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Fly Fishing in California

I recently had the opportunity to get in a few days of fishing in California with my friend Duane Brandt.  When most people think of California fishing they think of northern rivers like the Mc Cloud, the upper Sacramento, or Hat Creek. Our trip started and ended in Los Angeles.

Duane picked me up just after noon at LAX and in about 3 hours we were at our destination, the Kern River valley.  There were several reasons for going there.   The least important of which was its nearness to Los Angeles.  Our real motivation was the chance of adding several new species to our life lists.  According to Dr. Robert Behnke, the authority on North American trout, the Kern River Drainage is the home to four subspecies of trout.  Our hope was to catch one or more of them.

In mid-September, when we first started planning our adventure, I did what I always do befor going to a new area.  I found out which national forest we would be fishing in and called the fisheries biologist for that Ranger District.   Tina, the fisheries biologist’s, insight and knowledge made all the difference in the world.  She gave me a list of prime locations that I passed on to Duane.  Duane made the sacrifice of driving up a week-end in advance with his wife Connie to scout out some of the suggested locations.

Forks of the Kern ValleyDuane’s recon suggested that our first day, October 11th should be at the “Forks of the Kern.”   Duane’s logic for this was twofold.  The first was that we could potential knock of two of the 4 species in one day.  Good thinking. The second reason was more important in the long run.   Just to get into the Golden Trout Wilderness where the Kern and the Little Kern meet you have a 2 mile walk.   In Wyoming we often walk 4miles up the Encampment to get to Purgatory.  Two miles shouldn’t be much.  Well, when it means a drop in elevation of 1,200 feet it does matter a lot – especially on the way out.  

The trail leads straight to a crossing point on the Little Kern, about 100 yards upstream of where it joins the Kern.  Kern River rainbow troutIt looked so good.  We started fishing our way up it.   Every time I get on a new stream, the same feeling come over me.  It keeps running through my head:  “You think you’re pretty good don’t you.  Well what if you can’t catch one?”   If after a couple of runs I still haven’t made the connection it gets louder and louder.   Thankfully the sounds only rose to a dull roar befor I caught my first new addition to my life list, a Kern River Rainbow.

The Little Kern River is also home to the Little Kern River Golden trout.  Since I had one down befor 10:00 am, we pushed on up the Little Kern.  As we moved higher up the river we got into an area of low falls.   Little Kern River golden troutThese falls were not high enough to be barriers to Kern River Rainbows.   But the further up we went the fewer trout we caught that looked like Kern River Rainbows - they looked more and more like little Kern River Goldens. I’ve compared the pictures I took of the fish I caught with the pictures and description in Dr. Behnke’s bookbut I’m not 100% positive they are Goldens.  I’m going to add the Little Kern Golden to my list but with and asterisk.
Thuresday we fished for Golden - also know as South Fork of the Kern Goldens.  Once they were the only trout of the South Fork Drainage, but they have been hybridized with non-native rainbows, and out-competed by introduced browns.   Now most populations are restricted to small tributary streams with either natural or artificial barriers.  Fishing for them is like fishing for Cut's.Golden troutThe hard part is finding them. The help from fisheries biologist for the National Forest made the quest a bit simpler!   Tina suggested two streams, Salmon Creek and Fish Creek.  The portions of both creeks that we fished were meadow streams and both held Goldens. Later that afternoon we fished the main stem of the South Fork of the Kern near Kennedy meadow campground. It is a beautiful river but all we caught were a couple of 12 inch browns.   According to the biologist, a four-mile walk up the Pacific Rim Trail would put you above most of the browns.

Friday we woke to a light but steady rain.  After breakfast in Kernville we decided to try Bull run Creek, a small mountain tributary of the Kern. The description on this stream is small, brushy,  “mega” boulders, and rattlesnakes.  Oh yes, lot of small rainbows with a few big fish just to keep you on your toes – aBull Run Creeks if rattlesnakes won’t keep you on your toes.   Everyone we talked to said the best fishing was about 45 minutes up the trail.  We only went about 25 minutes up the trail befor the sound of the creek drew us to it.  It is definitely a small, brushy stream with large boulders,but with many small rainbows and, thank you very much, no rattlesnakes.  We were back in Los Angeles in time for dinner.

Sunday we drove about an hour and fished the closest trout stream to Los Angeles, the West Fork of the San Gabrial River. The West Fork is tail water from a drinking water reservoir.  Being so close to Los Angeles the West Fork gets a lot of use!  In fact there is a 9 mile paved walking and biking trail that runs beside the stream.The lower 1.5 miles are stocked. The rest is Catch and Release for wild fish.West Fork of the San Gabrial RiverIt is a refreshing area to be so close to the city. We walked 4 miles up before we started fishing to get away from as many anglers as we could.  In about 2 hours of fishing we must have caught 50 fish, almost all between 4 and 7 inches. We each ad a couple of 9 inchers and Duane measured an 11 incher.  For Duane one of the side benefits was meeting several other Los Angeles area fly fishers on the stream.  Now he has some local fishing partners.

Not a bad four-days of fishing, two new species of trout for my life list, and a third with an asterisk.  There is something to be said for being an apprentice trout bum!

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