Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

FIgure 1
FIgure 1

Cascading over a spectacular drop, cold clear water enters its personal handiwork–its pool below. In a season’s time it takes with it subaquatic life, trout roe, fingerlings and even adult fish. Some of them, depending on the height of the fall, survive, to inhabit the waters into which the stream falls. Over eons, the falls’ liquid and cargo combine to create an oasis of entrancing awe, both above and below the surface. All creatures worship the waterfall.

Fly fishing a waterfall pool elicits a special kind of reverence; we witness the relentless, hypnotic spectacle, hear its timeless music, feel its mist on our faces and hands. But fishing it is normally not so easy–at least, it’s far different from fishing a stream or any ol’ generic slow spot.

Waterfall pools can be deep–and not. A stream falling vertically is an excavation machine. The bowl it gouges out of dirt and rock is as impressive as its volume and the height it descends. The falling water creates its own wind, and adds a ready quantity of water to that wind in the form of driving mist. Even on the hottest days this mist keeps the entire bowl cool–in fact especially on the hottest days, since the mist evaporates, taking heat with it. The mechanism constitutes the original heat pump, and it’s highly effective–despite 110-degree regional temperatures the air in the bowl can feel like a walk-in meat cooler. And that air insulates the water’s surface from the heat of the day. So waterfall pools very often stay cool and keep downstream creeks cool for some distance.

The depths excavated by the falling water is another reason why their temperatures tend to stay low, setting up protected thermoclines and providing oxygen-rich haunts for big cold-water fish. Yet at the same time the base of the falls is also all too often choked by large rock slabs or boulders that have come loose at the water’s bidding over time. Fish live among and even beneath the jutting edges of these massive junkyards. And not only rock lurks there–a stream is usually capable of carrying trees, logs, barbed wire fencing, ice in late winter that works to loosen boulders, and anything else it can get hold of, over the rim and into the tangle below. If you can even get your fly down in there, getting it out is often the next major challenge.

Figure_2--On Burney Creek
Figure_2–On Burney Creek

Fortunately the fish in a waterfall pool needn’t lurk at the very bottom to escape detection. They know the food is coming from above, and they know they can go unseen just under the surface where the highly aerated water and mist, and the wind the falling water generates, all combine to make visibility through the surface impossible. Waterfall pool fish can hit surface flies all day while other sections of the same stream are devoid of midday surface action.

But fishing the surface has its own problems–a waterfall typically sets up a hydraulic action that pulls surface water not downstream but upstream, to re-enter the churn at the falling liquid’s point of entry. The plus of that is that your dry fly is drawn toward the water’s vertical entry point, underneath which the fish are waiting. But the downside is that your dainty Light Cahill is soon to be crushed under tons of terminal velocity fluid. But the next upside is that every natural bug would get crushed too, and the fish don’t care if a mayfly is found churning six feet down. But the next downside is that you may have to change to a fly that isn’t destroyed every couple of casts.

 Figure 3--High Thin Falls.jpg
Figure_3–High Thin Falls.jpg

Waterfalls set up a special ecosystem not only below but also above the water’s surface. Even in the hot, dry weeks of late summer, the micro-climate around the pool is typically one of cool, sweet moisture readily available to organisms who need it. Indigenous plants thrive here, and insect life too. Ample food is typically available to everything from frogs and toads to lizards to tadpoles to birds to mice to small fish, and they in turn are on the menu for the bigger specimens of your quarry. Insects that prefer late summer heat and dry conditions may be less in abundance in this zone. The life cycles of terrestrial insects that are present can be modified by the mist and air temperatures–for one thing, hatch times can differ from those elsewhere on the stream. But usually where water is plentiful, so is life, and all species benefit. A well developed waterfall pool basin is an oasis of plenty of every kind, and it all affects the fish life beneath the surface in a positive way.

Note from J. Stockard: Read Part II of this post now.

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