Also known as the neck or throat, this is where water rushes in from the tail of the pool above. This can be one of the most exciting and productive places to fish, with fast well oxygenated water – forced over a shallow, rocky bottom – providing ideal cover and dislodged food for hungry trout. Spate rivers (those which react quickly to rainfall) are an ever-changing environment. Stones, pebbles, gravel and silt constantly shift and after flood conditions may move so profoundly that they alter the entire structure of a pool.
Usually, the spate water keeps the bulk of the riverbed polished and free from the build-up of silt, especially where healthy flows are experienced at the head of the pool.
If fishing upstream – having fished through the tail and the middle of the pool first – the head of the pool will be your last port of call. Here you must guard against being lazy by making vital changes to your leader.
The nooks and crannies also provide shelter for hordes of aquatic invertebrates. Insects such as baetis nymphs, cased caddis, caseless caddis larvae, stonefly nymphs and the many stone-clinging upwinged nymphs thrive in this turbulent, welloxygenated region. This doesn’t go unnoticed by trout or grayling, which are keen to exploit the rich pickings.
The areas immediately downstream of boulders (both exposed and submerged) are good lies for fish as the current can be almost stationary, offering respite from the fast current and making eddies in which food is trapped. Try creating a little slack in the fly-line/leader, so that your flies loiter here.
Fishing the dry-fly effectively will frequently require casts that ride across several conflicting flows, so the ability to mend line is important. Apart from holding fly-line clear of the water during a drift, a raised rod tip also facilitates line-mending. I like to control line with deft flicks of the rod tip – micro mends, if you like. This way there’s less chance of disturbing your drifting fly and pulling it away from its intended path. At close-tomedium range, over-zealous rod sweeps serve only to pull the whole cast back towards you.
Shallow water eventually gives way to deeper, taking the sting out of the river’s pace. As the current eases, distinct foam lines appear. Swirling this way and that, these lines hold food, and fish will be attracted to them like bees to honey. They’re one of the first places I focus on when assessing a pool, as both terrestrials and aquatic flies are filtered into them. You should explore each of these foam lines thoroughly. Any emerging flies that don’t get taken in the streamy water now sit perilously in the surface film, often encouraging fish to the surface.
Side chutes and channels
Sometimes, water entering a pool is so “skinny” that a gravel bar forces it into one or more channels, creating interesting braids or side chutes. In these narrow channels, which are easily overlooked by fishermen, appreciable depth can be found and it’s not unusual to find fish preferring these quieter areas to the main river – they can hold staggering numbers of fish.
As rising trout are often difficult to spot in turbulent water “prospecting” for them will be your best approach.
Short leaders (7-8 ft) for both nymph and dry-fly are easier to control in roughand- tumble water. You should aim to execute short-range casts of perhaps two rod-lengths, which will ensure that water is thoroughly, methodically and accurately explored.
Will fish spook easily?
No. With the current pushing through at a fair rate, fish feel more secure under a ceiling of broken water and this same turbulence helps mask the angler’s approach, so you can get surprisingly close to a fish.
In the uppermost part of the head there may be pocket water where braids of jostling water race around scattered boulders. The many conflicting currents appear complex at first, so try to break them down and treat each band of water between the boulders as a separate section. Approaching fish is rarely an issue in noisy, turbulent flows and it pays to deliver flies literally under the rod tip, to gain maximum control. A brace of heavy nymphs positioned just 12 inches apart will help attain depth – flies such as Cased Caddis or weighty Shrimps are popular. Large dry-flies will tempt fish, too, though be sure to keep as much fly-line and leader clear of the water to achieve true drifts. Think of it as almost presenting your dry-fly Czech-nymph style!
With powerful currents to contend with, fish rarely hold in the pool head for long periods. Periodically they will find rest in quieter areas. Prime times to target the head of a pool are when hatches are expected – mid morning until the afternoon and, later in the year, during the evening when either an emergence of sedge, blue-winged olives or spinner fall will tempt them into the lively pools.
Despite a lack of obvious surface activity, trout are willing to move to dry-flies in the shallows. Try a substantial fly like a Klinkhamer or a Wulff dressing. Be sure to grease the leader because turbulent surface currents will be less likely to drown it and affect its all-important drift. The large Tan Klinkhamer with its conspicuous post and large surface area is well suited to fast water.
The Klinkhamer: With their conspicuous posts and large surface area, large Klinkhamers are well suited to fast water. Click here to learn how to tie it.
Given the fish’s reduced visibility (a smaller window of vision) and the speed of the current, a fish has precious little time to decide whether or not to accept your fly. Therefore in fast water faults in fly presentation will be less critical.
In the presence of rising fish or low and clear water, upstream methods are a shrewd tactic. In turbid water or in the absence of rising fish, a blanket sweep of the area followed by acrossand- down tactics might prove more beneficial. Favourites Spiders include the Thorax Snipe and Purple, Waterhen Bloa and the Black Magic, which may be simple in dressing but rarely go unnoticed in tumbling currents.
Simple they may be, but Spider patterns like this Black Magic rarely go unnoticed in tumbling currents.
Nymphing the streamy water
If nymphing in shallow runs, lightweight dressings or a single fly will reduce the odds of snagging stones. Many fishers mistakenly rely on heavy flies, which instantly catch on the bottom. They then fear the same will happen again and again and tend to hurry the flies through a run and consequently, behave unnaturally. It is far better to fish a lighter single fly and leave it to ride the current as a natural insect would.
Nymph/ Spider take detection
Spiders and nymphs can be presented in much the same way as a dry-fly, but on a degreased leader. An elevated rod will hold the fly-line clear of the water and the sagging line can be used to detect takes. In this animated watery world, fish dart into swift currents to snatch flies and just as quickly return to their lies, resulting in takes unmistakably indicated by the fly-line tip scooting upstream.