If you haven't read the first part of this mini-series, click here.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
Salmon-fishing can be a complex sport. Much debate and theory lies behind the capture of these magnificent fish. For those who have significant numbers of salmon to their name these theories are based on considerable experience, observation and knowledge gathered over many years. But for those yet to catch their first salmon these sometimes conflicting and often personal views can be puzzling. In my early years I was put off and fearful of this expectation of knowledge.
The illusion that salmon-fishing is elitist and for those with considerable wealth still prevails. Yes, there are beats and rivers that demand high prices, but a significant majority are well within the reach of those with shallower pockets. Salmon-fishing can cost little more than a day’s trout fishing. Be on the river in the right place and at the right time, follow a little basic advice and your chances of catching a salmon are as good as the next man’s – or woman’s. First, I would strongly recommend any beginner to seek casting tuition and tackle advice from a qualified game-fishing instructor before even thinking about spending hard-earned cash on a day’s salmon-fishing.
At £150 a day it will save you significantly more in the long term. Once you’ve had a lesson, you will have the ability to cast a fly over any salmon pool. Only then
will you realise the attraction of fishing for these magnificent creatures. Here is a pace-by-pace guide to fishing a salmon pool – enough to get you started in the world of salmon-fishing.
Before you start fishing...
If you have a gillie, heed his advice. He should (if he is a good gillie), point out any potential taking spots in the prevailing height of water. He will also recommend the most suitable line, fly size and colour.
Line and fly choice
As a general rule, fish a big fly (from size 4 up to a 21⁄2-inch tube-fly) on some form of sinking line in cold water (say 45 deg F and below) in the spring and late autumn; and smaller flies (size 8-14) on a sink-tip or floating line and polyleader in the warmer months. In this case, summer low-water conditions have dictated the use of the floater. You can vary the depth at which a fly fishes on a floating line by adding a shop-bought polyleader. (These come in various densities; floating through to extra fast-sinking). They will also improve fly presentation.
If a salmon comes and looks at your fly but doesn’t take it properly, you may feel a slight draw on the line or in some cases you may even see the fish. If this happens, try an identical cast as the fish may have accidentally missed your fly or may take it the second or third time.
If this doesn’t work there are a number of things to try. These include fishing your fly faster (this may be as simple as adding a retrieve), changing the size and/or pattern of your fly or altering the angle of your cast.
If and when a salmon takes your fly, don’t panic! In fact you should do nothing initially – don’t strike or lift your rod up immediately. When a fish takes the fly properly it will rise in the water, take the fly in its mouth and turn back down from whence it came, hooking itself in the process. Only when the salmon has taken a yard or so of line should you raise the rod to set the hook. There are two ways of allowing the fish to take line. You can fish with your line directly to the reel with no slack but with the drag set lightly, or you can fish with a loop of loose line between your upper hand and the reel, trapped between forefinger and rod butt.
Even when you’re not wading deeply a wading stick will help you negotiate rocky shallows. Make sure it has a rubber button on the end to avoid noise. In low water stealth is important. Falling over and clattering about will greatly reduce your chances of success.
Before you leave
Don’t forget to tip your gillie: £10-15/angler/day is about the normal. Please note that the photographs for this feature were based on a pool on the Lazonby Estates’ water of the River Eden in Cumbria. For the purposes of this feature we have reversed all the pictures so that the river runs from left to right. Our thanks to Lazonby Estates and gillie Edwin Tailford for their kind hospitality. For fishing contact Edwin on 01228 560 122.
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...
If you are a newcomer to river salmon fishing, you ought to know how to fish the tail end of a salmon pool - the section of a pool where the water begins to shallow up before it rides swiftly over a shallow often rock-strewn glide.
It is within this section of the river where you are very likely to encounter your first salmon as it takes a little refuge before continuing its journey.
Here is part three of our guide to tackling a typical salmon pool - how to fish the tail end of a pool. It will provide you with enough information to be able to fish these wonderful salmon-holding spots in confidence...
Fishing the slack water
The middle of large pools are often sluggish. Therefore it may be necessary to retrieve your fly. You can vary the retrieve from a figure-of-eight to long, slow draws, as pictured above. If a fish takes, you will feel it more than you would in the conventional way, but try not to strike or lift the rod. Let the fish take line as before.
If after going down the pool you have had no interest at all, try fishing a bigger fly such as a Collie Dog (below) stripped steadily through the pool. This method can at times provoke an instant reaction from salmon that have ignored conventionally fished flies.
The slower glides above or close to the tail of a pool are classic resting places for fish that are running the river. This is especially so in pools that have significant lengths of fast water below them through which the salmon have had to travel. They will have expended a lot of energy running through this fast water and will find “comfortable” water in the tail to take a rest before they continue their journey.
Speeding up again
As you near the tail of the pool the water gathers pace again. Try casting square across the pool and letting the fly swing in a big arc across the tail. A fly fished fast across the tail is often more successful. As in the head of the pool, a bigger or heavier fly and a sinking polyleader may be necessary to prevent the fly skating across
Tails of pools are the most likely places to see running fish. They are recognisable by the way they “porpoise” through the pool. Running fish are notoriousy difficult to catch, but they may take a brief rest near the head of the pool before negotiating the rough water above.This is when they are most likely to take your fly.
Go through the pool again?
Yes. If you had no interest on your first run through, don’t assume the same will happen again. Take a rest and start again. If fish are running they may be entering the pool frequently and may rest for only a few minutes before moving on again. Your first run down may not have coincided with a resting fish.
If you are a newcomer to river salmon fishing, you ought to know how to fish the middle of a salmon pool - the section of a river where the water steadies between rapids.
The pressure will be on for you to catch from these excellent salmon spots, so it pays to know exactly where you'll find the fish, where to cast and what to do so you get the most from them.
But here is part two of our guide to tackling a typical salmon pool - how to fish the middle of a pool. It will provide you with enough information to be able to fish these wonderful salmon-holding spots in confidence...
The taking spot
This was the taking spot at this height of water. The day we visited this pool we had a little overnight rain that by lunchtime had caused a slight rise. The water rose only an inch but more significantly added a tinge of colour. This instantly brought the fish “on the take”. Any such changes – however small – should be closely observed and reacted to. On this occasion a change to a brighter fly (the gillie’s size 12 Cascade) in view of the colour in the water proved successful.
Playing the fish
On this pool there are many obstacles – submerged boulders and shelves everywhere. Here it is best to play the fish out in open water until you feel it tiring. Only then should you try to bring it into the shallower, boulder-strewn margins, keeping the rod high to avoid the leader catching on rocks. Pools with a clean gravel bottom and gently shelving shingle margins are a salmon-fisher’s dream.
While the water is low, rocks and boulders in the slack water will serve no purpose other than to make wading difficult. However, in high water these features will become important lies for salmon.
Where to land your fish
This will vary, depending on the characteristics of the pool and whether you wish to use a net or beach the fish. If you have someone with you it is significantly easier but, assuming you haven’t, a predetermined plan will avoid unnecessary panic. Look for the bit of water with the clearest bed, preferably with gradually sloping shallows, and make sure you know precisely in which pocket your priest/pliers are. In this age of catch-and-release, fish are fought harder and landed more quickly to avoid unnecessary stress. If returning the fish is your intention, keep it in the water as far as possible, remove the hook with pliers and hold the fish with its head facing the current. Do not let go of it. Only when it is ready will it kick its tail and swim off. If you are to keep the fish, despatch it IMMEDIATELY with a priest – before you’ve taken the hook out.
In periods of low water salmon will settle in the deep, sluggish areas of a pool waiting for a change in the weather. In some cases they may stay in a given pool for weeks or even months. You will see them “show” here. Some will be coloured/stale fish that have been in the river for some time. These fish are difficult to tempt, but first or last light offers the best chance if water conditions remain the same.
If you are a newcomer to river salmon fishing, you ought to know how to fish the head of a salmon pool. By this we mean the shallow section of a river, where the water runs quite fast, leading into a deeper and steadier stretch of water.
It is quite a daunting place to fish as the water is quite swift to begin with, slowing down rapidly as the river opens out and deepens.
But here is part one of our guide to tackling a typical salmon pool - how to fish the head of a pool. It will provide you with enough information to be able to fish these wonderful salmon-holding spots in confidence...
A term used in river trout fishing but often ignored in salmon-fishing. Because the water is clear it is advisable to keep back from the main run of water, especially if the neck of the pool is narrow. This will avoid disturbing any fish that may be lying there – the first thing they should see is your fly. If possible, position yourself at or in the tail of the pool above.
All salmon rivers will have rules and regulations that should be followed, but a universal one is that you must keep on the move. If you are fishing down a pool with others you should take a pace or two downstream when each cast has been fished out. Everyone should work down the pool in rotation. Never, ever, enter the water in front of an angler: start behind him, at a respectable distance. If someone has a fish on, it is also polite to reel in and stand aside.
Fishing the fast water
Here, control of the fly will prove difficult due to the speed of the current – especially in this case as summer conditions will dictate the use of a floating line and small flies (size 8 down to 14).
If you fish in the normal manner (casting at 45 degrees, letting the fly swing round in the current) a small fly may skate on the surface as the current catches the line, swinging it round too quickly. To prevent this, starting at the head in the fast water, cast a short line across the river, keeping the rod high and positioned over the middle of the stream, holding as much line off the water as possible. You can then control the speed of the “swing” by tracking the rod as the fly swings round.
Always cast to the other side of the main current. Fish will often lie in the “crease” formed where the main flow meets the slack water. Here it is important that the fly fishes properly straight away. A good cast is when the fly-line tugs at the reel as it extends to its limit, delivering the fly in a straight line. If the leader lands in a heap the fly will not fish immediately. Many a salmon is caught in the crucial few seconds when the fly hits the water and starts to fish.
Look at the water’s surface to identify any subsurface features – these can be good lies for salmon. In the neck of the pool white water will be created by rocks and boulders. Smooth, “glassy” water will often indicate a smoother riverbed (gravel or bedrock) offering a less turbulent lie for fish to rest comfortably.
As the river widens and a longer line is employed you may (if the fly is travelling too quickly) need to add an upstream “mend” in the line (below) to slow down the rate at which the fly fishes. To do this, as soon as the cast is made lift the rod upstream to take some of the angle out of the cast – preferably without moving the fly.
You will hear of fish taken “on the dangle”. This is when your fly has swung round in the current and is directly below you on your side of the river. It may appear that the fly is not moving and has stopped fishing properly. Not so! If you were able to see the fly it would still be flickering tantalisingly in the slowest of water. This is the point at which many fish that have followed the fly into the slacker water will take. Always hold the fly there for a while and, if nothing takes, impart more movement by either raising the rod tip up and down, pulling the rod back and forth or retrieving line. This should be the procedure for every cast in all parts of the pool.
It may double your catches.