Reading The Water Series - Pocket Water
Feb 05, 2019
We've fished numerous locations across North America and where ever we go you can be sure that most sections of river composed of pocket water receive light fishing pressure. close to has been the case from swift headwaters of the Penobscot River in Maine, to the tumbling streams of North Carolina, to the canyon waters of Montana and Idaho. There are probably some good reasons why fly fishers avoid this rough and tumble water, but there are even more reasons why they should give it more attention.
This angler needs to get close enough to cast his fly in the pocket of calm water without allowing his line to lay upon the rapids. A careful approach will allow him to go unnoticed by fish thanks to the swift water providing cover for him.
Pocket water is the result of water moving downhill in a relatively steep fashion. A river will meander about in flat terrain but the steeper the local geography is, there will be white water, plunge pools, and rapids. Pocket water makes up the bulk of our home waters in the Smoky Mountains with an occasional long pool or set of riffles to break up steep segments. Out West a stream may meander through a meadow, then dive through a canyon before entering another meadow to meander in winding bends. In both situations, anglers are more attracted to the smooth water and are far less enamored of the pockets. Rough pocket water is far tougher to wade than flat water, and turbulent rapids make it difficult for your fly to get a good drift. Many anglers mistakenly believe this type of water is far too rough for fish to thrive. The pocket water isn't worth fishing, right? Wrong! It's often the most productive water in the river when it comes to numbers of fish.
The primary thing to understand about pocket water is that it is turbulent white water broken up by pockets of calm water. When it comes right down to it, this is the easiest type of water to read. An angler can immediately eliminate white water from a list of likely places to find a fish. Most areas that aren't white water are very likely to hold a fish and in many instances multiple fish.
The key to fishing pocket water is to make very short, accurate casts that allow for maximum control of your drift. Most fly fishers prefer to make casts that are much too far for drifts in pocket water situations. A short cast will allow the angler to keep line off of the swiftest water altogether and only keep the fly and some of the leader in the water where a fish should be. A long cast will place your leader and fly line across multiple currents with varying velocities and drag is inevitable. Mending line can undoubtedly help, but there is only so much mend can do, and it's impossible to mend your line effectively if it's across white water. The solution is to get close enough so you can physically keep line off swift water with the length of your rod.
The beauty of this is that it doesn't require any championship distance casting skills. You may rarely cast much further than two-rod lengths away, and it's so easy a child can do it.
This angler can easily make a short cast while remaining virtually invisible to trout thanks to his position behind a boulder and across a rapid from where he is casting.
While you'll need to be very close to the fish to accomplish this, you'll also need to do this in such a way that the fish doesn't know you're there. This is why anglers have a difficult time in pocket water; good drifts are difficult, you're required to get very close to the fish, yet remain hidden from the fish. This can be much easier than it sounds, though.
You never want a fish to be aware of your presence. Even though you need to be relatively close to trout in pocket water, there are ways to remain hidden even at close range. White water is just as effective as a boulder to hide your presence. While most anglers can easily envision hiding behind a boulder to hide from fish, they don't realize that keeping white water between you and pocket where the fish lie is also effective.
Charity fishes a slot on a stream in the Smoky Mountains. You can see this is an ideal place for trout to lie while all the surrounding water is far too swift.
The best part about fishing pocket water is that the fish are confined to relatively small areas. That means if you put your fly in a pocket or narrow slot it will be in close proximity to a trout. Putting your fly where a trout will see it is more than half of the battle and much more difficult in larger, flat areas of the river where fish can be much more spread out.
Next time you head to the river be sure to give any zones of pocket water your attention. You'll probably have more water to yourself and surprise yourself with how many fish you hook.