As we enter the long dry conditions of late July and early August, fishing your favorite streams and rivers can become exceedingly difficult. This difficulty is due to the low water conditions and abundance of insects to satisfy hungry fish. Fly anglers need to be able to turn from their time trusted nymphs and streamers techniques and go with a more radical approach, flamboyant hopper patterns.
As far as fly fishing is concerned there is not many more exciting ways to catch big browns than with top water flies. And better yet, big browns seem to have a real soft spot for big hoppers floating helplessly downstream.
The real beauty behind fishing these flies is that they evoke vicious strikes from hearty trout.
Hopper patterns encompass a large group of flies varying from small earth-toned foam flies to large wild deer hair patterns. Although other land-loving critters can also produce action this time of year, nothing beats splashing around with hopper patterns. The real beauty behind fishing these flies is that they evoke vicious strikes from hearty trout while at the same time being very easy to fish.
Hopper patterns in general are a very diverse group of flies that differ from most other top water patterns in the fact that they can be both fished like a dry but also in the surface film or submerged like a wet fly. In most cases when the real insect touches down on the water they float down river like a cork, but in certain instances such as fast, turbulent waters there is a good chance of the hopper drowning or being pulled under the water surface.
If you plan on fishing the traditional dry fly approach with your hoppers, look for patterns that have either a body spun out of deer hair, or buoyant close cell foam. This will keep your patterns riding high on the water surface for hours on end. Another good idea is to have a pattern that incorporates a bright sight indicator onto the top of the fly. This indicator tag will help anglers pick up the fly quickly in low light or fast water conditions increasing your chances of hooking up with fish more consistently. As far as using your hopper in the surface film or beneath the waters surface you want to choose a pattern that incorporates a dubbed fur body into its construction. This dubbed body will absorb water very quickly drawing it beneath the waters surface to where the fish can get a better look at it. Another good addition to look for in a hopper pattern that you intend on using in this manner would be a pair or a foursome of rubber legs. These simple rubber legs come alive when the fly enters the water fooling fish into thinking that maybe this hopper is making one last effort to reach the shore.
As for the colors of patterns to try, it is best to simply walk around the fields in your respective area to see what the naturals look like. If you do not have the time or the accessibility to the fields then simply carrying patterns in olive, yellow and tan should cover any type of hopper hatch you run into.
Hopper patterns are basically large dry flies that require no soft, subtle presentation. The louder the "plop" when the fly hits the water, the better the flies seem to work. If you have ever witnessed an actual grasshopper fall to the water's surface, you've probably seen that they are not an insect who gives up easily. The feisty critters will kick and scratch their way to the water edge or die trying.
If you are looking to catch fish with hopper on the surface, long casts towards overgrown grassy banks will produce best. Cast upstream and across from your target at a forty-five degree angle and allow the fly to drift drag-free downstream. With these terrestrial patterns, a loud plop on the entry is not a bad thing and a few timely strips of line during the drift will help to get fish looking at what you are offering.
To fish a hopper as a wet fly simply cast the fly across and upstream from the target rocky run, and give one or two quick strips of line to pull the fly under. After the fly is submerged let it drift drag-free but be sure to collect any extra line that forms as the fly nears your position. Watch how the fish react to the fly, if they are taking the fly early in the drift while the fly is still riding high in the water column a little floatant applied to the to the front of the fly will keeping the fly floating high and the fish happy. If the fish are waiting for the fly to reach the deeper deaths of the run a micro lead-free shot applied a foot above the fly will help to get the fly down faster. If you are seeing fish follow your fly but not taking it, try giving the fly a few upstream strips near the end of the drift, this sometimes help those indecisive fish to bite down and bite down hard.
Water/ Weather Conditions
Hopper patterns in general are a very diverse group of flies.
The best conditions for using hopper patterns are shallow, clear, fast-flowing rocky rivers surrounded by long grass fields. You want the water conditions to be running fairly quickly so that the fish do not get too good of a chance to look at your hopper as it drifts overhead. Fish in these riffles and runs have to make a quick decision, either react immediately or let the meal pass them by. In most cases, being the ever-eternal opportunist's that they are; trout will haphazardly gulp down your offering.
Since hoppers are terrestrial critters by nature they spend the majority of there days living in the grass and fields surrounding streams. When the wind picks up, these hoppers try and move by jumping into the air and end up getting swept along with the strong gusts and thrown to the waters surface. Ideally fly anglers should look to fish hopper patterns whenever they encounter a stiff breeze out on their favorite bodies of water. Another key to look for when fishing hopper patterns is that the sun is overhead and shinning brightly. This might sound contrary to everything you might have ever heard about trout fishing but if you think about it makes perfect sense.
Hoppers rely on their wings to move about the fields. In the early morning grass fields get covered with dew, wetting down everything that lives there. With wet wings hoppers can not get up into the air so there is no chance for them to be blown into the river. As the sun comes out and starts to warm things up, the hoppers wings dry out making them active. In most cases by noon you should start seeing a good number of hoppers working the grass fields.
Fishing hoppers does not require any real special gear. Your standard 5- or 6-weight rod is perfect along with a floating forward-tapered fly line. One great point about this type of summer hopper fishing is that you really do not need an extremely long, light leader section. A 7 1/2 foot standard leader will do just fine while a short stout tippet section is recommended when you are trying to catch big browns with bad attitudes. This fish will not be weary, when they come to bite be ready because they will give you and your tackle all that you can handle.
For most the long hot summer months can mean long dry spells from their favorite streams due to tough fishing conditions and hard to catch fish. The trout these fly anglers seek are still in these low crystal-clear streams. Up to this point in time trout are exclusively feeding on nymphs and hatching dries but with the hot summer weather they have the taste for a big, easy meal and that is a juicy hopper. Hopper fishing can be fun for the beginner and experience fly angler and watching a lunker brown rise off the bottom to eat your fly will stay in the back of your mind for years to come.