Trout fishing the middle of a pool, part I

Compared to the drama of rushing water at the tail or head, the deep middle (belly or body) of a pool can look barren and uninviting, but it is a sanctuary for fish. Often big fish. The middle’s calm surface can be intimidating – a clumsy wader can send ripples far and wide, while the depth of the water can be uncertain – but this depth and stillness hides riches, if you have the patience to observe its character. Take the time to understand the currents, the effect of features such as boulders, overhanging trees and changes in depth, and then carefully consider your tactics and approach. Observation is the key: the more time you can devote to scrutiny, the greater will be your reward…

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Resting lies and feeding lies

Trout are seldom faithful to one lie. There are occasions when a prime lie is found, providing enough food and shelter for a fish to take up residence, but it’s rare. More often, a fish has several lies, each serving a purpose. For example, on hot summer days a trout will hold in the deep, shady water, but at twilight it may move to the shallows to feed. Sometimes fish will move to a feeding lie and stay there for the duration of  a hatch, before ghosting back to the comfort of a resting lie.

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Back eddies

The most difficult places hold the best fish and none is more testing than a back eddy, where the current swings around and heads back upstream into slack water. Foam swirling in an elongated circle is a telltale sign. Take the time to study these areas to determine the speed and direction of the flow.

Sometimes you may have to face directly downstream and cast into a back eddy that is moving towards you. Because the flow is moving towards you (in an upstream direction) the flies will fish back to you in a natural manner.

Difficult wading or access may mean that you have to fish opposite your intended target, ie across the flow. It also depends on the nature of the back eddy. Here, a slack-line cast (see Fishing Downstream, below) will buy your flies a little more time before they drag.

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Fishing downstream

A downstream cast may not be a dry-fly enthusiast’s first choice but faced with difficult access and meandering flows, it’s a useful tactic. You can get a longer drag-free drift by adapting your forward cast: rather than follow through by gently lowering the tip, maintain an elevated rod; the slack line created can be fed out by flicking the rod-tip downwards while simultaneously releasing line; this will create loose coils, which will lead to longer drifts and ensure that the first thing a fish sees is your fly.

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Be prepared

When trout are on patrol, the best ploy is to “watch and wait”. You could rest on the bank or, perhaps, try wading into position and waiting for the fish to settle and regain confidence. Be prepared by having enough fly-line stripped from the reel and outside the rod-tip while holding the leader or fly in your non-casting hand.

Be patient

While the bulk of visible activity may be in the middle of a pool, it doesn’t mean you should race there for your first cast. Whether you intend to cast upstream, or downstream, always fish your way to your intended target. For example, if rises are seen in the pool’s middle and you’re aiming to target them with a dry-fly upstream, quietly enter the water below them (even at the tail of the pool tail) before extending a short length of fly-line. Casts should be aimed where you plan to wade – as if clearing the way. It is imperative to approach calmly, to avoid creating a bow-wave.

If possible, avoid entering the water via steep banks, particularly if wearing felt soles. Although they provide superior grip on the riverbed, on mud or wet grass they can act like skis and could send you hurtling into the water.

Which leader?

I use copolymer leader and tippet because it is extremely supple and has significant stretch. Suppleness allows the flies a freedom of movement while riding the currents and stretch helps to protect against breakages or violent takes when fishing at close range. Forget about refractive index: the important thing about leader/tippet selection is matching it to fly size and circumstances. The finer the tippet’s diameter, the more natural it will behave on surface currents. Obviously, small flies benefit from finer tippets, but casting a dry Mayfly pattern into a niggling breeze on the same delicate leader may result in tangles, in which case think about beefing up the leader.

Longer leaders

Increasing your leader length to 14-16 ft will vastly improve your chance of success with dry-flies. A long leader means less fly-line rests on the water and its thin diameter is less affected by the current and so a more natural presentation can be achieved  over a greater distance.

Tapered leaders

Manufactured or home-built tapered leaders are infinitely better than a level section of monofilament in helping to transfer the energy of the cast to a weightless dry-fly. The knots in a tapered leader actually provide a little more impetus, which improves turnover during gusty conditions, or when using ultra-small flies. However, several knots along a leader can easily snag on surface debris, such as weed or leaves, spoiling the fly’s drift.

Nymphs are generally heavy enough to straighten a leader, in which case a slender, level length of mono’ can be used. It will have less surface area than a tapered leader, which has bulkier butt sections, and so will sink more readily and keep you in closer contact with your flies.

To grease or not to grease?

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In the turmoil of a pool neck it can be worth greasing the leader to prevent it being grabbed by currents and dragged under when presenting flies close to the surface. But on the smooth surface of a pool belly, a greased leader becomes conspicuous; it leaves an indentation. In which case I think the last 3 ft of leader or tippet is best de-greased so that it sits a fraction beneath the film and is less detectable.

Spiders and wet-flies

Wet-flies or Spiders are not only for fast runs – they are worth trying in slower sections, too. Fish them down-and-across where the water is too deep for wading.

Pitch the flies across the flow with the cast angled slightly downstream. Once executed put either a wet or aerial mend in the line.  Whichever you choose, the rod should remain angled upstream so that it can then be used to track the line’s progress downstream, allowing the flies to drift unfettered. Once the initial drift has reached its conclusion, either lift off and re-cast, or let the flies swing round. For longer drifts, pay out a little more line with a vertical rod sweep, which should generate enough slack for the flies to continue their drift. Throughout the process, an elevated rod and slightly tensioned line will help you to detect takes by watching the fly-line. 

Paul’s favourite team

While a team of three wet-flies/Spiders is normal, a small weighted nymph occupying the point will help with turn-over and depth. My standard set-up is a William’s Favourite (top dropper), Orange Partridge (middle dropper) and a small beadhead nymph (point fly). Although a little unorthodox this method has proved itself many times with fish hooked at incredible distances that would otherwise have gone unmolested.

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Stalking tactics

If the water’s surface is still and there is sufficient light (the sun behind you), fish can be located and stalked by sight. Trout naturally feel secure close to the bank and under trees, but armed with polaroids and a little stealth, it is possible to approach them on land before dropping a nymph or dry-fly in front of their noses. A little imagination may be needed when it comes to presenting a fly: you might try the catapult cast.

Big fish

Deep water is often favoured by larger fish which, though dormant for long periods, can be surprisingly active in short spells, even in the middle of the day, when they may be seen rising in quick succession to several insects before sinking to the depths. It may be 15 minutes or even an hour before they show again, but the wait is worthwhile.

Click here to go to the second part of trout fishing the middle of a pool

Trout fishing the middle of a pool, part II

If you haven't read the first part of this mini series, click here.

Roll casts and side casts

Protruding branches can restrict conventional back casts, so try a roll cast, which requires little room to execute. With practice, it is possible to haul and shoot line with a roll cast up to distances of 60 feet.

Surface insects

Fallen terrestrials can carpet the slower reaches and become easy pickings for hungry fish. Where branches extend into the water, flies (black gnat, hawthorn and beetle) become trapped against surface foliage and rarely go unnoticed by trout. Spent upwinged flies often litter the surface, too. The sport can be electrifying.

Sight indicators

Normal nymphing techniques can seem useless in slow flows: heavy nymphs sink to the bottom too quickly, while too much slack line is created to detect takes. Sometimes there is barely enough “push” in the current to swing the flies. The answer can be to trundle a team of nymphs down the pool beneath an indicator. It’s not everyone’s favourite method but it is an effective way of reaching deep-lying fish in awkward places.

Twilight feeding

Dusk is a prime time to fish, especially during the summer ,  when both fish and fly prefer the cool evening air. Having rested for the best part of the day, trout usually make a beeline for the streamy neck water to feed. Curiously, however, some fish may opt for the slower body of the pool. Here, they harvest all manner of emergers, stillborns and egg-laying insects, especially sedges and olives. This area is often the realm of larger trout which, under the cover of darkness, can be bewilderingly tolerant of an angler’s presence.   

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Lose fewer flies

Dry-flies with full shoulder hackles and stiff tails (such as the Royal Wulff and Hackle Adams) can shield the hook point from becoming tangled in foliage. It means that you can fish flies tight to the bank with more confidence. If the fly does find a leafy branch, rather than snatch the rod back, try a gentle pull or shake of the rod tip. Often the fly will unravel itself and fall to the water. On more than one occasion I’ve seen a trout emerge from the shadows and engulf the fly when I’ve done this.

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Casting to distant fish

Gaining access to the body of a pool is not a problem on an upland stream or small beck, but on a big river deep margins and encroaching trees can frustrate the fisher, especially when feeding fish are visible but unreachable. Where deep water rules out wading, longer casts may be needed, but this will expose more line to the current and so drag becomes an issue. You may, therefore, have to be very accurate with your cast to drop a fly as close to the fish as possible before drag sets in. With so much distance between the rod-tip and the fly, mending the line will be tricky and in some cases impossible. You will have to cast as close to the rise as you dare!

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Streamers and lures

Streamers worked through the dark shadows of a deep pool can be lethal. Although floating lines dominate river-fishing, the use of a sinking line or, at the least, a sink-tip or fast-sinking polyleader will help to keep a streamer swimming deeply. Another tactic is mending, which will stall the line’s progress and allow the weighted fly to plunge deeper before you begin a seductive retrieve. Even when nothing is stirring, a baitfish imitation or the movement of a nondescript lure, such as a longshank Woolly Bugger, can be irresistible to trout.

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Wade quietly

Sending ripples across the smooth surface of a peaceful pool can alert potential quarry. And studded soles, whether felt or Aquastealth, shouldn’t be worn because they will clatter on rocks and warn fish. Of course, this is less true in the rough-and-tumble at the

head of a pool.

Understanding rise forms

The slower pace of life in a pool’s middle allows us to study rise forms more easily. To save energy, trout usually position themselves just beneath the surface, so that they need only tilt upwards to snaffle an insect trapped in the film. Viewed from a low angle, the noses and even shoulders of these fish may be visible. Fish that break the surface like this are usually feeding on adult naturals. Bulging rise forms, when fish fail to break through the surface, suggest that emerging nymphs are the likely prey. However, check to see what naturals are present because the trout could just as easily be feasting on drowned terrestrials or female spinners.

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Playing fish

Playing fish in slow flows can cause disturbance  –  especially if the trout is acrobatic. Unless fish make a dash for cover, try easing off on the pressure. This is counter-intuitive, but the reduced strain may calm the fish. Clearly, some tension is needed to maintain contact.

Netting fish

When a fish is ready for the net and tethered on a short line, one violent head-shake could free the hook, so avoid spooking the fish by making yourself as invisible as possible. If you are waist-deep in the water, your height is instantly halved, which is a big help. But if you are standing bolt upright in the margins, you will spook the fish. Aim to crouch or kneel.

Skating flies

Flies that repeatedly drag can make trout wary to the point where they cease rising. If your fly skates across the water’s surface in front of a fish, rather than cast again, let the fish feed on naturals for a while.

Resting the water (or individual fish) should become second nature. Try to get into this good habit by limiting your casts and consequent drifts to, say, a dozen, followed by a couple of minutes’ rest.

Trout fishing the head of a pool, part II

Here's the second part of our mini river fly fishing series Trout Fishing The Head Of A Pool. It will provide you with all the information and tips you will need to ensure you are successful the next time you tackle a trout river.

If you haven't read part one of this mini series, click HERE.

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Polaroids

Polariods are often marketed for their exceptional fish-spotting capabilities as well as protection against wayward casts. Polariods reduce glare, allowing us a more privileged view beneath the surface to identify potential underwater lies, like boulders and perhaps darker areas that indicate deeper areas or channels that may house several fish. They are especially useful in the rough water at the head of the pool, which would normally be inpenetrable.

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As it widens

As the river widens and the current becomes more even, Spiders and wet-flies presented either upstream or across-and-down (depending on prevailing conditions) become a more viable option.

Fish on!

When you have a fish on what should you do to avoid spooking others? To some degree, it all depends on individual fish. Sometimes other trout (including large ones) will continue feeding despite one of their kind crashing about the pool, but I’ve also witnessed others stop feeding for a while and, in extreme cases, altogether. Generally, though, hooked fish should be quickly steered away from your intended fishing area. Try angling the rod sideways to coax them in a given direction. It can be worth retreating to net the fish, before resting the area for a while.

Targeting fish

Just because you can’t see fish, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. In all but the most perfect conditions of illuminating sunlight and clear water, fish may be difficult to spot. Even in perfect light they can be masters of camouflage. Add broken surface water and suddenly the ideal of locating fish by sight becomes a non-starter. For this reason you should fish “blind”. Divide the run into bite-sized sections and cover them effectively. In essence, we are using search tactics here, while scrutinising the surface for a rise or for any place a fish may choose to lie.

New Zealand style

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Elk Hair Caddis and Pheasant Tail nymph. The generous wing of the Caddis makes it float well and hence support the nymph in this dry-fly/nymph New Zealand-style combination, which is ideal for searching rapids.

The best way to tackle these channels is with two small nymphs or perhaps the popular New Zealand (duo) style (where a small nymph is suspended on a short length of mono tied to the hook bend of a dry-fly). Obvious fly combinations to try include an Elk Hair Caddis/beaded Pheasant Tail nymph or a Klinkhamer/Biot nymph. Whatever method you choose, casting upstream is usually most successful because the channels are often too narrow to consider across-and-down tactics. Besides, there’s a risk that the trout may notice you wading down to them.

Changing leader

As the water flattens out and widens you must making vital changes to your leader. Here, the pace of the river is slower and the fish will have more time to see your fly, making presentation more critical. In this area a leader of 12-14 ft might sound long but it is necessary to eliminate drag on the fly.

What if there is more than one fish?

Whether it is two, or ten in a shoal, fish feeding close together always present a dilemma of which one to target first. If you’re working upstream, it’s best to concentrate on the rear markers with a view to guiding them away once hooked. Casting over fish to reach a larger specimen often means your fly-line spooks potential takers. Alarmed, these fish usually bolt, which in turn warns others that danger is pending. Obviously, if you are fishing downstream the upstream fish should be cast to first.

Short-line nymphing

Short-line nymphing (Czech style) can be employed with confidence in areas of greater depth. Although it’s a method that has been “done to death”, it has merit in adverse conditions of cold or flood. And there are days when trout and grayling remain hard on the riverbed and to catch them it’s necessary to drift a bug past their noses. As with Spider fishing, an upstream approach is best tried in clear or low water to avoid spooking fish. In this case two flies is far less alarming to fish than the normal “mandatory” team of three. Where flows quicken, or a spate is in progress, fall back to three flies. Nymphs I might use include a Caseless Caddis and the beadhead Czech Nymph – whether gaudy or drab, nymphs for fast water should be heavily weighted and compact.

Watch and wait

Although tempting, it’s wise to ease off the peddle a little when you arrive at the water’s edge. Time spent watching is time rarely wasted. Staying well back, position yourself so that you have a commanding view of the pool head, keeping one eye on the water as you tackle up. When it comes to making your move, having slipped down the bank, assess the water one more time. It’s curious how a pool betrays more seams, currents and feeding lanes from a different angle.

Felt soles or studded?

Afraid of alerting fish, I’m a stickler for not using studs in wading boots. And while felt soles do offer superior grip, some may feel more confident with additional studs. In this case, select soles with studs in the heels only. Faced with strong currents, you can then dig in with the heels. As for sneaking up on fish in skinny water, tip-toeing should prevent you sounding like a drill sergeant on a route march.

Approach in deeper water

In deeper, flat water where there is less surface cover for the fish, more careful wading and nimble footwork is required to get you within range of your target without spooking it.

Get line on the reel

Fish hooked in strong currents often use the flow to their advantage by bolting downstream. Rather than “hand-lining” (playing the fish by pulling line through your fingers), it’s as well to get line back on to the reel. Otherwise, any retrieved slack unravels downstream of you to create a hazard in which your prize can tangle, creating all kinds of problems.

Wading stick

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Offering stability, wading sticks are needed for many situations, not least crossing rivers, or testing the depth. However, steer clear of those with metal tips. Clattering about on the riverbed they serve only as an alarm bell to nearby fish. Instead, select one with a rubber button to cushion sound. Collapsible types can be stored in a holster/sheath when not in use, eliminating noise completely.

Click here to go back to the first part of Trout Fishing the Head of a Pool.

Trout fishing the head of a pool, part I

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.

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Insect life

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.

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Boulders

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.

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Mending line

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.

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Foam lines

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.

Prospecting

As rising trout are often difficult to spot in turbulent water “prospecting” for them will be your best approach.

Leaders

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.

Pocket water

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!

Prime times

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.

Dry-fly

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.

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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.

Presentation

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.

Spiders

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.

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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.

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How to fish a trout pool

The ability to read a river is an ever-developing skill. You learn more with each outing and hence hone your watercraft. However, as individuals, it is tempting to say that we all view a pool differently. Ask a group of fly-fishers to fish any given pool and it is likely that they’ll approach it in their own manner. Of course, water conditions, personal preferences and styles of fishing will have a bearing. But each will believe that they are tackling the run correctly. Which is arguably how it should be: the result of an individual’s skill and how each fisher wishes to outwit his quarry.

First, with regard to a spate river, what is a pool? Fellow AAPGA Iinstructor Glyn Freeman sums it up nicely: a pool is a step in the river’s course that can be likened to the rung on a ladder. Generally, the headwaters of many rivers have the steepest gradients, with each pool quite short and often punctuated by mini waterfalls or lively rapids, whereas lowland-river stretches are much flatter and pools may extend several hundred yards, subtly merging into one another. All pools have the same distinct features, consisting of an entry point, main body and exit point. But they come in all shapes and sizes with characteristics such as pocket water, boulders and back eddies.

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Salmon fishing for beginners

How to you fish a typical salmon pool? How do you tackle the head, the middle and the tail end of a salmon pool for the very first time?

Here we give you a fascinating and instructional insight into how you can confidently face these challenging parts of a salmon beat, and hopefully catch your very first fish for the table...

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