How and Why to Fish for Headwater Trout in the Spring

One of trout fishing's Ironies is that just when the spring angling urge is hitting, your favorite rivers are high, muddy, and unfishable. Your options? You could wait for better days, but why not fish the headwaters and tributaries? The opportunities, you'll soon discover, abound.

1 POCKET WATER Stretches above or below a pool frequently hold trout because of the proximity of safer deep water. Concentrate on current tongues and slower water behind rocks. Work pocket water with short, controlled casts.

2 POOL This provides one of your best bets for finding bigger fish or a hatch. Keeping a low profile, approach the tail from downstream. If the water there is shallow or lacks bottom cover, skip it unless you see rising fish. Fish deep through the belly of the pool, concentrating on the slowest current. If shallow water spills into the pool head and drops off sharply, work the deep lip.

3 STAIRSTEPS Bedrock or stone shelves can create rocky steps, each backing up a pool a few feet to a few yards long. Fish anything that looks deep enough. Stairstep pools are usually small, and six or eight good casts will tell the tale.

4 CLIFF EDDIES When current angles into a cliff, it often produces eddies on the edges of the rock face. These can be difficult to fish, and they won't hold many trout--just good ones. Get as close as you can, and let your nymph or bait drift in the eddy.

5 PLUNGE POOL These pools are fed by cascades of water that may drop anywhere from 2 to 10 feet. Cast into the turbulence to get deep, but keep in mind that the trout will be holding in the slower flows on the edges or downstream. These can be highly productive if you can find a position to fish without drag.

6 SHALLOW RIFFLES AND POCKETS If these are shin-deep, then you're going to be getting small fish. As you move upstream, look for glassy slicks on the surface or patches of dark water that may indicate scoops or depressions in the bottom.

7 BEAVER DAM Approach from downstream, keeping a low silhouette, as the deepest and sometimes best water is directly above the dam. Scan for rises; midges may be hatching, and mayflies may be drifting down from above. The area above an older dam may be too shallow to fish, G but if there's any depth, fish it thoroughly.

8 BLOWDOWN Brush or timber in the water will eat your tackle, but it offers prime cover and usually holds bigger trout. Fish the sheltered water behind the blowdown and the edge of the current.

9 CUTBANKS This is similar to a deep-water bend, but the bank is slightly undercut. Trout hold tight to shore, especially in higher flows. This water fishes fairly easily with almost any technique.

10 BEND A classic feature of lower-gradient water, this is a top spot for larger trout. Fish it from below, first casting to the slower water on the inside of the bend, then working to the outside bank.