Fly Fishing the Sierra

Upper Kern above Johnsondale Bridge

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Upper Kern above Johnsondale Bridge
Suggested Flies for Upper Kern above Johnsondale Bridge:
Southern Sierra Hatch Selection

Other Local Favorites:

Dry Flies:
Parachute Adams #12
Elk Hair Caddis #14-16
Stimulator #12
Madam X #10-12
Royal Wulff #12

Nymph Flies:
Pheasant Tail Nymph #14-18
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear #14-18
Kern Emerger #12-18
Prince Nymph #14-18
Black Rubberleg Stonefly Nymph #8-10
Bird's Stonefly Nymph #8-10
Copper John, Black #18-22

Streamer Flies:
Muddler Minnow #8-10
Woolly Bugger, Black or Olive #8-10


Upper Kern above Johnsondale Directions

The Kern River is best reached by taking the Sierra Way Road from Kernville just north of Lake Isabella. Sierra Way follows the Kern River for 22 miles to the Johnsondale Bridge. Above Johnsondale Bridge is an area to park for access to the Wild Trout section of the river. The Wild Trout Section is within a 4 mile section above the bridge. Road 22S82 follows parallel to the river and provides numerous trail access to the river up to the "Forks of the Kern".

Notes:Upper Kern River
Most of the flyfishing opportunities are above Johnsondale Bridge due to the heavy river use by rafters, baitfishermen, and campers below the bridge. The 4-mile Wild Trout section (click the map above for a detailed map), 4 miles above Johnsondale Bridge, is fished throughout the year with the most popular periods during the Fall months of October and November. There is a strong Spring runoff usually during May and June that makes fishing difficult. The water clears by July and fishing is good throughout the summer months. This area contains Kern River Rainbows, Rainbows, and Browns in the 10-17" range. A trail runs along the eastern side of the river. There are many areas you can wade across during the summer months. The best fishing occurs above Dry Meadow Creek which is a 45 minute hike from the bridge. The area is known for large Golden and Black Stoneflies, as well as good hatches of caddis and mayflies. Streamers such as Matukas, Zonkers, and Woolly Buggers will produce within the deeper holes. Dry Flies are best used during March-April and July through November when water levels are down. Survey results from the State of California show that most of the fish within the 4-mile Wild Trout Section are Browns in the 12-16 inch class with Rainbows in the 8-10 inch class with a few larger ones. As of March 1st, 2021, all of the Kern River above Johnsondale Bridge to the Sequoia National Park Boundary is open for fishing with a 2 trout limit and must use artificial lures only.
The preferred tackle for these waters are a 9 foot 5x leader with 5x or 6x fluorocarbon tippets, using a 9 foot 5 weight rod.

A number of creek tributaries enter the Kern and also provide good fishable habitat. These tributary streams are now open year round from the last Saturday in April through November 15 with a 5 trout limit, no gear restrictions, and from November 16 through the Friday preceding the last Saturday in April with a strict catch & release using artificial lures that are barbless. Taking Road 22S82, one can reach the trailheads that have access to the Little Kern River. This area will contain Little Kern Goldens.The confluence of the Little Kern and the Upper Kern is known as "the Forks of the Kern" and has had a reputation for excellent fishing. The Upper Kern has had a reputation for holding many large trout over 20". In recent years, however, the large trout have decreased substantially. In the 1990's the upper Kern was designated as a Catch and Release area. It is hoped that this special regulation will help rebuild the number of older and larger trout.

Flows can vary depending mostly upon snow melt and rainfall. Usually the flows are less than 1000cfs. Safe Wading flows will be 150-750. Check the link above for Current conditions.

Other local creeks to explore are:
Nobe Young Creek: Nobe Young Creek is a class I stream associated with rainbow trout that travels 7.2 miles, which drains into Dry Meadow Creek. Naturally-stable channels comprise approximately 26 percent of the stream dominated by moderate gradient cobble channels, approximately 13 percent are stable-sensitive channels comprised of moderate to low gradient sand channels, and the remaining portion of the stream has not been surveyed and classified. Fisheries habitat is limited by large width-to-depth ratios and some sedimentation. An extensive survey for fisheries habitat components has not been completed but it consists of Rainbows and Brookies. Take Mountain 99 out of Kernville and go 24 miles to Road 22S82. Camp Whitsett, a Boy Scout camp, is at the fork of the road. The creek is planted around Camp Whitsett and at the junction of Dry Meadow Creek during the early spring months with Rainbows. Water levels will drop in insufficient levels by mid-summer.

Bone Creek: Bone Creek is a class II stream associated with rainbow trout, with headwaters found in Bone Meadow, which travels about six miles that flows through Last Chance Meadow and drains into Nobe Young Creek. Approximately 20 percent of the stream is naturally-stable bedrock/boulder/cobble moderate to high gradient channels, 37 percent is stable-sensitive meadows, 29 percent is unstable-sensitive-degraded gullied channels, and the remaining portions have not been surveyed and classified. Last Chance Meadow is the site of ongoing restoration work. The entire meadow has been surveyed for restoration design and headcut restoration in the lower portion of the meadow. Extensive fisheries habitat component surveys have not been completed.

Dry Meadow Creek: Dry Meadow Creek is a class I stream associated with rainbow trout that travels about 1.8 miles and drains into the Kern River. Sensitive stable meadow-like environments comprise the extent of the surveyed stream. Stream stability surveys performed in 1988 rate this drainage in medium fair condition. Extensive fisheries habitat component surveys have not been completed. Consists of Rainbows and Brookies. Generally stocked from season opener to mid-July when water levels are too low around the campsite areas, which are .7 miles off Road 22S82 just east of Camp Whitsett. Campsite area is active with 4WD roads from the confluence of Nobe Creek to the Kern River. Below the campsites are numerous large pools holding wild rainbows with a hike of about 1.75 miles to the Kern River.

Peppermint Creek: Peppermint Creek is a class I stream associated with rainbow trout that travels about 7.5 miles until it drains into the Kern River. The section above Peppermint Campground, which has been surveyed, is naturally-stable with steep and moderate gradient bedrock, boulder and cobble dominated channels in minimal to moderate condition. The remaining 10 percent is stable sensitive with a moderate gradient gravel dominated channel. This section consists of Rainbows, Brookies, and Browns. Upper Peppermint Campground can be accessed by Hwy 190 out of Springville. The creek is at 7,200 feet elevation and is usually 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep within this area. Insect activity is excellent to good. DFG stocks about 2000 Rainbows annually within the pools of the nearby campgrounds and Brookies will be found within the upper reaches. It is about 3 miles to hike to the Lower Peppermint Campground with a 2000 foot elevation drop. There is no trail and it is a steep canyon. You can also access this area by taking Road 22S82 out of Johnsondale. About 1200 Rainbows are planted annually around the lower campground. Just downstream, below this campground, are Peppermint Falls with a 150 foot drop. There are some deep pools below the Falls with wild trout in the 7-9 inch class. As you get closer to the Main Kern, you will encounter Browns. Two additional Falls are located near the confluence of the Main Kern.

Freeman Creek: The upper portions are a high gradient bedrock stream with no fish. Above Lloyds Meadow road, Brookies are present and as the creek gets closer to the confluence with LLoyds Meadow Creek, the creek will have more rainbows. Freeman Creek is about 17 miles on Road 22S82 from Johnsondale. It is stocked 2-3 times each year at the Pyle's Boy's Camp for the boys benefit. The stream is quite small but has a gravel type bottom and good insect activity. A nearby grove of Giant Sequoias is just west of Pyle's Camp. More importantly, the area is an access trailhead to the Forks of the Kern off Lloyd Meadows Road.

Lloyd Meadow Creek: Lloyd Meadow Creek is a class III stream associated with rainbow trout that covers 3.5 miles until it meets Freeman Creek. Some rainbows might move into this creek from Freeman but it has marginal means of supporting a wild population. Gradient is moderate with a gravel bottom.

Needlerock Creek: Needlerock Creek is a class III stream with no known fisheries that travels 3.25 miles as it drains into the Kern River. Naturally-unstable extremely steep debris slide dominated channels makeup approximately 60 percent of the surveyed area.

Rattlesnake Creek: Rainbows were introduced to Rattlesnake Creek and have maintained a wild population. Some of the stream, within the higher reaches are being considered for Yellow Frog Restoration. Consists of Rainbows and Brookies.

Durwood Creek: Consists of Rainbows and Brookies.

Brush Creek: Rainbows were introduced to Brush Creek and have maintained a wild population. Some of the stream, within the higher reaches are being considered for Yellow Frog Restoration. Consists of Rainbows and Brookies.

Trout Creek: Flows to South Fork Kern River. Some Goldens were transplanted into Trout Creek near Sherman Pass. Lower down the creek consists of Rainbows, Brookies, and Browns.

Local Guide, Guy Jeans, developed a Kern Emerger as a local favorite fly. It's a Hare's Ear pattern with a yellow foam wing case in size 12-18. He indicates that he usually uses it as a dropper off a #8-10 Stonefly nymph with an indicator using a Dead-Drift Nymphing technique. Guy will often fish a 1/4 mile stretch of river nymphing upstream and then will proceed downstream with a nymph dropper off a Woolly Bugger. He finds that the downstream presentation is often more successfull when following an upstream nymphing presentation. The Kern Emerger is available at Guy's Kern River Fly shop in Kernville.

Fishing Regulations (Effective March 1st, 2021)

Kern River from Lake Isabella to the Johnsondale bridge.:

Open all year. No restrictions. 5 trout per day.

Kern River from Johnsondale bridge upstream to Sequoia National Park Boundary near Kern Canyon Ranger Station:

Open all year. Artificial lures. 2 trout per day.

Other Rivers and Streams:

From the last Saturday in April through November 15, 5 trout daily bag limit, 10 trout in possession; and, from November 16 through the Friday preceding the last Saturday in April, 0 trout bag limit, artificial lures with barbless hooks only and trout must be released unharmed and not removed from the water.

All other Lakes:

Open all year. No restrictions. 5 trout per day. 10 trout in possession.


Fishing Map Available

Covers the water between Johnsondale Bridge and Forks of the Kern, includes much of the Little Kern. Shows camping areas, road access, trails, and creeks. Special Features are the Hatch Chart, Fish Identification, Fishing Season and Regulations, and Stream Etiquette guidelines.

Upper Kern River

$12.95 ea

© 2021 Steve Schalla
This page is not to be copied without my explicit permission.


Wild Trout Section Upper Kern Wild Trout Wild Trout Section Quaking Aspen Meadow Golden Trout Wilderness Pack Station Lewis Camp Trailhead Castle Rock Kern Flat Bridge Upper Kern near Rattlesnake Conlfuence Forks of the Kern Below the Forks of the Kern The Needles Ponderosa Ladge Dome Rock Lower Peppermint Creek Peppermint Falls Above Durwood Creek Dry Meadow Creek Water Slides Dry Meadow Creek Pools Bone Creek Camp Whitsett Brush Creek Upper Kern below Johnsondale Seven Teacups SF of MF Tule Fish Creek Upper Kern/Little Kern