Trout Pools: Tails, You Win

Everybody who knows anything about stream trout fishing also knows that the head of a pool is the place to start. But, the best part of a trout pool is often the most overlooked.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Everybody who knows anything about stream trout fishing also knows that the head of a pool is the place to start. That's been common advice for more than a century. Trouble is, sometimes such advice is wrong. In these days of high-traffic trout waters, the tops of pools can be reminiscent of Yogi Berra's famous malapropism: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." From California's Hat Creek to New York's Beaverkill, these traditionally choice bits of water often have anglers lined up 20 feet apart, fishing over the same few trout that a similar line of anglers fished over the day before. And so on, all season long. This kind of constant fishing pressure can produce highly educated -- and thus difficult -- trout. In some cases, the pressure can cause trout to move elsewhere in the stream. For example, on a couple of rivers near me where hatchery trout are regularly dumped in at bridges, the larger stocked fish gradually move away from the bridges (where everyone usually fishes) downstream to the tailouts of adjacent pools. Those same trout are then seldom bothered by anglers.

Wild trout -- especially brown trout -- often favor the tails of pools as well (for resting, feeding, and sometimes spawning). Adapting your flyfishing or spinning tactics to the special conditions of tailouts can sometimes provide you with more and larger trout. Here's how to go about it.

** Flyfishing**
The easiest approach is to fish down- and across stream, generally in the lower (downstream) third of a trout pool ranging from 50 to 200 or more feet wide. In smaller creeks, you'll have to fish straight downstream carefully to avoid spooking fish. If you can, avoid casting from a riffle upstream into the smooth tailout flow. That's because the faster riffle currents will create impossible drag problems. Most tailouts will have a deep side where much of the flow exits the pool, as well as an opposing shallow side that might be no more than ankle deep. Fish from the shallows, casting toward deeper water. Trout will be found along the bankside edge of the deep portion, holding feeding positions among larger rocks or along brushy margins.

Prime times will be during late-evening hatches of mayflies, caddisflies, or midges, as well as mayfly spinner falls. Depending on your personal geography, some of this activity may be available year-round. Big rainbows that spent the day in deeper, downstream riffles will move up into tailout slicks to feed at such times. Big browns, meanwhile, will drop downstream from the depths of large pools to feed in these shallow, smooth currents. It's a great time and place to score larger fish on dry flies. Just remember to wade slowly and carefully in this skinny water; make no ripples or waves that will scare the fish.

** Spinning**
Spinfishermen have it easier in working tailouts because their lures or baits are easier to cast and control with suitably light tackle. With spinning gear, for example, you can cast upstream into a tailout while standing in a downstream riffle. Holding your rod fairly high as you retrieve a minnow plug back down along the brushy edge will keep the riffle currents from affecting your retrieve.

In larger rivers with broader tailouts, it's probably easiest to fish lures or bait across stream, casting from shallow water into deep. Long, light rods (6 feet or more) will give the best control. Light lines (4- or 6-pound-test) will allow lures and baits to fish deeper and more naturally.

The object is to drift the bait as naturally as possible and with some finesse through likely water. This is definitely not the place for a gob of nightcrawlers anchored fast to the bottom with hunks of lead. Instead, use the least amount of added weight required to get a small worm to tick bottom occasionally as it drifts downstream.

In addition to tried-and-true minnow plugs, small, drab jigs -- meaning 1¿¿16 ounce or less -- can be especially effective in tailouts. Try fishing them with upstream casts retrieved back downstream near brushy banks. In larger, deeper tailouts, try fishing jigs by drifting them across and downstream. Don't crank in line after an across-stream cast, but let the jig swing slowly in the current on a tight line while gently pumping the rod tip to give added action to the lure. Adjust fishing depth in this case by adjusting your casting angle: The greater the upstream casting angle, the deeper the jig will fish as it swings back down.

The heads of pools are still good places to fish, of course, especially on unpressured trout rivers. But unpressured water is a rare thing these days, and the heads of most pools are pounded hard. You don't have to toss a coin to pick a different fishing spot, but if you did, one answer would keep repeating: It's tails, you win. in tailouts. Try fishing them with upstream casts retrieved back downstream near brushy banks. In larger, deeper tailouts, try fishing jigs by drifting them across and downstream. Don't crank in line after an across-stream cast, but let the jig swing slowly in the current on a tight line while gently pumping the rod tip to give added action to the lure. Adjust fishing depth in this case by adjusting your casting angle: The greater the upstream casting angle, the deeper the jig will fish as it swings back down.

The heads of pools are still good places to fish, of course, especially on unpressured trout rivers. But unpressured water is a rare thing these days, and the heads of most pools are pounded hard. You don't have to toss a coin to pick a different fishing spot, but if you did, one answer would keep repeating: It's tails, you win.