I remember the first fish I caught on the Upper Kern vividly. At the time, I had only been fly fishing for two summers and the interstate-wide water whispering by was at first, immensely intimidating. Most of my time had been spent on small tributaries, cramped creeks that require little in the way of distance but a decent bit of accuracy and control. The Kern was to become my instructor that summer, fair but forgiving, even to the novice like myself. It was also my first significant exposure to sight fishing; the level of exuberance I had upon discovering the “thrill of the stalk” is rarely displayed for much else in my life, except maybe an excellent meal in good company (also something we specialize in at Golden Trout). I had hardly walked 100 yards upstream when Steve pointed a fish out in the water. It was darting in and out along the edge of a thick mat of vegetation, hungry from a long winter, active in the evening light. It was a mid-distance cast for me, and the shore behind me was free of obstruction so I tentatively stripped out some line, made one false cast and then laid it gently on the water six feet in front of the fish, but easily a foot and a half past it towards the far shore. Like a fairy tale (my kind, at least), the fish swept upward, surfaced and took my stimulator. I can’t honestly remember the next half minute but when I had the fish in hand, I had never seen something so amazing. This was no stocked fish. It was 14 inches, with a vibrant blush along its lateral line. Never had I been anywhere that you could walk 100 yards down the trail, throw a sloppy first cast out and have a 14 inch trout take it like it’s life depended on it. This was paradise. Not all my casts on the Kern ended like that, that’s just not the nature of fishing. But I am proud to say that over the course of the next several months, between serving meals and checking horses, I would sneak away with my rod, find an empty stretch of water and work on increasing my distance. There were plenty of fish ready to take my fly an easy cast away, but it came to be that I preferred a missed fish across the river than a slam from the one right below me. I spent a great deal of time on the Kern, more than most fisherman ever have the chance to do and I recognize that privilege. Experienced fishermen much better than I frequently pulled out 16, 18 inch fish and while I never did I was still able to develop my skill and catch sizable fish. How many rivers are so gracious to so many? If someone asks me who taught me how to cast, my honest answer is, the Kern.
-Golden Trout Pack Trains Packer, Savanna