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A methodical approach
Blessed with a situation where several fish are on the go at once, try to be methodical, rather than scattergun, in your approach. Plan the order in which you aim to cast at individual fish or rise forms. Wading or stalking upstream will be the norm and selecting the fish rising closest to you is good practice. If you cast over closer fish you will warn nearby trout that all is not well – a fly-line landing on the heads of feeding fish can put them down for a considerable time.
Timing is everything
Unless there is much in-stream cover (rocks, ledges and vegetation), pool tails can look barren and uniform, especially the upper reaches of rainfed rivers. There will be the odd fish in residence, but it is likely that the bulk of fish will only favour the tails during heightened insect activity, when flies hatch or return to deposit their eggs. In spring, this will be during the afternoon and perhaps in the early evening. As we move towards summer, late in the evening and into dusk will be the prime times. In a heatwave, many insects may be more active in the cooler night air. With this in mind, on early summer mornings you may find fish still stationed in the tail following a midnight feast.
Fishing the “V”
At many pool tails, especially on larger rivers, the water forms a classic “V” shape where it is squeezed into a central flow by rocks and banks. Immediately above this funnel is a smooth, glassy surface that, to the untrained eye, appears benign. This surface calm belies fast and deceptively powerful currents. It’s not surprising, then, that fish prefer the margins and creases of the “V” and lies that are close to the banks. Concentrate your efforts in these places.
Playing a fish
Playing fish in the tail of a pool can be tricky. Trout will often hold on the tail’s lip or charge downstream into the fast flows of the next pool. If you think your target fish is big, try to position yourself below it and cast upstream. This way, when hooked, the fish may run upstream against the sensation of pressure and into the middle of the pool. If it slips back, getting directly downstream of it will be easier and you may be able to scoop it into a net as it passes – although this demands confidence and a swift, accurate hand.
Stewart-style flies and the critical inch
When fish are targeting food in the critical inch – just below the surface – it can be difficult to choose the right fly. A dry-fly may drift over their heads and all but the lightest wet-fly quickly falls through the water. My preferred option is a Stewart-style fly (below). As well as its usual Spider traits – slimness, translucency and an overall suggestive nature – it has a palmered hackle and this greater surface area helps it to linger in the critical inch.
Watch the fly-line
When fishing an evening spinner fall, instead of trying to locate a low-riding dry spinner pattern in the surface film, you could try a team of lightly greased Stewart-style flies pitched slightly up and across, and rather than trying to see your flies in the mirk, watch the fly-line at your rod tip (below) and wait for it to draw away when a fish takes.
The riverbeds of some tails are made of pea gravel, which creates a more uniform flow and currents that are easy to decipher. While fish like sitting on a uniform bed like this, these areas are often shallow and offer little in the way of protection for them. Exceptions may be when cloud cover or breezy conditions create sufficient surface disturbance for fish to feel secure beneath a ruffled curtain or when a pool is shrouded by trees that provide cover and falls of terrestrials.
Large fish, shallow water
Surprising numbers of specimen trout can be taken in the thinnest water of a pool tail. This goes against everything we know about the behaviour of big fish, yet when a surfeit of food occurs in nature, the urge to feed outweighs the need for safety. Usually, terrestrial flies are responsible, but dense spinner falls will attract large fish to water barely deep enough to cover their backs. With the fish focused on the food and having lost their timid streak, they can be caught off guard.
Wiggle and pile casts
The ability to make slack line is a cornerstone of a river angler’s armoury. A simple Wiggle or “S” cast forms the basis of throwing slack. As the line unrolls on the final forward cast, gently wiggle the rod from side to side to impart a series of “S” shapes into the line. If the cast is delivered with enough momentum, accuracy isn’t really a problem, even in a niggling breeze. To inject even more slack, the Pile cast takes some beating. It’s particularly good when fast water separates you from fish holding in slow water and for introducing extreme slack in the leader, close to the fly. Aim your forward cast higher than normal and as the loop unfolds, sweep the rod to the water, dropping the line near the rod tip. This loss of energy causes the unrolling loop to collapse and the line and leader piles on to the water with desirable slack. This cast lacks impetus and is not best suited to windy conditions but given a calm evening on the tail of a pool, it’s a winner. To fine-tune your technique, I would recommend you take a lesson from a qualified casting instructor. Visit www.aapgai.co.uk
A pool tail will often contain boulders around which fish take up residence and find food and shelter. Where powerful water pushes and feels its way around a cluster of these mossy obstacles, the fishing challenge can seem daunting. It’s best to approach the problem by separating the ribbons of water into manageable channels that can be addressed one at a time. It calls for a close, intimate approach, where nymphs and Spiders are the best options. Casting upstream will help you to guide the flies through the maze of boulders.