Fly Fishing the Kern River

fly fishing the kern river

Fly fishing on the Kern River is popular among anglers who are looking for an exciting adventure amid the beautiful landscapes in California. The Kern River in the southern Sierra Nevada offers a wide variety of fishing opportunities. It also has a spectacular landscape and abundant fish species. The Kern River is an excellent place to test your fishing skills and enjoy nature’s tranquility, whether you are an experienced angler or beginner.

The Kern River is renowned for its diverse fish populations, including rainbow trouts, brown trouts, golden trouts, and smallmouth basses. These species are found in different sections depending on the season and the conditions. The Kern River offers a variety of fishing opportunities for all levels. From its headwaters high in the mountains to its winding route through canyons and gorges, it provides a variety of experiences.

Fly Fishing Techniques

Fly fishing the Kern River requires the use of the right equipment and techniques to maximize your success. Fly fishing for trout is usually done with lightweight fly rods, floating lines and heavier rods. Smallmouth bass fishing is usually done with heavier rods, sinking lines and heavier rods.

Nymphing is an effective technique to fly fish the Kern River. This technique involves using weighted fly imitations of aquatic insect larvae that are a staple source of food for trout. Anglers can lure fish to strike by presenting the fly close to the riverbed, and allowing it drift with the current. Nymphing is particularly effective in sections of the river that move slower.

The Kern River is also a popular place to dry fly fish, especially during hatching season. Hatches are when certain insects such as caddisflies and mayflies emerge from the water to become food for fish. Anglers can mimic these insects using floating flies that are presented on the surface of water. It is a thrilling experience to see a fish rise up and take a dry fly.

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Fishing Spots in the Kern River

The Kern River has a variety of fishing spots to suit all levels and preferences. Here are some areas that you may want to explore.

Upper Kern River

Wild trout are a common sight in the Upper Kern River. It stretches from the Johnsondale Bridge up to the Isabella Dam. This section of river is known for the rugged beauty it offers, with its towering trees, steep canyons and secluded pool. This area is known for its wary fish, so accuracy and stealth are essential.

Canyon Section

The Canyon Section of Kern River, located in between the Isabella Dam & Democrat Dam is a great spot for trout and bass fishing. This section is a mixture of rapids and deeper, slower pools. Fly fishers can target trout or smallmouth bass along the calmer stretches.

Lake Isabella

The Isabella Dam has created a lake that offers more opportunities to fish from a boat or bank. Anglers have a wide variety of fish to target, including catfish, bass, crappie and trout. Fly fishing can be very productive from a boat, especially in areas with submerged structures or drop-offs.

Best Time to Fish

The best time to fly fish the Kern River depends on the species you are targeting and the weather conditions. Certain periods do tend to offer better fishing opportunities.


The spring is a great time to fish on the Kern River. As the snow melts, the river levels and water volume increase. This creates the perfect conditions for trout to feed. The months of May and April are particularly productive with frequent hatches.

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During the summer, the Kern River is a popular place for anglers looking to escape the heat. The upper sections of Kern River are still good for trout fishing, while the lower sections tend to be better for smallmouth bass. During this season, mornings and evenings tend to be the best times to go fishing because the fish are more active at these times and the temperatures are cooler.


The fall is a great time to fish on the Kern River as the water levels start to drop and the temperatures become more pleasant. As fish prepare for winter, they become more aggressive. The months of September or October can provide some exciting fishing opportunities with both bass and trout actively taking flies.


Winter fishing can be difficult on the Kern River due to the fluctuating water temperatures and colder temperatures. If you are willing, you may be rewarded by solitude and the chance to catch trophy-sized trout. During this season, nymphing with small weighted patterns is a good option.

Local Regulations and Guidelines

It is important that you familiarize yourself with local regulations and guidelines before embarking on your fly fishing adventure along the Kern River. These regulations are designed to protect fish populations and ensure sustainability of the fishing industry. Here are some important points to remember:

Fishing Licenses

California fishing licenses are required for all anglers older than 16 years. You can purchase a fishing license online, in sporting goods stores or from licensed agents. Be sure to keep your license on you when fishing and be ready to show it to a wildlife officer if asked.

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Catch and Release

Kern River has specific rules regarding catch-and-release. Check local regulations before fishing. Some sections of the Kern River may have seasonal closures or special restrictions. If you are practicing catch-and-release, be sure to handle the fish gently and release them back into the water. This will give the fish the best chance of survival.

Special Restrictions

Kern River is a Wild Trout Water. This means that there are additional restrictions to protect the native fish populations. It is important that you are aware of these restrictions, and that you follow them. These restrictions can include the use barbless hooks or restricted fishing methods.

Pack it in, pack it out

It is important to respect the environment when fishing on the Kern River. This means properly disposing of trash and waste, and leaving the area in the same condition as you found. By demonstrating good stewardship you can help preserve Kern River’s beauty for future generations of fishermen.


Anglers of any skill level will enjoy the experience of fly fishing on the Kern River. The Kern River is a fly fishing paradise with its diverse fish population and scenic landscapes. You can maximize your fly fishing experience on the Kern River by using the right techniques, exploring new fishing spots, and following local regulations. Grab your fly rod and your favorite flies and prepare to go on an amazing fishing adventure in the stunning beauty of California’s Kern River.

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