did not fish and he did really well.

Mark is first to prove out Mike’s Theory: Look closely for that big skwalla in that brown’s face.

Mark is first to prove out Mike’s Theory: Look closely for that big skwalla in that brown’s face.


When matching the hatch does not Matter

Montana Fl;y Company Bullet Head Skwalla

Montana Fl;y Company Bullet Head Skwalla

The coolest part for me and Mark was that we were going to be a subject of a test and a theory Mike had.   Mike has a goto bug; it imitates a Skwalla, which is a huge mayfly.  We all have flies we are confident in; we all have a go-to fly when things are slow. Mike’s theory was that a size 12, bullet nosed skwalla fly would do well on the Bighorn even though they don’t get Skwalla hatches at the Bighorn.  A traditional fly fisherman or a most guides would scoff at the notion.  But that particular pattern from Montana Fly company has the nice thin profile of many large mayflies, but at the same time can be mistaken and a number of small terrestrials like hoppers.  It sits really low in the water so the trout can see them well from below, yet it’s big enough and has a nice yellow foam post so you can see it well from distance in its drift.  And if you know the Bighorn, you know you have to make the cast at least 20 feet, sometimes 40 away from the boat because the drift boats spook the fish in that crystal clear water.

Another big brown on the bullet head skwalla for Mark.

Another big brown on the bullet head skwalla for Mark.


Well Mike was right.  And the best part (for a dad) was that I missed 3 takes on top. 0 for 3 while Mark landed two.

Question: What’s better than catching big browns on the dry?

Answer: Catching big browns on the dry that freak out when hooked and do 4-5 shamu-like jumps before you can wrestle them to the net.


Brown-zilla, on the dry (size 12 bullet head skwalla), on my 3wt which was a battle, 4 huge shamu-like jumps.

The “big trip” is going to be at the Stillwater Outpost next June of 2017.  But, those of you who know me, know I can’t wait a full year and will figure out how to visit Mike there again before winter.  I strongly you suggest you visit Mike at the Stillwater Outpost too.