Who doesn’t love late summer fly fishing when we can tie on a giant size 6 hopper pattern only to watch a big fish race out of a cut bank and suck down your fly? On the local rivers here in Colorado we see grasshoppers throughout the riparian zones starting mid-summer and ending early fall. With the peak fishing around the last two weeks of August. The hoppers become a large food source for trout. While there is no such thing as a grasshopper hatch necessarily and they don’t fall into an aquatic insect classification like mayflies or stoneflies. They are a prevalent food source every angler should capitalize on. Below are some tips that every angler fishing hopper patterns should abide by.
Use the Right Size Tippet:
Often times anglers will fish your go-to 9 foot 5 x leader with 5x tippet when fishing hoppers. These are big flies, no need for thin tippet. Cut that leader back a bit and tie on a few feet of 2x/3x tippet or buy a 7.5 foot 2x/3x leader. You’ll end up losing a lot less fish and flies for that matter. No need to be afraid of getting snagged in the grass along the bank.
All About that Action:
When grasshoppers end up falling in the river, they are not aquatic insects and cannot swim well. They wiggle, flail, shimmy, wobble, shake as they helplessly struggle in the water. Trout are attracted to this movement and it can often trigger a strike. I’ve had success slapping my hopper on the surface in fast water, jiggling my rod tip, and even a periodic bump on the butt of my rod has worked. Get creative and you’d be surprised what can trigger a strike.
Try a Loop Knot Connection:
Instead of using your classic fishermen’s or clinch knot to tie on your hopper, try using a non-slip loop knot. A non-slip loop knot is widely used in saltwater fly fishing and streamer fly fishing. It gives your fly more action. It will make your hopper dance and wiggle on the surface making it more “life like.”
Tie on a Dropper:
Typically the hopper fly pattern you are fishing is larger, it might be made of foam, it’s easy to see, and tied with bright colors. It is an “edible indicator,” that can support a dropper or maybe even two. Tie a couple feet of fluorocarbon tippet on and throw on your favorite bead head attractor. Experiment with different lengths of tippet, sometimes in the heat of the day, I’ll tie 4 feet of tippet on. But as a general rule, 2 feet of 4X Fluorocarbon tippet works best.
Target the Riffles:
In the late summer when the hopper fishing is best, the water temps are usually on the warmer side. Most of the fish move into the faster water in search of more oxygen. A hopper is a perfect tool to dissect these riffles. Look for water in that 2-4 foot depth with a faster (running pace) current. Seek this water out and be sure to cover it as well as you can. Fish will often stack up here and are actively feeding. Shelves on the bottom or top of these riffles can also provide great fish holding habitat. A hopper dropper setup is highly effective because of how easy it can be to control and see in this faster water. If your float fishing just remember this kind of water comes up on you fast. Be prepared for a well planned attack.
Wind Can Be a Good Thing:
When the wind picks up it often blows in the grasshoppers from the banks, keying in trout on the insect. This is the closest it gets to a hopper hatch and can mean a feeding frenzy. Try looking for naturals (real grasshoppers) and match the hatch when this occurs. Just be sure your armed with your 6 weight fly rod to cut through the wind.
Fish ALL the Water:
Since hoppers are not aquatic insects (they don’t hatch in the water) they fall into the river all over the place. The current can push them into all different kinds of water. Whether it’s still water pools or side channels they are all over the river. That being said trout will happily look for a high protein snack in this obscure water. Be creative and take some casts where you typically would not.
Patience is Key:
For everyone who has fished a hopper has seen a “refusal”. Where a fish slowly comes up maybe bumps the fly and then decides not to eat it. When this occurs our instinct is to pick up. Stay calm and don’t move that fly. Often times the fish will come back only to gobble down the fly. When they strike be sure to time your set as the fish turns it’s head, setting too early is a common mistake. If you keep getting refused, tie on a different pattern, sometimes changing the color or size can be key.
Drown the Hopper:
Typically grasshoppers can’t swim well and with all sorts of different river currents and eddylines they often end up with their thorax submerged. Fishing a hopper that is partially submerged can be an effective way to target more picky fish. There are specific drowned hopper fly patterns or next time you tie one on don’t put on any floatant on it and give it a shot. It can also be challenging to see the hopper so skilled casting and keen eyesight is essential. Foam can provide great habitat to try fishing a drowned hopper as the “naturals” are often caught up in foam within larger eddys.
Be the First to Fish the Water:
I’ve had more consistent and productive hopper fishing on water when I was the first to fish it. For some reason when fishing hoppers this holds true way more than when I’m fishing other aquatic insect hatches like caddis or mayflies. Not sure the reasoning behind it but, believe me. Try to be the first angler to throw that hopper in that juicy cut bank.
Hopper fishing can be an absolute blast that is an experience every angler should try. Be sure to swing by Vail Valley Anglers for the latest in hopper patterns and fishing conditions. And if you have never float fished the Colorado River in August or September call the shop for availability to book a float trip. The trips are a great way to effectively fish the hopper dropper setups from the boat.
Patrick Perry, Content Contributor/Former Guide, @patperry