The Proper Way to Fish a Pool

Pools on a trout stream are a lot like whitetail bucks--they vary some in size, conformation, and peculiarities, but all share the same basic anatomy. Understanding that structure is the key to finding and taking fish. Consider a pool as the "tenderloin" of a trout stream: Charging in without a plan is the surest way to butcher it badly. Instead, carve the water into separate, fishable portions.

Fishing Strategy: To cover as much likely water with as little disturbance as possible, work systematically from the tail to the head and from near water to far. When no fish are rising, here's your plan.

  1. Keep low and stay above the fast water that can snatch your line and drag the fly. Use a dry-and-dropper combination to work the tailout fish. Begin at the near bank and fan casts across to the far side.

  2. Stay just behind the lower lip. Cast quartering upstream, gradually lengthening your casts, working across the lip. Pay special attention to the deadfall.

  3. Comb the band of current from the soft water in front of you to the inside edge of the seam. Don't cast into the current tongue from here; you'll get instant drag on the fly.

  4. Fish the flat all the way out to the seam. Then work to the upper lip, still keeping your fly on the inside edge of the seam. Finally, search each finger of current spilling through the riffle.

  5. Walk the bank to the tail, and wade quietly into position. Stay in the slower water, ideally about one rod's length away from the seam, which will help you minimize drag. Work across the gut from seam to seam.

  6. As you wade to this position, begin covering the far bank by quartering downstream and shaking slack into your cast. It's easier to control drag this way than by casting upstream from lower in the pool. Place your fly as close to the bank as possible.

  7. Continue wading toward the upper lip, working the tongue with quartering-upstream casts, and the far bank with quartering-downstream casts. Finish by searching the outside edge of the rock shoal, the lip, and across the tongue to the edge of the eddy.

Walk back to the tail. Replace the dry-and-dropper with a tandem-nymph rig. Fish positions 5 through 7 just as you did before.

  1. Cross the stream, staying well behind the eddy fish. Use a dry-and-dropper again, concentrating on the bank side of the eddy.


1 TAIL: The most commonly overlooked and undervalued section. It holds nice, but spooky, trout when light is low--in the early morning, in the evening, and on overcast days, primarily late spring through fall.

2 LOWER LIP: The downstream edge of the deep part of the pool. The bottom rises abruptly at this lip, and trout lie just ahead of it.

3 BANK WATER: From the outside seam to the water's edge. Good from late spring through fall, this strip along the bank hits its peak from midsummer on, when overhanging vegetation offers shade and an abundance of terrestrial insects.

4 SEAMS: Where the tongue current meets slower water on either side. Often marked by a foam or bubble line, it's a prime feeding area all day long. Large trout do hang in the seams, but look here mostly to rack up numbers.

5 GUT: The sweet spot. Trout stack up in this deepest part of the pool from late fall to spring, making it the top choice for winter fishing. During summer, you'll find fewer trout here but generally the largest.

6 TONGUE: The main flow of current through the pool. It creates the seams and transports food.

7 EDDY: Formed where current breaks around a point of land. Bigger is better, but even an eddy the size of a turkey platter can hold fish. These are most reliable after early summer.

8 THROAT: The narrow section of water that runs into the pool. Unless there's visible cover on the bottom--boulders or shelves--don't waste time here. Swift current over a smooth streambed won't hold fish.

9 RIFFLE: Produced by a shoal at the inside of the throat. Any current here more than a foot deep can hold big surprises. Broken, well-oxygenated water draws fish in hot weather. The riffle and flats below are a good high-water bet.

10 UPPER LIP: The upstream edge of the deep part of the pool. The current tongue slows as it drops over the upper lip into deep water; trout tuck up behind this shelf to feed.