Pocket and the V

by | Apr 22, 2019 | 16 comments

** NOTE ** This article is part of the Walk Along series. These are first person accounts showing the thoughts, strategies and actions surrounding particular situations on the river, putting the reader in the mind of the angler.

The river’s flowing at three times the average. So the merge point at the lower tip of the braid is indistinct, washed away in a mix of watery lines and lanes that blend together. It’s tough water to read at the surface. And yet, a close look with a trained eye — from someone who’s walked and cast through this slice of river countless times — reveals all that is needed. Imagination and memory does the rest.

Can I reach the middle break and fish to the pocket as usual? Let’s see . . .

Lean into the current with powerful, short strides. Tungsten tips dig into the limestone, anchoring the boots with each step. That’s good contact. Get through the fastest channel and around the shoot. It’s up to your chest, but keep going. Now wade the last few feet over the rock garden. I’m so glad to do this like I’m still eighteen. Live while you’re young. Settle into the sand behind the boulder. Now lean into the rock and rest. Tie the knots.

Stonefly on the point, Higa’s at the tag. Both heavy. Keep them close, because the currents in there are a mixed murder. Trout won’t come up very far through this mess, and two flies will find two different seams — spoiling the drift. But it’s a quick course, and it doesn’t have to be perfect either. Half an arm’s length apart seems about right.

Leave the V for last. From here, the merge point is obvious — distinct channels of right and left. Maybe I should chuck a cast up into the soft water behind the V, a few feet off the tip of the island — take the money shot right away? No. Save it. Work up to it. See what else you can pick up first. Learn what the currents are doing with the flies today. Start at the lower pocket. That’s a better idea. Take a look. See it first.

Aim for the nearest seam, where slower water meets fast. And don’t touch the bottom on the first two drifts. Just learn the flow. Don’t risk hanging up yet. Now cast.

That’s not enough weight to settle in, even on the slow seam. So swap the #16 Higa’s for a #14. Does that work? Cast it.

Drift, re-cast, drift. Yeah, that’s just about right. Get to the bottom now. Tuck harder, just to the corner of the rock, angle it into the flow and change the rod position as the nymph enters. Nice.

Tick, tick. Set! Too late. Set on any pause of the sighter next time. I missed that trout, but it’s good to know they’ll take the fly. I think it took the bottom nymph. Cast.

Drift the same lane. Another cast. Another. Okay, he won’t eat again. So cast six inches further, into the stall now. Lead the flies through or they’ll hang up. Lead, lead, lead. Not fast enough, and the flies snag. Pull, tug, change the angle on the hang up. No way you’re wading through that seam to recover the flies, so break ‘em off. Replace with something lighter for the stall of the pocket. There’s a backwater swirl in there. I’ve seen it under normal flows. Maybe it’s there today. #12 Walt’s. Keep the Higa’s for now. Cast and drift.

That was a good weight adjustment. Sighter is tight. Keep it vertical. Drift. Lead a little before it settles and snags again . . . strike. Ten inch wild brown. That’s good. I worked for that one.

Photo by Austin Dando

Another trout on the next cast, just a few inches further into the stall, at the same depth, right before the flies settle. Strike. Set. And there’s a long distance release on a foot long trout. Cast again.

Get over to the far seam of the pocket, now. That’ll take more weight. Go back to the stonefly. Clip. Tie the Davy. Cast again. Reach to extend the drift. Tick the bottom. Quick tug! That was a fish. I think he missed it.

Ten more casts. Improve each drift by learning from the last one. How fast is the current? How tall are the rocks on the bottom? There’s so much control on a tight line. Cast.

Another small trout to the net. Before moving, try the heavy seams on each side of the pocket. Right under your rod tip on the near side. Too fast — the nymphs never settled in. Clip the Higas, and fish with one fly for this. Add a shot, a few inches up from the Walt’s. Cast.

Eight foot drifts. Over and over. Okay, nothing on the near side, so reach to the far seam. Shuffle your boots to the edge of the sandy protection. Push your left leg into the current. Reach, drift, reach. Tuck it in harder and further up. Drift. Give a little slack. Hit it! Fish on.

He’s a little bigger than the others. Play him hard and fast. Work him into the stall. That’s where he wants to be anyway. Bring him upstream. Side pressure. Work him. Now slide the trout across the heavy current and downstream into the net. Nice fish.

Ready for the V now?

Climb over the underwater boulder. It’s deeper in front, but still wadeable on this midstream hump. Turn sideways and shuffle upstream. Should I wade into the fast seam to get within better range? Sure. Lean into the current. Cast.

Too heavy. Pull off the split shot, replace the Walt’s with a #12 Stone, and tie a Bread-n-Butter to the tag — #16. Nothing took the Higa’s anyway. Cast and drift in front of the rock, but don’t hang up here. Keep it off the bottom.

And now for the prime target . . .

Tuck the nymphs into the soft water — inside the V. Now pull them into the near current first. The lanes are subtle, but they exist. Drift. Watch the sighter and imagine the flies. Drift, tick, tick. Nice. Perfect drifts, over and over, but no trout. That’s fine. No adjustments needed. Cast.

Tuck the flies into the V again, and find the far seam. Hold the lane. Hold it. Hold it. Drift. Back off the tension a little . . . the sighter sags . . . the sighter twitches. Set the hook!

Best fish of the run. Right where he’s supposed to be. The wild trout darts downstream, into the pocket. Then he jumps and throws the hook in the air. Nice fish. And right in the spot you aimed for in the first place. Good work.

Now wade out of the break, through the heavy channel and into the head of the V. Cut back on the tippet length, go to a pair of #16’s, and pick up a few trout in the shallow channel.



Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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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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  1. This was wonderful. Gave me so much confidence on how to think through my fishing process… particularly the rate at which i could consider adjusting my rig!

    • Right on. Most places take a lot of adjustments before you get it just right.

  2. It made me tired just reading it.

  3. Enjoyed this. It helps to see that others have the misses and lost fish that sometimes make me think I need to take up golf. Those days when the fish are really active and most come to the net make me wonder what I’m doing wrong on other days when fish are few and far between. I need to remember that sometimes it may not be me–and be at peace with the challenge. Still, changing up the rig and trying to figure out what might work better is essential. Every bit of learning helps.

    • Right on. I mean, it takes a lot of work to fish hard. I think a lot of guys go out and just hope for the best, and sometimes, they hit it just right. But most days are not that way. Conditions are tough, fish are moody, etc. So it takes a lot of work, trial and error, adjustments, covering water, to hook a bunch of trout. But it’s FUN work.


  4. I would have like to see the stream and maybe have you diagram the situation

      • Just some pics bro, that would suffice

  5. Fun read, very relatable. One thing you don’t appreciate starting out, when you struggle to re-rig or even tie on a fly; how boring would it be without the adjustments…

  6. Fascinating and a bit exhausting to glimpse another’s stream of consciousness narrative for fishing just a few of the structures on a creek. So much here. What was the writing time to actual real fishing time described ratio here? 20:1? Higher?

    • Ha. Well I don’t know about writing time. But fishing that piece as described probably took 15 minutes.



  7. Hi Dom,

    What is a ‘stall’? Thank you!

    • Hi,

      I call soft water lane behind a rock the stall. It often stretches out well downstream well past the rock before merging with other lanes.



  8. Loved it. This article is really a combination of a lot of your articles, but put into practice as one would in real time. I make far more adjustments than I once did (and I catch more fish as a result), but not nearly like this. This is a first-person view of a well-practiced flyfisher on top of his game, thinking his way through scenarios that the river presents. Pretty cool.

    Question: Why do you shorten your tippet? Let’s say you’re going from 4 feet of water to 2.5 feet. Can’t you just raise the sighter off the water more?


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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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