August is the official start of Hopper season!
First of all, when we say hopper, we are talking about all the terrestrial insects that inhabit rivers, creeks and lake banks. Ant’s, Crickets, Beetles, spiders and other creepy, crawly creatures you can think of. During the dog days of summer when there are less hatches of aquatic insects, terrestrials become an important part of a trout’s diet.
Fly fishing with hopper/terrestrial patterns can be an exciting and productive technique, especially during the late spring, summer, and early fall when grasshoppers are active and falling into the water. Often you are fishing a large fly very tight to the banks.
1. Understanding Hopper/Terrestrial Patterns: Hopper patterns are designed to imitate grasshoppers, crickets, and other large terrestrial insects that accidentally end up in the water. They usually have a buoyant foam body that allows them to float on the surface and often feature rubber legs to create movement and attraction.
2. Choosing the Right Gear: For hopper fishing, a 5 to 7 weight fly rod (depending on the size of the water and the fish you’re targeting) with a weight-forward floating line is ideal. A sturdy leader of about 7.5 to 9 feet with a tippet in the range of 3X to 5X should suffice. I prefer to use a shorter leader myself; this gives me more control over the accuracy of my casting.
3. Presentation Techniques:
- Casting: When wade fishing, start by casting the hopper pattern upstream or slightly across the current. This allows the fly to drift naturally downstream. Make sure you don’t create a lot of noise or disturbance when the fly hits the water, as this can spook fish. When fishing from a boat, you are going to make your cast downstream of the boat and along the bank. Mending your line so that the leader is upstream of the fly.
- Drift: Let the hopper pattern drift downstream naturally with the current. Use occasional twitches or subtle pulls to mimic the movement of a struggling insect. Keep an eye on the fly, as often fish will strike aggressively.
4. Reading the Water:
- Riffles and Runs: Fish in these areas are actively looking for food, so casting the hopper pattern in these faster-moving sections can be effective.
- Eddy and Foam Lines: These are spots where fish can hide from strong currents while still having access to food. Cast the hopper near the edges of these areas.
- Undercut Banks and Overhanging Vegetation: Terrestrial insects often fall into the water from these spots. Accurate casting here can lead to great results. This is where fishing from the boat or wading from the middle of the river to the banks can be most effective.
5. Timing: Hopper patterns are most effective during the warm months when grasshoppers are active. Late spring, summer, and early fall are the prime times. Look for days with warm temperatures and some wind, as this can cause grasshoppers to accidentally fall into the water. Fishing the bank that the wind is coming from is where you’ll get the most results. Once the first frosts of fall hit, the hoppers go back under ground.
6. Observation: Observe the water’s surface for any signs of fish feeding on hoppers. You might see rises, splashes, or fish noses breaking the surface as they take hoppers. This can give you a good idea of where to cast your fly.
7. Hook Set: It’s crucial that when you see a fish taking your hopper pattern, resist the urge to immediately set the hook. Let the fish take the fly underwater before gently lifting your rod to set the hook. This can increase your chances of a solid hookup.
8. Fly Patterns: There are various hopper patterns available, each with its unique design and coloration. Some popular patterns include the Dave’s Hopper, Joe’s Hopper, and Chernobyl Ant. Experiment with different patterns to see which ones the fish are responding to on that particular day. Grabbing a live hopper from the bushes and examining its underside will go a long way to determining which fly pattern to use.
Remember, like all fly fishing, patience and observation are key. Don’t hesitate to adjust your techniques and strategies based on the conditions you’re encountering on the water.