It's late August here in the Rockies and there are grasshoppers literally everywhere these days. EVERYWHERE. And the fish happen to be huge fans of these protein-rich meals that mistakenly find themselves in the water.
Now, fall is just around the corner and for many anglers out there, fishing hoppers is strictly a summer time activity. However, as summer transitions into fall, some of the best hopper fishing of the season is still ahead of us. It's a popular misconception that hopper fishing stops as summer comes to a close. Often times, good hopper fishing can last past the first couple of frosts of fall.
With plenty of good terrestrial fishing ahead of us, we compiled 8 of our favorite tips and tricks for more effectively fishing hoppers.
Many Colorado anglers, especially those of us on the Front Range, get locked into using 5 and 6x tippet by default. Frankly, it's understandable. There are plenty of technical tailwaters to go around here on the Front Range, so small tippet is often a must.
However, it is my firm belief that you should match the tippet size to the size of the fly. The bigger the fly...the thicker the tippet.
Why? Well, there's a variety of factors at play here. But, the tippet is the final piece of the puzzle responsible for transferring energy from your fly line to the fly. The thicker the tippet, the more energy you can deliver to the fly.
Turning over and delivering a bigger fly accurately to a target requires more energy transfer. That means 5x just simply isn't going to cut it when you're trying to throw a size 8 hopper. Size your tippet up. I think 3x is generally a good middle ground.
There are situations when 2x or 4x are more appropriate, but unless you're throwing a super small hopper, leave the 5 and 6x at home.
Additionally, to effectively fish a hopper, you need to be willing to throw into tight spots. Overhanging branches, undercut banks, beside streamside bushes and vegetation and behind rocks are all good targets to throw at. If you're not getting your fly caught up in and around structure, you're not being daring enough. Gotta risk it to get the biscuit and you'll need that extra tippet strength when retrieving your fly.
Grasshoppers aren't the most graceful or precise fliers in the world. But, when the wind isn't around, they generally get from point A to point B without getting in too much trouble. But, when wind comes into play, it will send plenty of hoppers to the surface of the water.
More often than not, the windier it is, the better the hopper fishing will be. Fish key in on hopper patterns when there are plenty of naturals around. Luckily for us, it's typically pretty windy in the west.
Make sure to use a shorter, thicker leader and leave the five weight at home on these windy days. When throwing hoppers at grassy banks in the wind, I find a 7.5" leader and a fast-action 6-weight fly rod to be the perfect tool for the job.
The stock leader choice for most anglers tends to be a 9' leader. However, as mentioned in the previous tip, a shorter 7.5' (2 or 3x) leader is the way to go when windy conditions are present.
Now, good hopper fishing isn't always limited to those windy days. There are certainly fisheries where fish will key in on hoppers even on the quiet days. Often those fisheries have some other force that's pushing the grasshoppers towards the water.
Big agricultural equipment, livestock activity, anglers, or plentiful wildlife will cause hoppers to take flight in retreat. When fishing hoppers on those quiet days, I'll reach for a 9' or even a 12' leader. But , it's important to stick with 2 or 3x.
This ensures that I'm turning my flies over with ease and delivering them to the desired target as often as possible. In the slower, less choppy water, fish have a little more time to get a good look at your flies. The longer leader allows for a longer presentation and reduces the chances that you'll "line" your target fish
Grasshoppers are cold-blooded insects. That means temperature and relative humidity in their immediate surroundings heavily influence their behavior. That's why they're generally more active during the dog days of summer. However, as mentioned previously, good terrestrial fishing can be head well into fall, even after the first couple of frosts hit.
Why is that? First and foremost, just because you've seen a couple of frosty mornings in a specific river valley, doesn't mean that the frost impacted the entire valley. Often times, the ambient temperatures in the riparian area are higher than they are a little bit further from the river.
Grasshoppers that call the banks of a river home are more likely to survive the first couple of frosts. So, fish will continue to see naturals hit the water as we progress through fall.
Secondly, as the days get shorter and the temps start dropping, fish start panicking a little bit. They feel the need to put on the feed bag before the slim pickins' of winter set in. Fish have been seeing grasshoppers since June and know that a grasshopper for lunch is a calorie-rich meal. As that pre-winter panic sets in, fish will still eat a hopper fly even after those winged terrestrials are no longer present.
We all love the Chubby Chernobyl around these parts. There is absolutely no doubt that the fly simply catches fish. It's a fly that evokes a lot of confidence for anglers and we're huge fans of fishing confidence patterns.
However, it's popularity can be hinderance. Fish have likely seen it floating past a time or two and might start tuning them out.
With that in mind, it's important to mix up your fly selection. Fish realistic patterns like the Sweetgrass Hopper, fish classic patterns like the Parachute Hopper, fish general attractor patterns like the Hippie Stomper.
Bottom line, fish some variety. Find other flies that work for when the fish tune out the chubby. Variety is the spice of life...and is absolutely necessary when fly fishing with grasshoppers.
While we all love a fly that rides all high and majestic along a juicy looking bank, reality is that hoppers aren't great swimmers and don't float that well, at all. If you ever see a natural on the water, chances are it's riding pretty low in the surface film.
There is no doubt that a high floating fly that is easy to see is a more comfortable way to fish. However, low-riding patterns like the Big Fat Angie, are far more effective at imitating a natural than the flies that float like sailboats. Generally, "matching the hatch" is a good thing, so incorporate more low-riding grasshopper patterns into your fly box.
We're going to sound like a broken record at some point, but hoppers aren't aquatic insects. They don't hatch in riffles. They don't live in runs. They're airborne invaders who call dry land home and have made quite the mistake resulting in their watery doom.
While hoppers will certainly be more concentrated around tall grassy banks. They are also liable to land anywhere on the water.
Typically, you find fish are holding in water with appropriate depth, cover, and oxygen. But, there aren't enough fingers on my hands to count the number of times I've caught or spooked fish that were laid up in some non-descript, shallow (bleh) water. Sure, focus on the likely water with plenty of cover and structure, but don't neglect the weird water. Fish it all!
The dead drift is certainly a good tool to use when fishing hoppers. Don't forget to impart some action and throw some twitches or strips to give the fly a little action. Hoppers don't behave like PMD duns, where they float downstream waiting to dry their wings.
Hoppers don't want to be on the water. They will certainly do their darndest to get off the water. That means, they will be writhing, wriggling, and moving around as they try to escape.
If a trout doesn't eat them, they will eventually sink and drown. Remaining on the water means certain death for a hopper and they know it.
Hoppers don't land soft. There's nothing delicate about their entrance to a trouts aquatic world.
They've made a grave mistake and are unintentionally falling from their terrestrial home onto the water. So, don't be afraid to slap your hopper down. To paraphrase Nuke Laloosh, "Bring the heater. Announce your presence with authority."
Activate a trouts' lateral line and send vibrations through the water column. Make the fish react in a predatory manner.
Remember to keep an eye on the conditions, think outside the box, and take immense joy in watching that big brown slow sip your hopper along a grassy bank or a native cutthroat absolutely plaster a foam fly in the riffles. Hoppers, especially those late season, are where it's at.