Some of our favorite trout streams across America that are suppose to be a sure bet for catching trophy trout are not always able to live up to all the expectations placed on them. Especially during the hot summer months these special rivers see hundreds or even thousands of anglers that drift endless amounts of dries, nymphs and streamers in every possible color and pattern. The fish in these so-called hotspots become wise to anglers; and the chance of catching a trophy becomes slim due to the increased angler pressure. The answer to catching trophy trout in these rivers is sometimes as easy as taking a hop, skip and a short climb.
Some of the best fishing opportunities in every river can be found in what is known as pocket water. Canyon pocket water is easy to identify from other sections of the river because it has an almost white water rapids appearance. With fast deep runs cutting between steep canyon walls, the fish that are in these pocket waters are usually some of the biggest found in the river. Their large size is usually coupled with a bad disposition for flies trying to travel throughout their respective pools. One of the main reasons that pocket water is so productive is because of the extremely rough terrain to get to the fishable water. One of the key concepts that I try to follow when fishing pocket water is that the harder I have to work to get to a spot, usually the better the fishing will be when I get there. I want to inject a word of caution to all: fishing canyon pocket water is not for the faint of heart. Most of the best pools in the canyons have long hikes through treacherous stretches of rock that can come in the form of massive boulders or algae covered wash rocks. Another good idea to follow is to not wear your waiters when trying to fish this type of water. With the rough terrain, steep slopes, and fast flowing water, a slip in your waiters on could prove deadly.
To be a successful pocket water fisherman, one must master a wide range of techniques to coax the fish to bite. First of all, learning a good roll cast will make your days on the water go much more smoothly. You will be spending most of your time down in the canyons or near thick brush, so there will not be room for long back-casts.
Paying attention to the water is the next most important point to consider. Some fish will be found in the white wash of the rapids, but an equal number of fish can be found on the outsides or breaks of fast pools. Targeting these fish is rather easy; simply search out points of breaks in the current and slow water and you will find actively feeding fish. Current breaks can come in many different forms. When fishing canyon pocket water you will usually find them behind large rocks or at the bottom of small waterfalls. As for fly selection, I find it best to use weighted streamers that contrast the water color. If the river I am going to be fishing is clear, I like to use a black or olive pattern; and if the river has a dark tint to it, I use a white or tan streamer. I have had some of my best luck using wooly bugger and cone-head leech patterns. Check with your local stream’s regulations before going out to fish the pocket water of your favorite river. Some rivers do not allow certain types of weights to be used in flies, so you might have to purchase some lead-free alternatives. When fishing canyon pocket water I use an upstream and cross direction to my casting. The instant the fly hits the water I start my retrieve, stripping a few inches at a time. I try to keep the rod facing upstream so that the fly faces into the oncoming water this gives it the longest drift possible. If the first few drifts go unnoticed by fish I usually cast again across and upstream. This time I let the fly sink and drift unaltered until it reaches the half-way point of the pocket that I am fishing. Once it hits this point, I start again actively stripping in the fly upstream- back to myself.
On a recent trip out to Yellowstone National Park I spent the first two days fishing what I call ‘brochure spots’. These are spots on well known rivers that have easy car access coupled with low rolling meadows providing anglers with easy walking and casting on the river. Sure, my fishing partner and I caught fish but not anything that would justify a twenty-hour drive and two eight-hour fishing days. On our third day in the park, we decided to try the same river but this time fishing the river’s canyons and its pocket water. As we parked the car in the early morning fog we looked for a spot that would allow us to enter the canyon below the fast running water but still a good distance from the beaten paths of the meadows. We hiked down the side of a steep cliff to the rivers edge where we positioned ourselves on some small boulders. We noticed immediately that there was a fewer number of tracks on the river bank. Our first casts into a large pool yielded nothing and raised some doubts into our minds about our choices but those doubts were soon to be settled. In a small intermediate run with a downed pine I swung a large black leech streamer downstream and was surprised with a beautiful 14 inch cutthroat. Minutes later I was again dumbfounded, this time I hooked a majestic 15 inch cutthroat. Within a matter of fifteen minutes and three meandering river bends my friend and I had already eclipsed the amount of fish caught in our first two days of fishing. Not only were the hits coming continuously, but the size of fish being caught was significantly better than that of the previous days. The further we worked our way up the canyon, the rougher the walk became and the fewer tracks that were present. Near the end of out day’s journey, we entered a narrowing portion of the canyon where the water became increasingly fast. After some careful wading and exploring, we came upon a deep hole which I have never seen the likes of before. It was turquoise in color and incased by a solid rock canyon on three sides it also looked to be deeper than anything we had fished all day. We positioned ourselves on top of a weathered granite boulder and began to swing our flies into the large pool. The fish were every where that our flies seemed to go. We spent the better part of two hours fishing off of this rock, changing flies every so often to keep the fish interested. We landed multiple fish in the 16-18 inch class and could have spent the rest of the week fishing this spot. This deep pocket had something special about it. It looked like the fishing hole that you have been dreaming about for years, but was so much more because it was real and we were there in that moment doing what we both enjoyed the most.
On the walk back we laughed to ourselves about our great day and wondered why others had not tried tapping into this wonderful fishery. Inside I know we both were thankful that others didn’t know or want to venture to the canyon pocket water. For now we would always have a place to go where we could fish by ourselves and at the same time have the chance to land a real trophy trout.