DON’T PACK UP THE GEAR – IT’S HOPPER TIME!

July 21, 2020 • Forum, Tips

As the summer months arrive and the giant mayfly hatches slowly fade into distant memories of late nights, big fish, and massive riseforms, many fly anglers retire their gear for the season. Others embrace the midday warm sunshine and grassy banks to wander the river listening for the clicking of grasshoppers along the banks as the sun rises above the treetops. By late July, grasshoppers, beetles, and ants have matured and are gathering by the river’s edge to eat, drink, and mate.

Warm temperatures at midday brings these insects to the river to drink and eat the lush grassy banks and as the air warms, winds increase and blow them into the river. Large trout recognize this and align themselves along the bank waiting for them to fall into the river.

 

Ant colonies, now growing and expanding their sandy tunnels are regularly washed into the river by heavy rains that often accompany hot summer afternoon temperatures. Once again, trout become aware of this and key in on these tiny morsels.

Beetle populations grow this time of year in the dark shadows of the cedar swamps that line many sections of the cold water streams. They too become prey for the trout that lay along the edges of these swampy sections.

 

Just as many think the mayfly hatches are finished for the season, here comes the tiny tricorythodes (#20) hatch in late July. Fearful of baking in the hot, midday sunshine, the little trico’s emerge in the cool overnight, and early morning air. Don’t be caught off guard in the morning if clouds of these tiny mayflies gather, mate, and spin to the water bringing every trout in the river to the surface to feed.

 

Here are few tips that may help your success during this season. First, trico fishing is specialized and requires that you prepare to arrive early, fish longer leaders and fine tippets in the 6X and 7X diameters. If you intend to look for the feeders in the early morning light, be prepared with all phases of the hatch — emergers, duns, and spinners.

 

Hopper fishing utilizes larger flies in the #8 to #12 sizes. They are fairly wind resistant and require tippets in the 4X to 5X range. If you’re fishing faster, Western rivers, shorter 7½ foot leaders will be fine. In Michigan, 9 foot leaders are better for the slower, flatter water.

If hopper fishing is your game for the day, take your time getting started. Grasshoppers won’t arrive at the river to drink until the sun is high in the sky and the winds have begun to build. Remember, it’s the wind that builds in the afternoon sun that provides the insects to the trout. So, trout are not looking for them until the sun reaches above the treetops. Plan to fish areas that receive direct sunlight. It’s the grassy banks that boast good populations of hoppers. So fish sections that allow you to wade downstream and cast to the deep undercut, grassy banks. Listen for the clicking sound that adult grasshoppers make. That’s a sure sign that trout will be looking for these big morsels.

As you wade downstream in Michigan streams, be aware of your surroundings. If you suddenly find yourself in a dark, section shaded by cedar trees, change from a hopper to a beetle pattern. Beetles inhabit the rotted logs and decaying regions of the wet cedar swamps. Then as you emerge from the darkness to more grassy banks basking in the sunshine, change back to your hopper pattern.

Fishing terrestrials out West is a little different than fishing them on an Eastern river where one is unable to walk a bank because of the brush that grows thickly along its banks. Along the western rivers of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, Eastern tag alder lined banks are replaced by open banks and sagebrush. This allows anglers to walk banks and fish upstream. In this situation, you can cast upstream tight to the bank ten or fifteen feet upstream and lift the rod as the fly comes down stream toward you. You can then walk a few steps up the bank and cast again. Once you have fished upstream as far as you wish, you can then fish back downstream four or five feet from the bank where the trout that you pushed off of the bank will now be holding.

I was fortunate enough to have learned to hopper fish with Jack Gartside on the Madison River in the early 80’s. Jack showed me how to maneuver upstream on the rocks, grassy banks, and cliff walls and cast to the trout holding tightly along the bank. Jack explained, “Keep moving. Make your cast and walk. You either spooked ‘em, hooked ‘em, or they didn’t like your fly. So move on.” We would fish upstream five miles a day between bridges that way. Of course today the river’s banks have been subdivided and fishing five

A young, inexperienced Dave Leonhard gets a lesson in hopper fishing from the master, Jack Gartside, on the Madison River.
(photo taken by fly fishing mentor and pal, Tudor Apmadoc)

miles upstream is not possible. But the technique is solid and when the wind is howling 25 miles an hour, casting only fifteen feet upstream can be a highly successful method.

 

 If you intend to fish hoppers on these Western rivers, don’t charge out at 10am to beat the crowd. Trout are not looking for hoppers until the sun rises high in the sky and the winds pick up. You’ll only push the fish off of the bank preventing anyone from enjoying the hopper fishing for the day. Instead, wait until you hear them clicking along the brushy, grassy banks in the heat of the day. Then, go get ‘em!