Fly Fishing the Sierra

Upper Kern below Johnsondale Bridge

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Upper Kern below Johnsondale Bridge
Suggested Flies for Kern River
Southern Sierra Hatch Selection

Other Local Favorites:

Dry Flies:
Parachute Adams #20-22
Elk Hair Caddis #14-16
Royal Wulff #12
Stimulator #8-10
Madam X #8-10

Nymph Flies:
Pheasant Tail Nymph #14-18
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear #14-18
Kern Emerger #12-16
Prince Nymph #14-18
Bird's Nest #14-18
Zug Bug #14-18
Copper John #14-18

Stonefly Nymphs :
Black Rubberlegs #6-8
Bird's Stonefly Nymph #8-10
Kaufmann Stone, Gold or Black #6-8
Poxyback Stonefly Nymph #8-10

Streamer Flies:
Muddler Minnow #10
Zonker #6-8
Matuku #6-8
Grey Ghost #8
Woolly Bugger, Black or Olive #8-10


Kern River Directions

The Kern River follows the Sierra Highway north of Lake Isabella for about 20 miles. The river continues past the Johnsondale Bridge but must be accessed by trail.

Notes:South Fork Kern River
The Upper Kern River below the Johnsondale Bridge is a heavily used area by river rafters, bait fishermen, and bathers. It is divided into two sections by the Fairview Dam which pipes the water to a lower power plant. The river is open year-round with a 5 fish limit. Flyfishing opportunities are best in the late Fall and through the winter months before high water levels occur during the Spring. The river contains deep runs and pools. Large stoneflies are prevalent within these waters year-round in sizes 6-8 for both Black and Golden Stoneflies. The Kern also has large caddis and mayfly hatches. Streamers, such as Matukas, Zonkers, Woolly Buggers and Grey Ghosts work well.

It is stocked throughout the summer months by DFG and also planted with a large number of trophy-sized Rainbows in the 18-22" class. There are three sections designated by CDFW for fish planting. Section #4 is from Riverside Park in Kernville up to Powerhouse #3, Section #5 is from Powerhouse #3 to the Fairview Dam, and Section #6 is from Fairview Dam to Brush Creek. CDFW tries to plant only triploid trout within these sections. However, if triploids are not available, diploids are only planted below Fairview dam.The fish remain deep, so your best bet is to use nymph with deep drifts through the runs. The popular areas to fish are Headquarters, Thunderbird, Hospital Flat, Halfway, Gold Ledge, Salmon Creek, Fairview, Cemetary, and Limestone. Flows can be very strong, especially during the Spring. Try not to wade when flows exceed 200 cfs. When water levels are high during the Spring runoff, try the tributaries which will generally be cleaner and more fishable. Some Kern River Rainbows make their way into the creeks. Golden-Rainbow Hybrids are also found in some of the meadow sections of these creeks.

Other local tributaries of the Kern River include:
Cannell Creek: Consists of Rainbows and Browns.
Tobias Creek: Consists of Rainbows.
Salmon Creek: Consists of Rainbows, Brookies, and Browns.
Brush Creek: There are three access points to Brush Creek. The first is the near the confluence of the Kern River at 4200 feet. You can follow the creek about 3 miles upstream to the next access road which turns off Sherman Pass Road at North Meadow at 5,800 feet. Continuing upstream, the creek goes another 4 miles to the final access road at 8,900 feet off Durwood Meadow from Sherman Pass Road. Brush Creek consists of Rainbows and Browns.
South Creek: Consists of Rainbows. Access to the Falls is .5 miles past Johnsondale Bridge on Sierra Highway. The creek has not been stocked by DFG since 1994. There are some wild rainbows at the bottom of the falls which can be accessed from Johnsondale Bridge.
These tributaries are open from the last Saturday of April to November 15th since they reside in Tulare County and have a 5 trout limit.

Local Guide, Guy Jeans, developed a variation of the Hare's Ear known as a Kern Emerger as a local favorite fly. It's a Hare's Ear pattern with a yellow foam wing case in size 12-14. 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. The fly is available at his 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.

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, 5 trout daily bag limit, 10 trout in possession.


Fishing Map Available

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

$12.95 ea

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


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