The tail of a pool is often overlooked in favour of the seemingly more promising water of the body and head. But trout will drop back to the tail in search of food. Depending on the river’s size (narrow or wide; deep or shallow) and type (upland or lowland; rainfed or chalkstream), the topography of a tail can vary greatly, which means that planning your approach is very important: clever casting and good positioning can be critical to your success.
Fishing upstream or fishing downstream?
Though trout have almost all-round vision, they predominantly face upstream, so you would think that approaching them from below is your best chance of remaining undetected. Fine in theory, but because the water at the lip of a tail gathers pace, this conventional approach may not be the best one. The difference between this faster water and the slower, flat surface where you would like to land your fly can be so great that your fly is whisked away the moment that it alights, dragging the leader behind it. These line-grabbing currents have to be overcome by putting slack line into your cast or by mending the line to keep the flies on track.
If these differing currents are severe it may be better to fish downstream where current will have less effect and there will be less chance of drag. Even dry-flies can be presented downstream, courtesy of a wiggle or slack-line cast.
When fishing downstream you have to be more mindful of spooking fish and so longer casts may be necessary.
As a guide, I would recommend that in low, clear water or under bright skies, you should approach the pool tail from below. In higher or coloured water, or if a breeze distorts the surface, or under cloudy skies, fish downstream.
A 9 ft rod is most anglers’ first choice for river trouting but, as ever, there is a balance to be struck. A short rod, 7 ft or 8 ft, on a vast pool or in a riot of currents makes line control arduous, yet the same rod will excel beneath a jungle of trees or on a narrow, intimate beck. A longer rod, meanwhile, will meet the demands of line-mending, helping your presentation of flies, and feel at home on big pools. There is a definite trend towards the use of longer rods.
Trout often widen their feeding lane at the tail of a pool by traversing the current. It pays to wait and watch their movements. Having moved into position, prepare for your cast by peeling sufficient line from the reel. Study the river, establishing at which point the fish comes closest to you. Don’t try a longer cast, it may “line” the fish.
A waiting game
In shallow tails a hooked or spooked fish may upset other fish feeding nearby – usually revealed by the bow waves made as they scurry up the pool in search of safety. During a sustained hatch or fall of terrestrials, these disturbed fish will be keen to return to their feeding station. If you sit quietly, or perhaps step away to patrol the banks elsewhere, the spooked fish will drift back to their lies and resume feeding. This may take three minutes or it may take ten. You must be patient.
Lengthen your leader
“Skinny” featureless water is the realm of nervous fish and so longerthan- normal casts may be required. You may want to lengthen your leader so that your flies are further from any commotion made when the fly-line lands on the water. If you are nymphing, be sure to select a lightweight pattern – not only to prevent it from sinking too quickly but because the “plop” of a heavy fly can alarm nearby fish.
Try an F-fly
The F-fly doesn’t exactly imitate any insect, but this delicate CdC dressing can land like thistledown on the smooth surface of a pool tail.
In the absence of rising fish, blind fishing can be effective. Systematically fish downstream working a team of Spiders or wet-flies, or a brace of nymphs through the tail. Pay special attention around boulders, deeper channels or clumps of weeds, if there are any. Cover all the water, making your way down the stream and fishing with a slightly tensioned line.
Creep and kneel
Being positioned directly opposite rising fish has its advantages. Casts can be placed just upstream of your target and, if there’s no take, peeled from the water a little below,making for precise, economical fishing.
However, unless you are fishing the broad reaches of a river, most pool tails won’t afford you sufficient room for such a cast. Here a stealthy approach is needed. Creeping and kneeling may be necessary and will get you surprisingly close to feeding fish, even in broad daylight. The key is to move slowly and monitor the rise pattern on your approach. If fish begin rising less frequently, call off the stalk until they resume. The poor light of dusk or dark clouds will help.
Stalking by sight
The smooth surface of a pool’s tail can allow you to visually locate fish when they are not rising. Polaroid sunglasses make it possible to peer beneath the surface glare if conditions are favourable; some sunlight and reasonably clear water is best.
The most telling sign of a fish is a flash, usually seen when a fish moves to the side to take a nymph. However, some fish will appear motionless and you would think that there is nothing there until you enter the water and they bolt upstream. When the river appears barren, you need to study the rocks and stones on the river bed, looking for elongated shapes or something that looks out of the ordinary.
Concentrate on anything that looks like a tail or pectoral fin; study these for a period of time as they may move! Sometimes fish may look paler or darker than the river bed, depending on the depth at which they are sitting. Spotting these fish is not easy but be patient and study the riverbed carefully, staring at small sections at a time. You will soon become accustomed to identifying fish – given good eyesight in the first place!
Calming the fish
If you are fishing downstream and a fish takes, the hook-hold is more likely to be precarious because the fish often feels the resistance/pull of the fly-line. This can be partially negated by keeping the rod high and introducing a little slack fly-line. When you hook a fish and it runs downstream, a more vertical rod will also exert less pressure and this can have a surprisingly calming effect on a fish. You now have two options: to walk the fish upstream; or keep low and sneak downstream before playing it out.
To go to the second part of this mini-series, click here.