The Pickpocket

Plucking trout from pocket water is a snap--once you master a pair of basic concepts.

Field & Stream Online Editors

I am a pickpocket. Not the sort that lifts wallets from coats and pants, but an angler who plucks trout out of pocket water. It's easy pickings, once you master two fundamental concepts.

Basic Needs
First, the fast, broken water so characteristic of pocket water usually makes sight-fishing impossible. Instead, you'll need to figure out where fish will hold. This is harder than it sounds-90 percent of pocket water is barren. Too fast for a fish's comfort. Too exposed to predators. Too empty of food.

I look for the pockets that meet the three basic needs of trout: Soft currents for comfort, cover for protection from enemies, and a food funnel.

Where to start? Take a look at that boulder. See how it breaks the current? Trout like to lie in the cushion behind such rocks. The prime spot is where the currents join again downstream of the boulder. There's also a little cushion in front of the rock.

See how the rocks funnel that riffle so it spills into a little waterfall? Under that shelf is a good spot. It's called a plunge pool.

Look for current seams, too, places where fast currents rub against slow currents. You can identify seams by lines of foam. Another thing to look for is a little "slick" patch (a small area of flat water) in the middle of a riffle. That flat spot is created by an underwater rock or bowl, and it's a prime spot for trout.

Drifting Along
Second, if your fly doesn't look and act like food, trout won't eat it. In other words, you must get a natural drift. (Real trout food doesn't scoot across the water. It drifts along with the current.)

Long casts are out; these fast, tricky currents will snatch the line and drag the fly. Instead, fish a short line, and keep most of it off the water. Don't worry about wading close to fish. The broken water makes it difficult for the trout to spot you.

Pattern is the least of your worries. Pocket-water trout are always on the lookout for something to eat. They'll usually take a dry fly even when there is no hatch. If you go with a dry fly, it should be big and bushy. You want something that floats high and is visible to you as well as to the fish. They don't have much time to study it in this fast water. If it looks buggy and floats without drag, they'll snatch it quickly, before it gets away. Same with nymphs. Wade close, make short precise casts, and steer 'em through likely pockets.

I usually fish upstream, but not always. Downstream will work, and in heavy water, the wading is a little easier. Same principles apply. Pick your spots and make short casts. Remember, keep as much of the line off the water as you can.

I sometimes use a Woolly Bugger or a wet fly when I'm fishing downstream. I let it drift down through a pocket, twitch it back up, drop the rod, and work it back again. It's amazing how often a trout will take a Bugger on a dead drift. I figure it looks like a disoriented baitfish or maybe a big old ugly nymph, awash in the fast currents.

REQUIRED EQUIPMENT

* Rod: a long (9 to 91/2-foot) medium-action rod for a 5- or 6-weight line helps give you maximum line control.

* Line: To help deliver short, pinpoint casts, use a weight-forward line one weight heavier than the rod (a 7-weight line for a 6-weight rod, for example).

* Leader: Length should be about as long as the rod, with a 3X or 4X tippet.

* Flies: Precise hatch-matching is rarely an issue. Carry one box, which holds the following assortment:

* Dry Flies: high-floating Wulffs (white, gray, and brown with white wings), Humpies, Irresistibles, Bivisibles, Caddisflies (Elk Hair and Henryville), and terrestrials (hoppers, beetles, crickets, and ants) in sizes 10 to 16.

* Weighted nymphs: stonefly (sizes 8 to 12), Pheasant Tail and Hare's Ear (12 to 16), generic beadheads (12 to 16), and caddis pupa (12 to 16).

* Wet flies: cream, olive, green, and grizzly soft hackles (sizes 10 to 16).

* Streamers: Woolly Bugger, Rabbit Strip, and Muddlers in white, olive, and black (sizes 4 to 10).--W.G.T.