Stretches where rivers turn white from the oxygen generated from the water tumbling over boulders and pushing through narrow slots is called pocket water. The abundant obstacles in the river channel create a traffic jam, forcing the water into eddies and slicks, trapped and unable to rush downstream despite the sharp gradient. Of course, the water eventually finds its way downstream, rushing even faster trying to make up for lost time. Pocket water is where rivers are most alive. There is not an abundance of pocket water on most of the low-gradient, shale-bottomed streams and creeks in Steelhead Alley.
But there is one stretch on one creek where the channel narrows, the gradient sharpens, boulders abound and the water's force has turned the shale bottom into a series of steps, rather than the more common playground slide. And when the water drops low enough to push the fish out of the runs, but remains high enough to provide shelter in the pockets; well that's when it gets interesting.
In March, we hit the creek when the conditions for pocket steel were just right. The runs were devoid of fish while we made our way downstream. The pool above the pocket water was empty too. The pockets looked too small to hold 20 plus inch steelhead, but looks can be deceiving. One step below the pool, a few boulders pushed the water tight against the far bank, filling the cut with with dark water adorned by a bubble fringe. The small cut ended when another boulder pushed the water back toward the middle.
Pocket water is relatively easy to fish. As long as you can place your fly into the pocket and get it to sink quickly you are in good shape. The drifts are short so mending is simple. Casts are short so line management is relatively easy. Pocket water is binary. The pocket holds a fish or two or it doesn't. And you know the answer quick.
I dropped a black stonefly above the cut, it drifted into the cut and before it bumped into the boulders below it stopped. I raised my rod and a small steelhead rocketed out of the pocket and started climbing upstream, then turned around and careened back down the steps. With little room and not much water, the fish was at a disadvantage and came to the net after a few minutes crashing around the rocks.
A few more fish were found hiding in the pockets below. And another fish was pulled from the first pocket during our return trip upstream. Nothing quite like pockets full of steel.