Hopper Dropper Tips and Techniques

The caddis hatch is over, the mayflies are dwindling down, and it is officially time for terrestrials in #troutcountry. The month of August marks the most productive time to consistently catch trout on terrestrial patterns, especially grasshoppers. And the best part about throwing hoppers is that you can improve your chances greatly by tossing on a dropper or bead headed fly below the hopper. It’s fun to cast, fun to fish, and fun to say. So tie on a Hopper Dropper rig and join the fun, below you will find tips and techniques for hopper dropper fly fishing including how to rig it, recommend fly patterns and gear, and tips to catch more fish using the hopper dropper method. 

How to Rig a Hopper Dropper: 

Diagram from On The Water Fishing

Rigging the hopper dropper rig is quite simple when it comes to trout rigging. Take a 7.5 2X or 3X Monofilament Leader and attach it to your fly line. Then tie a hopper pattern directly onto a 2X or 3X leader with a clinch or improved clinch knot. Then take about 2-4 feet of fluorocarbon tippet (typically 4X or 5X) and tie a clinch knot or improved clinch directly on the bend of the hook of the hopper pattern. From here you should have a healthy tag end of the tippet hanging off the back of the hopper. Where you can then add on the dropper pattern with a clinch or improved clinch knot. There you have it the hopper dropper setup.

You can adjust the tippet length of your dropper according to the depth of the river you are fishing and how active the fish are. If you are fishing more shallow lies along the banks and the fish seem pretty active 1-2 feet of tippet will suffice. If you are fishing deeper lies within the river, 4-5 feet of fluorocarbon tippet may be needed. But, 2-4 feet of tippet is a great starting point.

Watch the video above where you can see footage of Vail Valley Anglers’ guides rigging up hopper copper dropper rigs on the Upper Colorado River with Umpqua Feather Merchants (copper standing for the name of the dropper fly the Copper John). You will notice Umpqua recommends using a 7.5 2X Leader as it is much easier to turn over than a 3X or 4X leader. We find this very true and also prevents breaking off less on snags and fish. Additionally, the thicker leader punches throw the afternoon wind better.

Recommended Gear for Fishing Hopper Droppers: 

For hopper dropper fishing we recommend using your normal trout setups, 9 foot 5 or 6 weight fly rods. The Sage R8 Core Fly Rod is a great all-around fly rod that has the power to cast the hopper dropper rig a country mile. Along with a trout fly reel and a floating line. A power taper or weight forward taper fly line is nice to turn over the heavier hopper fly. The Scientific Anglers MPX Amplitude Fly Line is the go-to for the guides at VVA.

As for tippet and leaders, as mentioned above the 7.5 3X Umpqua Perform X Trout Leader paired with the Umpqua Phantom X Fluorocarbon Tippet 4x or 5x. We recommend fluorocarbon tippet, as this type of tippet sinks at a faster rate than monofilament which results in more hookups! As for floatant, since hoppers are typically foam the brand Flyagra makes a floatant that works exceptionally well for foam flies. You can land multiple fish without having to reapply floatant. Try applying it the night before fishing for maximum floatability.

flyagra hopper floatant

Recommended Fly Patterns 

Hopper Fly Patterns

Pictured above: The Chubby Chernobyl

Chubby Chernobyls #8-14, Swisher Foam PMX #6-12, Regular PMX #4-16, Amys Ant #8-14, Morrish Hopper #6-10, B/C Hopper Dropper #6-12, Chubby Norman #8-14, Hippy Stomper #8-16.

Dropper Fly Patterns: 

The Ginger Snap
Pictured Above: The Ginger Snap

Two Bit Hookers #14-18, Hares Ears #14-18, Pheasant Tails #14-20, Copper Johns #14-18, Perdigons #14-18, Frenchie #16-20, Ginger Snap #14-18.

Techniques for Hopper Dropper Fishing: 

Like most other techniques of fly fishing, hopper dropper fishing requires specific tactics to achieve success on the water. Outlined below are some tips and techniques to catch more fish.

Find a hopper that floats and you can see: When choosing a hopper to use, make sure you pick one that will effectively float your dropper. If you plan to use a heavily weighted dropper fly use a bigger hopper. A Chubby Chernobyl or Foam PMX are great patterns to start with.

Size up the tippet and leaders: The number one mistake folks make when rigging up a hopper dropper setup is by using your standard 9 foot 5X leader. Ditch those leaders and grab a 7.5 foot 2X leader. A hopper pattern is typically a size #4-8 so 2X tippet is plenty small. As for tippet start with heavier tippet like 3X or 4X and size down as needed.

When casting pick up slowly and lay down aggressively: Grasshoppers are not good swimmers, actually, a lot of them end up sinking. They are not aquatic insects and aren’t meant to be in the water. To get a trout’s attention lay down your hopper with some power as if it just fell into the water. You can even give it little wiggles when the hopper is drifting down. And when your drift is over, pick up slowly as the emerging dropper fly can often entice a bite.

Find a dropper that works, change often: The best part about fishing a hopper dropper is you are able to really investigate what the trout may be eating below the surface. Try switching out your dropper flies often until you find a pattern that works consistently. If you do switch out your hopper try different sizes and colors to see what the fish may be keying in on.

Where to Fish Hopper Droppers:

Hopper droppers are best fished from boats along banks, alongside or below islands, and through riffles. The ability to be moving through the center of the river in a boat and casting to the bank allows anglers to effectively cover the water. While you can fish hopper droppers by wading, the boat allows you to cover much more water.

Other than focusing on the banks, the big eddies like we see on the Upper Colorado River can be a great place to get a hopper dropper bite. The islands along the Colorado River also create great structure and riffles where you can effectively drift the hopper dropper rigs. With a hopper dropper rig, there is no need to be extremely tight on the bank as it can very easy to get snagged on the bank. Focus on long drifts a foot or two from the bank.

When to Fish Hopper Droppers:

Annually, the end of the summer July, August, and September are the best months of the year to fish hopper droppers. With August being the peak of the season. As for the time of day, the mornings can offer some great action as not many other anglers have pounded the banks. But, the afternoons can be really productive as the air temperatures have warmed up and the hoppers will have been active for a good period of time.

Wind and also rain can also really trigger a hopper bite. When the wind comes up in the afternoons, it can knock the clumsy hoppers from the banks and into the rivers. Where they float helplessly into a trout’s mouth. The same goes for rainstorms. The rain can wipe the terrestrials off of the grasses, trees, and bushes and into the river. It can really trigger a trout bite!

To Conclude: 

Hopper dropper fishing is an extremely entertaining and effective way to fly fish in the later part of summer and into fall. The rigs are easy to set up, cast, and extremely effective. In a perfect world, we would just fish a single hopper. But the dropper really increases the odds to catch more fish. So tie on your favorite hopper and your confidence dropper and see if you can find some trout in the dog days of summer.

hopper dropper tshirt

At VVA, we love hopper dropper fishing so much that we even made a t-shirt for it (see above). If you want to experience a true hopper dropper experience we recommend going out on a half or full-day float trip with one of our professional guides. Be sure to check our fishing reports for the latest conditions on the Eagle River, Roaring Fork River, and Upper Colorado River.

Patrick Perry, Former Float Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor @patperry