At the front door of every rock

by | Apr 7, 2019 | 8 comments

Smith shook his head as I waded to the riverbank toward him. I chuckled and shrugged my shoulders when he motioned to the center of the boulder field. He was yelling something I couldn’t make out over the whitewater wash behind me, but as I slogged through the shallows across rounded limestone and wet green moss, his words came into focus.

“. . . and get him on the front side, because you missed that break. There’s always a trout there,” Smith wrapped up his tutorial and then paused. “I mean . . . usually a trout is there.” He said it with a final gesture toward the river.

“I fished it,” I told Smith, planting my boots firmly on the bank. “Missed one, but they just aren’t on today.”

“Oh, I know they’re not on, but you didn’t really fish that whole pocket — not since I’ve been standing here, anyway.” Smith shuffled his feet and looked to the river. “That’s a prime spot, man.”

A few seconds later, behind his dark glasses, I couldn’t tell if Smith was staring at me and waiting for a reply, or if he was looking past me for signs of the early Hendricksons (the next viable hatch on our favorite river).

After a full decade of fishing with Smith, the ball-busting and taunting of one another had become ruthless. Yes, it’s a leftover habit of middle school boys, but it’s how some grown men still form friendships. And we’d learned to make useful points and offer advice by mixing in half-truths with insults.

“Because you suck at wading rough water, you left the front door of that rock wide open,” Smith said from behind the dark lenses. He shook his head again and spit a sunflower seed shell into the thin water.

“Nice metaphor, genius,” I replied. “But that water is coming down hard. Look at the way it’s slamming into the rock,” I said. “You think there’s a trout holding there? I fished the stall behind the rock and both edges. The trout I missed was on the far edge where it deepens a bit.”

Smith sneered, knowingly. (It’s this type of big brother bullshit that keeps Smith mostly friendless, but I don’t mind. I’ve gotten used to it, and he’s a great fishing partner.) Then Smith knelt into the wet sand and pointed at a fist-sized stone between us. With the edge of his next sunflower seed, he drew an arc around part of the limestone.

“The creek’s flowing this way, alright?” he said, motioning along the sides of the stone. Then he pointed to the arc. “There’s a cushion of water right here. In front. It doesn’t matter how hard that water is crashing into the boulder, there’s always a cushion up front. The water bangs against the rock and gets pushed back a little bit. Know what I mean?” he asked.

I was intrigued.

“Yeah, I follow you. It makes sense.”

Smith went on . . .

“The back door of the rock is obvious, right? Everyone fishes the pocket and the two lanes behind the rock. But there’s a spot for a trout at the front door too. Sometimes you can pluck a couple fish out of it, right in that cushion, upstream of the rock.”

Smith jammed the sunflower seed into the arc that he’d drawn. The seed stuck in the wet dirt and Smith pointed as he stood up. “He’s right there.”

Before I could even offer the challenge, Smith had already accepted it. He shifted his pack high onto his shoulders and stripped out line, wading deftly through the first thirty feet of water. Now stationed in the hard and swift side seam of the pocket, Smith’s six foot frame towered over the same rock that had challenged me.

He ignored the stall behind the rock. He cast no flies to the edges of each lane, because I’d already covered them. His first shot was a measure of distance. His second cast was a gauge of depth. On the third cast he had all the information he needed, and he tucked the stonefly into the flow — five feet above the limestone boulder — and let it drift.

Through scattering rays of sunlight I saw Smith’s line twitch. He started the hook set before the twitch even happened. The line tightened and the trout jumped.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” I whispered.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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8 Comments

  1. Another gem Dom!

    Gary Borger refers to this in his book “Reading Waters” – he calls it the “hydraulic cushion”.
    One of those soft spots that often get overlooked.

    This is one of a three part video series called “The Underwater World of the Trout”
    A fascinating look at the hydraulic cushions and other lies that trout call home.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRTcmEISVnA

    Reply
    • Maybe the best movie ever made. Even without sex and violence, it’s only for mature audiences.

      Reply
  2. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’ve been told there are trout in the front of good boulders, I’ve seen them and even caught a few. I find it difficult to get a fly to go into the feeding lane. It usually wants to be pulled to my side too early and the fish won’t chase it. Do you know better ways to get the fly into the front pocket?

    Reply
    • I love that question, Rich. I agree that it is difficult. And there are not nearly as many trout at the front as the back. I usually think of it as the last thing I do at every pocket.

      This could probably be a whole article. But here are a couple thoughts:

      –Tight lining is almost always best here.

      — I often overcast, out into the piece of water that would really drift on the other side of the rock, but pull it back toward my side, therefore drifting right into the middle. Yup, not a perfect dead drift, but . . .

      — Don’t expect to get perfect dead drifts here. Also, the drifts are real short, I usually pick up as soon as it passes the rock (because I’ve already fished the stuff behind it).

      — My last resort, that sometimes works, is a downstream approach. From above the rock, at some distance, cast downstream and allow the fly to hang right in front of the rock. Sometimes … fish on.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  3. Great story and great bit of info I’ll surely put to use on my own waters.

    Reply
    • Thank you.

      Reply
  4. Some years ago while helping out with a TU stream improvement project, I found myself standing in the middle of the flowing water close to a big-enough rock. I remembered hearing or reading about that cushion. Being a science guy, I stepped closer to the rock and stuck my hand in front of it. Moved it around a bit. Amazing how calm the water was in the midst of all that current! The cushion exists!

    Reply

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