Even some of our best trout streams across America — those that are supposed to be a sure bet for catching trophy trout — aren't always able to live up to the expectations we place on them. This is especially true during the hot summer months when these rivers see hundreds — even thousands — of anglers who drift an endless amount of dries, nymphs and streamers in every possible color and pattern. The fish in these so-called hotspots become wise to anglers, and the chance of catching a trophy becomes slim due to the increased angler pressure. In these rivers, the answer to catching trophy trout is sometimes as easy as taking a hop, skip and a short climb.
Pocket water is characterized by having fast turbulent runs and riffles cutting between steep river banks.
Some of the best fishing opportunities in every river can be found in what is known as pocket water. Pocket water is easy to distinguish from other sections of the river because it has an almost whitewater rapids appearance.
Pocket water is characterized by having fast turbulent runs and riffles cutting between steep river banks, and the fish that hold in pocket water are usually some of the biggest found in the river. Their large size is usually coupled with a bad disposition for flies traveling through their pool.
One of the main reasons that pocket water is so productive is because of the extremely rough terrain anglers must cross to get to the fishable water. One of the key concepts to remember when you are going to fish pocket water is that the harder it is to get to a spot, the better the fishing will usually be when you get there.
Just a quick word of caution: Fishing pocket water is not for the faint of heart. Most of the best pocket-water pools in the river require long hikes through treacherous rocky stretches that can include massive boulders or algae covered wash rocks. Consider not wearing your waders when fishing this type of water. With the rough terrain, steep slopes and fast flowing water, a slip while wearing your waders could prove deadly.
When fishing fast water on small or moderate-sized rivers, a full floating line is all that is required. Floating lines are designed to present dries to fish. These lines can also be used to present weighted nymph patterns to fish holding on the edges of deeper pools. Pocket water trout will not be especially shy due to the environment in which they reside, so it's a good idea for anglers to use short, stout leaders.
Rod selection for pocket water fly fishing follows the same general rules as regular stream fly fishing. Longer fly rods (8-1/2 or 9 feet) are ideal for pocket water fishing, but if the banks on the river are overgrown with trees and brush, a shorter rod will make casting easier. Nine-foot, five-weight rods should adequately handle almost any pocket water situation you might run into, but if the body of water you plan to fish is rather large or is known to have few gusty breezes, sizing up a weight or two could be beneficial.
Reading the Water
Paying attention to the water is probably one of the most important points to consider when you begin learning how to fish pocket water. A few fish will be found in the whitewash of the rapids, hiding out behind current breaks. But the majority of fish will be found in the slack-water edges or in the breaks of fast pools.
Targeting these fish is rather easy; simply search out the points of breaks in the current and slow water, and you will find actively feeding fish. Current breaks in the river can come in many different forms. Down logs, large boulders or fast/slow transition zones are ideal for harboring large trout.
When fishing pocket water, start at the back of the run and work your way to the front. Target one current break at a time, such as a large rock, and fish it until you are satisfied that the fish are either all gone or will no longer bite, and then move on. Fishing a run in this manner — picking fish up selectively, rather than exposing your fly to all the fish at once — allows you to catch multiple fish from one run.
Keep an eye out for slack-water pockets forming on the edges of the river near large sunken structure. These slack-water spots can be especially good for holding large trout looking for a quick meal but not wanting to fight the fast current.
Presentation and Fly Selection
To be a successful pocket water fisherman, one must master a wide range of techniques to coax the fish to bite. First of all, learning a good roll cast will make your days on the water go much more smoothly. You will be spending most of your time down below steep banks or near thick brush, so there will not be room for long back-casts. Being able to present flies to targets repeatedly will increase your odds of catching that elusive lunker. A general up-and-across type of fly cast is used most for fishing pocket water. Casts of 15 to 20 feet are ideal for this type of fishing so that the angler is able to retain control over his slack line and be ready to strike fish on possible takes.
Due to the fast pace of the current in this type of water, having long stretches of line laid out on the water will work against you. After you have cast towards your target and the fly reaches the water's surface, line mends need to be made swiftly so that the fly will float along naturally with the current. This drag-free drift is a very necessary component to fishing pocket water as it allows the fly to sink to the desired level in the water column while being swept downstream helplessly. Trout will rise to this drifting fly, opportunistically feeding on whatever happens to float downstream.
Some of the best fishing opportunities in every river can be found in what is known as pocket water.
For your first pass by your target, let the fly drift dead downstream naturally. For the second pass, try stripping the fly a few inches at a time against the current. Try to keep the rod facing upstream so that the fly faces into the oncoming water as if it is fighting the current.
If the first few drifts go unnoticed, take one more cast across and upstream. This time let the fly sink and drift unaltered until it reaches the half-way point of the pocket. Once it hits this point, begin actively stripping the fly upstream back to you. This passive/active approach should entice all fish looking for a free meal. Once you've finished the two casts, take two to three steps and repeat this process at your next target. Use this cast/drift/step combination all the way upstream until you've covered all the water in the run.
As for fly selection, weighted streamers that contrast the water color seem to work best. If the river you're fishing is clear, then black or olive is a good color to start off with. If the river has a dark or stained tint to the water, then using a white or tan streamer should work well.
Wooly bugger and cone-head leech patterns are ideal for fast water, enticing fish with their undulating action while also providing a good sized target for fish to strike at. Other weighted streamer patterns that should work well are minnow patterns that incorporate marabou, flash or hackle-tip wings. Nymphs and wet fly patterns are another good choice, but make sure you're using flies in the larger sizes (hook sizes 8-10) and that you have a good indicator system.
Before going out to fish the pocket water of your favorite river, be sure to check your local stream's regulations. Some rivers do not allow certain types of weights to be used in flies, so you might have to look for a lead-free alternative.
Of all the different types of water available, pocket water is probably the least understood and under utilized. But this is often most productive water we anglers have a chance to fish. However, due to the fast current, abundance of snags and slippery footing, many fly anglers simple choose to avoid these sections of river. On your next trip, take a chance and use a few streamers when you come across a section of pocket water. When the conditions get tough or your favorite stretch gets a little too much angling pressure, it'll pay off.