Pocket Picking: Fly Fishing “Pocket Water” for Trout

New Hampshire guide Steve Angers surveys a stretch of pocket water on the Ellis.

It never fails to surprise me where you can find a trout. The delicate, beautiful, and amazingly well camouflaged creatures can hold in mere inches of water right under your nose and you’d never know they were there. By Tom Richardson; Photos by Kevin Erdvig

Such is the case with “pocket-water” trout. Pocket water is the term used to describe a shallow section of a river or stream where the water flows around large, closely spaced boulders. Small “pockets” of deeper water with less current form behind the rocks, creating an ideal spot in which trout can hold and wait for food. Pockets can range from small spots the size of a basketball to larger areas several feet in diameter, but all can hold some surprisingly large trout.

This rainbow took a “rag-mop” nymph drifted through a small pocket.

Fishing pocket water with a fly can be very effective, but requires stealth and skill. Long casts are not needed; indeed, most pockets are fished with just a few feet of line dangled below the rod tip, the angler standing a rod’s length from the spot to be fished.

Nymphs are typically the best flies to use in pocket water, as that’s primarily what the trout will be feeding on. As in all types of trout fishing, the trick is figuring out which pattern the fish want on a particular day, and that comes down to local knowledge or experimentation.

The author picks through the pockets on a New Hampshire river.

Present the fly just above the pocket and let it be carried by the current into the pocket. Follow the course of the fly by swinging your rod downstream at the same rate as the fly. This will help create a drag-free drift and make your offering appear more natural. If you feel a slight bump or tap, quickly but gently lift the rod tip. Allow the fly to sweep through the pocket, then pick up and try another drift or two before moving to the next pocket.

Expect the trout to hold right behind the boulder or along the slower current seams that define the edges of the pocket. In some cases, the fish will hold on the upstream face of the rock, where the current piles up to form a “cushion” of calmer water.

One final tip on fishing pocket water: make the effort to fish well downstream or upstream of the common river access points, as the pockets you’ll find will be less heavily fished.