As a novice angler, I can clearly remember assuming that trout would prefer to be in pools and would avoid riffles.
I was partly right — trout do like pools. Their depth and slow current provide safety, room to move around and easy swimming. Big trout will hog the prime spots down deep at the heads of pools, away from pesky yearlings, menacing birds and the glare of the sun, and casually pick off food that washes in from the fast water above.
But I was wrong to think that trout don’t like riffles — those choppy, noisy stretches of relatively shallow stream where the water tumbles over rocks, rushes through little gullies and washes around countless little pockets and eddies.
I didn’t think fish could be comfortable in such swift currents, and thought fishing there would be a waste of time.
I know better now. Riffles are loaded with
secure, comfortable lies, that trout frequently feed in them and that they can be great places to fish.
Riffles and pocket water are populated by all kinds of trout food, including insects, baitfish, swamped terrestrials, crustaceans, etc. The tumbling water is rich with dissolved oxygen, which is especially important during warm weather, when the tepid water in the pools is oxygen-poor. There are little hidey holes for trout everywhere, places that afford them safety from predators and good spots from which to ambush prey of their own.
Best of all, riffles are fun to fish. The noise and the broken surface of the water make it hard for the fish to know you’re nearby. Each of the myriad pockets and runs is a potential lie, an opportunity to hook up. You can carefully fish each and every spot or you can bang a few here and a few there while covering a long stretch of stream — whichever suits your mood.
And while most of us enjoy some technical fishing from time to time, there’s a lot to be said for fast-and-loose, big-fly, stout-leader pocket water fishing. Clip back into the 3X, tie on an Ausable Wulff or Usual or Stimulator or shaggy Haystack and drop it in front of, in back of and alongside every boulder. Let it ride down every chute and drop over every plunge, and skitter it across any eddies or flat spots you find.
My friend, Dave Hurteau, likes to fish the heaviest pocket water on rowdy rivers like the West Branch of the Ausable by facing straight downstream and just letting a big dry fly hop, dance, drag and skate over the tumult. It’s not a high-percentage play, but it’s fun when it works.
Subsurface fishing can be wildly effective in broken water. Fish a Copper John, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Prince or Pheasant Tail. Fish a caddis worm or a stonefly. Run a San Juan Worm down through the depths, or let an egg pattern bounce off the rocks. Swing a cone-head Woolly Bugger. Generally speaking, trout aren’t very fussy about flies in riffles and pockets are ideal. Things that may be food are zipping by quickly in the strong currents, and they can’t afford to spend much time examining them.
Pools are awfully tempting, especially when mayflies are floating and trout are rising. You can spot the most subtle of rises easily, and the relatively smooth and steady currents permit nice, drag-free drifts for dry flies.
But if the pool seems lifeless, or if it’s ringed with anglers, think of it as an opportunity to explore the riffles and pockets. It’s a great way to spend a summer afternoon, and a productive way to fish.
TU BANQUET MARCH 8
The Trout Unlimited Clearwater chapter will hold its annual Conservation Banquet March 8 at the Sovereign Best Western Hotel, 1228 Western Ave., Albany. The cash bar will open at 4 p.m., hors d’oeuvres will be served at 5 and dinner’s at 6. There will be door prizes, bucket raffles and an auction of tackle, fly tying stuff, art, books, gift certificates, etc. Times Union outdoors writer Fred Lebrun will be the master of ceremonies.
The banquet is the Clearwater chapter’s primary fundraiser for conservation projects, such as habitat restoration work on the Battenkill River and White Creek, which will be the subject of a presentation during the banquet. Tickets cost $35, and reservations must be made by Feb. 22. Contact Doug Howard, 399-8566 or [email protected], or Bill Cosgrove, 766-2405 or [email protected], for information or reservations. Businesses that wish to help sponsor the event should contact John Morrette at 393-6443.
In last week’s fly-fishing article, I incorrectly stated the requirements for Capital District Fly Fishers youth fly-tying classes at the Rudy Ciccotti Family Recreation Center in Colonie. Participants must register in advance, classes are offered the first Tuesday of each month from October through March and the cost is $20.