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Fly Fishing Pocket Water – 3 Places to Fish

Summer is in full swing in my part of the world, and with that typically comes low flows in my local streams and rivers. Many of those streams have a substantial amount of boulders and rocky sections in them. What does all of this mean? Pocket water. Fly fishing pocket water can be one of the funnest and also most frustrating experiences there are. The multitude of currents and tricky seams can wreak havoc on your fly placement. One of the keys to success is knowing where to place the fly in the first place. Follow along as I discuss the 3 places to fish pocket water on most rivers and streams.

What is Pocket Water?

First, let’s explain just what pocket water is. Pocket water is the area within a stream or river where a large rock or boulder obstructs the general flow of the river and creates a “pocket”, as it’s commonly called. This pocket is usually defined by a slower area of flow in front and behind the rock or boulder with faster current swinging around the sides of the object.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water - Pocket Water River

The area behind the object is typically what is considered the pocket. When you see a stream containing lots of larger rocks creating these pocket areas, you’ll notice that the river seems to have a bunch of bucket areas in the stream where there are faster current surrounding the slower “pocket” areas. Hopefully that, along with the image, gives you a rough idea of what you are looking at when fly fishing pocket water in streams.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water – Key Place #1

The first place I’ll typically cast my fly when fly fishing pocket water is the area directly behind the rock or boulder. This is typically the calmest area in the stream and fish tend to gravitate towards this slower water for a break from the rushing current. They also gravitate here because the surrounding faster current tends to sweep food sources into the slower water. Basically fish get to sit in their recliner and have food served to them constantly! It doesn’t get much better than that does it.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water - Key Place Example 1

This area of the pocket water is the most commonly fished area. You can cast your fly, be it a dry, nymph, or streamer, and you have a fairly substantial amount of time for the fish to decide to take your fly. This is due to the slower current in the pocket. Because of this, fish can sometimes be pretty picky given that they have more time to inspect your fly. Many times when fishing this area you’ll feel the strike on a nymph or streamer before seeing anything. Be prepared for that.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water - Key Place 1 Example 2

Fly Fishing Pocket Water – Key Place #2

The second place I’ll cast a fly after fishing the “pocket” area is the side seams of faster current. This area is directly adjacent to the pocket on each side and many times is a fast lane for food for the fish. The fish that aren’t sitting directly in the pocket tend to push this edge for food and will either sit there as it’s fed to them or dart out slightly into the current to grab it.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water - Key Place 2 Example 1

Fly fishing pocket water in this area is very similar to any other run or riffle you will encounter on a river. The current is fast and your fly moves fast as well. You may need to run your fly through these areas multiple times as the speed of the current can whip the fly right past the fish before they even see it.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water - Key Place 2 Example 2

Fly Fishing Pocket Water – Key Place #3

The last place I typically fish in a pocket water area before moving on is directly in front of the rock or boulder. The rock you see sticking out of the water, or just under the surface, is creating the pocket area behind it and is also creating a haven for fish right in front of it. What is happening is that the current pushing against the rock creates a cushion area in front of it that is very similar to the slack water behind it. Fish sit here as they don’t have to fight the current as much and the food sources flow right into their mouths.

Fly Fishing Pocket Water - Key Place 3 Example

You’ll want to cast above the cushion area and just let your fly float into it. Be careful here so that your flies don’t get hung up on the rock. Most times the current will swing your flies around the seams to the side that you’ve fished in #2 above, but sometimes it will push them right into the rocks and hang you up.

Many times when you’re fishing this cushion area in front, you’ll actually be able to see those fish holding right up tight to the front of the rock. It’s a fantastic place to find fish when fly fishing pocket water!

Final Thoughts on Fly Fishing Pocket Water

You may have noticed that I didn’t discuss fly selection or specific techniques at all when talking about fly fishing pocket water. That is mainly because you can fish pocket water pretty much any way you would fish any other area of the river. Cast a single dry into the pocket or drop a tandem fly rig with two nymphs along the seams; either way will work. The key point here is fly placement. The lower flows in a river during Summer will tend to group fish into these areas and you can find great success in fishing them.

For a little additional information, Orvis has put together a short clip about reading pocket water over on their site. It’s short and sweet, but it provides a good tip. You can find the clip here.

Next time you’re on the water and notice these pocket water areas, try targeting the key places I’ve mentioned above. Fly fishing pocket water is one of the funnest types of fishing there is in my mind. If you have any questions or feel I’ve left something out, let me know in the comments below. Tight lines everyone!

About Clint Losee

Clint Losee is an avid fly angler of 25+ years, web developer, and Utah Landscape & Nature Photographer. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

  • Robert LaGrasse

    Thank you for this.

    • You’re welcome Robert. Glad it could be helpful for you.