pocket water

Back to My Roots:

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My first real writing gig came while writing about something I truly love, fly fishing.  Here’s a piece I wrote a long time ago, back when I was in college.  Unless you are into the outdoors or fly fishing, this one may not suit you 🙂

Mastering Pocket Water:

Pocket water is medium to medium-fast water flowing through exposed large rocks and boulders.  As the water moves through, pockets of water form in varying sizes.   Normally these areas are located in canyons and sometimes require a bit of a hike.  Nevertheless, skipping the area is a mistake.  These pockets are full of trout.

Before getting started, gently roll rocks over in and around the boulders to see what kind of bugs scamper for shelter.  Caddis and Mayfly nymphs, usually brownish green, black, or grey, are the most abundant food source in most trout streams.  If you see twenty brown bugs and one grey bug, tie on a fly (Pheasant Tail nymph) the same size as the brown bugs under the rock.  If you see twenty brown bugs and twenty grey bugs, tie two nymphs on.  (Pheasant Tail Nymph and a Hare’s Ear Nymph.)  If you don’t see any bugs, continue to turn over rocks until you find some.  I learned a long time ago that most of the flies at the fly fishing shop were meant to catch fisherman, not fish.  If you find several different bugs, of various sizes and color, write down or commit to memory what you saw to use later if necessary.

Pheasant Tail                                                                     Hare’s Ear


Next read the water.  As the water flows to the left or right when it passes by a boulder, feeding lanes are created.  Take a few spent leaves, throw them in the water, and watch where they go naturally… this is where you want to present a fly.  Normally, bigger trout will be at or near the front of the boulders-giving them first dibs on the food coming through. Focus most of your attention where the fish live and eat as some of the water won’t hold many fish.


Begin at the head of the pocket water by presenting a fly on the side of the boulder closest to the shoreline you are standing on.  Aim the cast about two feet ahead of the lane you want to fish and immediately do a few stack mends to help get the flies down quick.  Vary the depth of the flies with split shot or weighted nymphs until you are sure the flies are working the entire water column.  Do four to five casts on each side of the boulder.  Work the “pocket water” after fishing the sides of the boulders.  Do about five presentations in this area as well.  It sounds tedious, but continue this process for every boulder.  After working the boulders closest to you, work the far bank and the slicks.  If you don’t hook up, go back to the beginning and change flies.  After you catch a fish, stick with the fly that worked until you stop catching fish.  The current will help your line downstream and move the fly for you; however, you may need to gently assist the fly as it travels through the pockets of water to make it appear more natural and to prevent snags-similar to the European nymphing technique.  The key is to watch your indicator and fly line closely- anything weird happens, set the hook.

Dry Fly:

A dry fly should be presented in a different manner than with a nymph.  In most rivers, early morning and late evening prompt most bug hatches to begin.  Start at the end of the pocket water section you are fishing and work upstream.  Concentrate on the water behind and in front of the boulders.  Work upstream because the fish are facing upstream and you will spook fewer of them approaching from behind them.  This is far more important for dry fly fishing than it is for nymph fishing.  When a fish rises to your fly and you happen to miss it, wait a few minutes before going right back after it.  If the fish felt any part of the hook on the previous rise, it might come up to look at the fly, but that’s it.  If you wait a little bit, it will usually take the fly cleanly.

Use highly visible patterns, such as Elk Hair Caddis, Humpy’s, or Stimulators, that ride high on the surface film and are easier to see in choppy white water.  If a lot of mayflies are dancing just above the water and I see fish flashing and darting beneath them, I shake out about three feet of fly line, lengthen my leader to about twelve feet, and “dance” my dry fly among the naturals.  I let my fly hit the surface of the water from time to time and the trout crush usually it.  Each and every rock should be worked over until your arm is sore or you run out of day light.

Caddis Fly                                                            Stimulator



I prefer a 9 ½ foot 5-weight rod, coupled with a disc drag reel.  I prefer a yarn indicator about the size of a nickel and a knot-less nine foot leader.  I tie on a fly, and to the bend of the hook in that fly, I tie another one on.  I use about eighteen inches of tippet for this.  About four to six inches above the first fly I add a split shot, usually “bb” size.  I’ll adjust the depth my flies travel by moving the indicator up or down or adding more weight- the goal is to ensure my flies get down quickly.  You can add weight alternatively by putting split shot below the last fly.  Tie an eighteen-inch section of tippet to the bend of the hook in the last fly.  Put a few knots on the end of the line and add the split shots just above these knots.  This way, if you feel the split shot hitting the bottom, you know your flies are pretty close to the right spot.  By doing this, you lose split-shot instead of the whole set up when you get snagged.  I use heavier tippet, say 5x or 6x, while fishing pocket water because the fish have less time to decide if the fly is real or not.  For dry flies, I like to use a nine foot leader and lots of floatant.  A high-riding fly will drift more naturally.


Prior to the spawn and just after the spawn, the majority of trout living in rivers with pocket water will congregate among the boulders and fast-moving water.  The area provides higher levels of oxygen, feeding lanes with ample food, and tremendous cover.  Mastering this water will significantly increase your ability to bring fish to the palm and is worth fishing on your way to the tail outs and riffles on your favorite river or stream.

Tight lines friends.

C.L. Swinney      🙂