The Kern River in Central California, located at the southern end of Sequoia National Forest, is a gem of a trout fishery. Before Crystal and I moved to Colorado this was my old stomping ground. The river can be broken up into three major sections.
1. The tail water section below Lake Isabella. (Directions)
2. The 20 Mile stretch North of Kernville, CA to the Johnsondale Bridge. (Directions)
3. The headwaters of the Kern, North of the Johnsondale Bridge. (Directions)
Now, technically the section north of Kernville is the North Fork of the Kern, which comes together with the South fork in Lake Isabella. However, while I lived in California there was a tremendous drought, which had reduced the South Fork to little more than a trickle. So there is a forth section to the Kern but due to drought I was never able to explore it and subsequently I’m leaving it off of this post.
The tail water section below Lake Isabella does hold some trout but tends to be too warm for them most of the year. However, this section is great for bass both large and small mouth. Highway 178 follows the Kern from Bakersfield all the way to Lake Isabella. There are numerous turnouts along the road to provide anglers with easy access. I rarely fished this section so I won’t go into much detail other than to tell you it’s there and if you’re interested in warm water species it’s worth a look.
The second section of the river is known as the “20 Mile” section by locals. As the name suggests this is a stretch of about 20 miles of public water north of Kernville. Mountain Highway 99 follows the river for the entire 20 miles making access extremely easy. There are also numerous campsites along this stretch and during the summer months it is packed with campers, tubers, rafters, and swimmers as well as fishermen. As a result, this section receives a lot of pressure and finding peace and quiet can be difficult. However, the California DNR stocks this section and the section below Lake Isabella regularly so there are always fish to catch.
During the summer months almost anything will work on this section. Dry droppers are a sure bet most of the year. In later fall, winter, and early spring, nymphing becomes more important, as do terrestrials especially hoppers. Rainbows dominate the Kern River, there are a few browns scattered about but consider yourself lucky if you land one. In my three years of fishing the Kern I only landed 6 brown trout total.
There are some very nice fish in this section and 20”+ monsters can be found. However, the majority of the fish you’ll catch are stocked trout in the 8” – 12” range. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing and the easy access along the highway makes the 20 mile section a great place to fish. However, for me, the best part of the Kern is the headwater North of Johnsondale Bridge. This section is only accessible on foot, which means less fishing pressure, and fewer crowds. I’ll tell you all about that little slice of heaven next week but until then, happy fishing!
– A. Egli