Throwing caution, good reconnaissance and judgment to the wind, myself Danielle, Jen and my brother Matt went to the Kern river for the first time over the July 4th weekend. For weeks I had been looking at the flows, checking the gauge almost daily. It never once struck my heart as a reassuring sign of good fishing ahead, but I was intrigued by the river, the chance at getting the big fish that feed more actively in high flows and with sheer excitement for seeing such awesome whitewater. I have wanted to go to the Kern since I was about 10 years old, first hearing about it from friends who had rafted the lower section.
We hit the trail and made it to our destination a few miles into the GTW in pretty good time, but a fair amount of pain on my part; my new boots gave my heels some serious blisters and it sucked because I thought I had broken them in already. Coming to the Little Kern we saw that the meltoff was pretty serious, definitely more water than last year the same weekend.
The Little K
We made it to the flat and set up camp in a superb location. It was superb because we were told it was so by a fellow we met on the trail. Usually I take all advice from strangers with a grain of salt, but we soon found this caution was not only unnecessary, it would be foolish!
The fellow on the trail was soon no longer a stranger and we were his camp neighbors. We quickly learned his name, Keith Smith, and that he was just about to wrap up a week of camping in the Kern backcountry for the 50th consecutive year! He knew the upper Kern like it was his backyard and he waxed poetic about places we'd never been nor heard of, how big the fish were, still are, and how much the place has changed yet stayed the same. I fell asleep dreaming of 40lb browns eating kern river 'bows and giant goldens in the upper lakes.
Mr. Smith Goes to Kern River
The next morning we were guided to all the finest holes in the vicinity by our camp neighbor and Kern river sensei. The fishing was tough. The best fish were in impossible locations, or deeper than I could get my flies. I hooked up with two behemoths on dry flies, but they quickly made the folly and futility of my bow and arrow casting under the oaks apparent to all. It was great fun overall, despite the few fish we were able to land.
We hiked up to Little Kern lake and proceeded to see more snakes in one day then I can remember seeing since I was at my cousins in AZ when I was 9 or 10. 8 snakes and 7 of them rattlers. Looking back the hike up to LKL would have been better saved for a longer trip and really cut into our fishing time, but it was beautiful, except for the snakes.
The Kern, at Killer speed
The highlight of the trip was the insane flows on the Kern and meeting Keith, who by my estimates has spend over 1% of his life sleeping in the Kern river back country. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Lessons were learned as well, namely that one should always listen to the advice of someone who has been somewhere for 50 years in a row, that you should watch your you put each and every foot step (SNAKES!), that the Kern is downright frightening at 4000cfs on the upper, and that I will be coming back again in the FALL.