Escape the Crowds... Find More Fish
Pocket Water provides excellent fishing opportunities in many rivers; especially the crowded ones. Many anglers don't fish pocket water effectively or simply skip over it all together due to inexperience fishing it. While generally the wading may be more difficult than pools, the fishing is often easier once you have a grasp on the techniques.
What to Look For
To many anglers all pocket water looks similar from a distance, but there are a few things to look for. Depth is one of the main features to key in on. Look for deeper pocket that allow trout to feel safer. On top of depth look at the edges of the pockets. Ideally it will be comprised in a manner that the rocks provide the trout with extra cover. Outcroppings in boulders and small packets between larger rocks make excellent holding spots for trout. Turbulence on the surface is another great aspect to key in on. Small plunges at the head of a pocket create another layer of protection for the trout. Creating a barrier between not only the trout and predators, but also you as an angler. Vegetation that casts shadows works in a very similar manner. If you’re fishing an area with overgrown banks don't be afraid to put your flies underneath the bushes.
Exact fly patterns in pocket water do not always matter and are certainly less important than selections made in slower pools. Rather than matching exact hatches I choose flies based on what they do in the water.
Nymphing is often your best approach in turbulent pocket water. When choosing a nymph pattern you want to make sure it has a good sink rate. This not only means you should be looking at heavier patterns with tungsten beads but also slimmer patterns. The slimmer patterns have much less resistance in the water and cut down into the trouts feeding zone much faster. One of my favorites is a tungsten beaded Walt’s blowtorch. Don't be scared to size up your flies to the #12-#14 range either. These trout have less time to inspect food items and the larger patterns tend to be easier to fish in these situations.
Mid to late summer hopper patterns also hold their own in pocket water. Fishing larger foam hoppers in the #8-#10 size range often produces some fast strikes from hungry trout.
Most of your fishing efforts will be with nymphs and when fishing pocket water a tightline style of nymphing is often your best bet. This could be using a sighter and euro nymphing leader set up or a more standard nymphing leader and ditching the indicator. Either way when setting up your leader it is important to use smaller diameter material. Traditional tapered leaders have a thick but section to help turn flies over while casting. When you are nymphing pocket water, casting distance is very minimal. Ideally you would like to trade in the turn over properties of a leader for one that slices through the water. The easiest way to do this is my using a short section of heavier material paired down to a straight 4x or 5x tippet to your flies. Depending on the depths you will be fishing the tippet length will vary. Just make sure you have enough to keep the thicker leader material out of the water.
Techniques and Tips
Where you cast can also vary how fast your flies get down in the water column. When you look at the head of a pocket often there will be a little shoot of water pouring in. You're going to want to use this to your advantage. by casting your flies directly into this water you can use it to drag your flies down in the water column. Conversely if you fall just short of it your flies will land in the cushion. This will fight your flies from sinking and often will have you missing your target fishing zones.
The last tip I have is to cover water. Don't get bogged down fishing one small section and don't worry about subtle fly changes. Keep moving and as long as your flies are rigged properly and getting into the right zones keep fishing them with confidence.