The Kern Mountains


Gary and I had met Buddy Allen, Buck Owens son, in Atlanta. Buddy was playing at the East Texas Lounge and when he and his band took a break. Gary stood on the stage and played his harmonica. Gary had the crowd laughing and clapping. Buddy came out, introduced himself to Gary and they became “buddies.” Gary flew with Buddy from Atlanta to Phoenix. That’s where Buddy lived, on Camelback Mountain. Gary and I had friends that lived in Mesa.
I drove his truck out there so we could hook back up with the crew. From Phoenix, Gary wanted to drive up to Bakersfield, Ca. to see our Granny, Dad’s mother and to meet Buddy’s dad, Buck Owens at his club. He even told us that he could introduce us to Merle Haggard, his club was across town from his dad’s, in Oildale. Buddy had a concert he had to perform in, over in Scottsdale, but told us he would meet us in Bakersfield afterwards. Eventually, we did meet Buck Owens and Dwight Yokam, we even chatted for a few minutes, but we never got to meet Merle.
We went ahead to visit our Granny. She had just undergone eye surgery for glaucoma, both eyes at the same time. Wow, she was miserable, we didn’t feel like imposing on her, Gary suggested that we go up to the Kern Mountains and do some sightseeing and fishing.
It was rough but beautiful country. Me being me, I brought some luminescent spray paint, to paint my name on some prominent rocks, so that my kinfolk could see my name every time they went camping in the mountains. We had stopped at K-Mart and bought fly tackle, split bamboo rods, waders, creels and a net, with a variety of “mepps”, fishing flies with little sharp hooks. Just as we got into the mountains, we stopped at a local sporting goods store to buy beer and get some ideas on where to find good spots to fish.
Gary noticed a poster about a fishing tournament being held that week end. Gary had always been a bass fisherman and when he saw that the largest small mouth bass would capture a prize of $500.00, it got his attention. We were going after trout, small mouth bass weren’t exactly on our agenda, after all, trout lived in streams and small bath bass lived in lakes and ponds. Gary was thinking that any size small mouth would probably win that prize, because they aren’t that many and they are hard to catch, and where we were at, was definitely “trout country.”


We started fishing in a hard, hard to get to spot. Not very far from the road but the terrain was rough, really rough. There were big round boulders every where, six to ten feet high. Gary told me that the harder it was to get to, the better the fishing. So we climbed down to the river. I found a spot where I could put our beer in the stream, to keep it cold, because that mountain water was mostly melted snow and ice. When I bent over to scoop out a place in the black sand, I noticed little sparkling flakes all along the bank, under a huge boulder.
I told Gary about it, because to me, that sure looks like sparkling flakes of “gold.” After all, wasn’t it around here they first discovered gold, about a hundred years ago? Gary laughed it off and showed me a couple of pretty rainbow trout he had caught already. “Man” he said, “Forget that, we are up here to catch some fish”. I couldn’t forget about it, all of those sparkling flakes in one fistful of mud. Even though I did catch a couple nice trout, I was still thinking about that gold, as I jumped from boulder to boulder.
Wading in the clear, cold waters was exhilarating, what a challenge. I slipped back to where I had put the beer in the water and took a hand full of black sand, glistening with shiny minerals and filled that bottle up, and stuck it in my “creel”. That’s a reed basket made to hang from your shoulder to carry your fish in.

Just as soon as I crawled back on top of the boulder where Gary was making cast after cast, he hung onto a nice one. It looked like a fisherman’s dream, that bamboo rod was bent double. I don’t know why it didn’t break. Gary climbed from boulder to boulder, finally he jumped into the water screaming, “Get the net, get the net.” I caught up with him as he struggled downstream. We netted what I thought was the biggest rainbow trout I ever saw, it was the biggest fish that I’d seen in a while, 8 pounds. Gary was so excited he couldn’t talk, finally he said “Mike, that’s the biggest small mouth bass I’ve ever seen. I guess tributaries feed into a lake somewhere around here, because you don’t hardly see no small mouth’s in a stream.” We put the bass on a stringer, to keep it fresh and hid it next to the boulder by the beer.
Gary was excited, he wanted to go back and enter the tournament, then, show up later and act like we had just caught the fish. Before we left, I took some spray paint and painted my initials and a Happy Face on a large boulder, to mark the spot. Yep, just like I had been doing most of the day. Then we went back to the supply store, Gary anted up and entered the tournament, paid his twenty-five dollar entry fee.
I asked the guy behind the counter about the sand in my Michelob bottle, Gary started laughing and told the man “Mister, tell my brother that stuff ain’t real, he ain’t never seen Fool’s Gold before”. The guy’s eyes lit up and brought out a magnet and held over the pile of flakes, nothing happened. Fool’s gold is “iron pyrite” with magnetic properties. He declared that this stuff looked real.
We were both excited to get back to our spot. After 30 minutes of driving we started looking for my “Happy Face”. Then we passed about five Happy Faces painted on rocks. I had forgotten that everywhere we had stopped earlier in the day that I painted my initials and a happy face on several boulders so that I could attract the attention of my relatives. I don’t know why I did that, but we looked and looked, until dark. We climbed down to the river and jumped from boulder to boulder, looking for a familiar ground, never found it or the fish. For years afterwards, our relatives would tell us how they would see my initials painted on boulders every time they went camping.
No, we never did find the spot where I hid the beer or the fish or found the gold. Brothers will be brothers and don’t really need much of an excuse to “fistfight.” Every time we tried to retell this story, it ended up in a fistfight. Being big brother, I should know better, but when you see a punch coming, you’d better duck.

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