Fishing for Kern River Rainbow Trout (native)


a narrow fish about 10 inches long with small black dots all over and a band of pink running from head to tail
fish lying on river bank next to fishing reel
  • Generally resembles coastal rainbow trout, but with brighter colors, a slight tinge of gold, and sometimes orange on the belly.
  • Coloration in some areas may be influenced by natural intermixing and hybridization with the other two golden trout subspecies.
  • Fine, peppery spots are profuse over most of the body and on the fins.
  • On many larger fish, there is a broad rosy-red band along the sides.

A description of Kern River rainbow from the 1905 Bulletin of the Bureau of Fisheries describes an 18-inch specimen, profusely spotted with rich rosy sides, lower half slightly pink and bluish, and with a slight wash of gold. Those in the main-stem Kern River have been known to reach 28 inches in length and specimens weighing up to eight pounds were reported in the early 1900s.


  • Endemic to the Kern River and tributaries from Lake Isabella upstream to the headwaters (Tulare County).
  • Some tributaries have fish barriers and do not contain populations of Kern River rainbow trout above these barriers. Examples include the Little Kern River, South Fork Kern River, and Golden Trout Creek.
Map of Kern River rainbow trout historic watersheds - click to enlarge in new window


Kern River
Kern River. CDFW photo by Jeff Weaver.
  • The upper Kern River from the Forks of the Kern upstream to Tyndall Creek is a designated Heritage and Wild Trout Water. 
  • Angling techniques are similar to those in other Sierra Nevada rivers and streams, for both lures and flies.
  • Dry and dropper fly combinations or double nymph rigs dead drifted under an indicator are top choices for fly anglers.

Roadside Fishing

  • Recreational angling is popular at Johnsondale Bridge due to the roadside nature of this portion of the river and ease of access. Hatchery rainbow trout are also stocked and present here.
  • For those who wish to camp and fish close to their car, there are a few small roadside tributaries on the western side of the Kern River.

Backcountry Fishing

  • To catch and document a Kern River rainbow trout that best exemplifies the physical traits that make them unique, focus efforts upstream of Johnsondale Bridge and, preferably, upstream of the Forks of the Kern.
  • The upper Kern River is surrounded by both the Golden Trout Wilderness Area and Sequoia National Park and provides a remote wilderness fishing experience. Access is limited to non-mechanized travel. There are numerous trails for hiking and horseback riding, although expect long distances.

Fisheries Branch
1010 Riverside Parkway, West Sacramento, CA 95605 |