If you are a fly fisherman/woman in the state of Colorado (or anywhere in the Rockies for that matter) you should have a slight smile on your face right now. Why you ask? Because the season of the hopper is upon us that's why!!! I've met a lot of flyfishing folk over the years and I'm still yet to find one that doesn't enjoy spending a Summer day throwing grasshopper patterns. Hoppers work everywhere from the large "famous" freestone rivers around the West, to technical tailwaters, to high mountain brook and cutthroat streams waiting in the high country. They also work great in virtually every stillwater fishery- whether warm or cold watered. Simply put, fish love grasshoppers. However, the multitude of places these buggy terrestrials isn't the only reason I enjoy fishing them. I also enjoy hopper fishing because you can do it all the time. There's no waiting for the 'hopper hatch' to come off. Oh, and I love them because big fish love them. They're like the streamer version of dry fly fishing. Just cover water and leave the 'daintiness' you've been working all Spring to perfect with your Baetis fishing at home. Get some hoppers and get after it!
Below are 5 tips for getting the most out of your hopper fishing this Summer!
1. Size Up- Leave the 5x and 6x you've been using for Blue Wing Olive's at home. Hopper strikes can be quite aggressive and as such, upping your tippet size is a must. For large freestone rivers such as the Colorado, Arkansas or Eagle I won't hesitate to throw as high as 2x. In general though, I'm typically starting the day with 3x tippet for most situations. Aside from offering added breakage protection in the event you find yourself tangling with a large trout, the heaver tippet will also help turn over bulky foam hopper patterns with ease.
2. Slap It Down- Like I mentioned above, there's nothing 'dainty' about hopper fishing. Don't be afraid to get agressive with your presentations in an attempt to get the fish's attention as soon as your offering hits the water. Slap it down behind rocks, against cutbanks, and anywhere else you think a fish might be holding. The goal here is to trigger a reaction strike.
3. Make It Move- This sort of ties into #2. Once your fly is on the water, be sure to experiment with adding movement to your fly as it drifts downstream. It won't be the recipe for success every day, but those days where the fish prefer a hopper twitched or skated off the bank will become some of your most memorable I assure you.
4. Downstream Presentation- Downstream presentations are one of my favorite dry fly techniques in general and can still be applied to hopper fishing. Two of my favorite places to incorporate this are A) drifting your hopper into the front of a rock/boulder (did you know there are almost always going to be fish sitting on the front side of a rock?) or drifing it into a cutbank, or some similar obstacle along the bank. If you don't spend time incorporating downstream presentations into all your nymph fishing then you're definitely missing out on opportunity.
5. Experiment With The Dropper- People love to talk about fishing a "hopper dropper" and for good reason, it works! However, one mistake I see a lot of people make is not fishing their dropper deep enough. Rarely will I fish my dropper less than 24 inches below my hopper. If you find yourself only droppping 10-12" off the back of your bug and aren't getting results, lengthen it up a bit. Additionally, a hopper/double dropper can also be very effective if you're having trouble dialing in exactly what the fish are looking for. My general rule for hopper/dropper rigs is that I almost always start with one. If my first few fish of the day all eat the hopper then I will cut off the dropper most of the time for two reasons- A) The fish are telling me they are more interested in the hopper that day and B) Not having a dropper allows for tighter presentations to rocks/the bank/etc.