Hopper Season

by Mike Lum

Late summer; hot, dry, windy. Hatches of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies are mostly a distant memory. For those of us who prefer to watch trout actually eat our flies as opposed to watching a small orange ball, what most western rivers offer in the way of some floating fly salvation are terrestrial insects. Grasshoppers, ants and for some, beetles, are the foods that will bring most later season trout to the surface for a meal. While ants and beetles can be, at least at times and in places, productive, the ubiquity of grasshoppers (flyfishers prefer the vernacular “hoppers”), makes them the king of late season hatches. As grasses crisp with summer heat and lack of moisture, hoppers will, preferring juicier foods, tend to migrate towards the greener pastures of river and stream banks becoming concentrated along waterways. A mown hay field near a river can create a panacea for the fish. 
Hot, sunny, windy days will get the bugs hopping and flying out over, and hopefully into the water. Hoppers aren’t great swimmers and will kick and struggle for many yards as they’re carried downstream, essentially helpless in the current. Trout in general and especially big trout relish this easy meal and will slowly, almost casually, tip to the surface and gently slurp the helplessly bobbing bugs. Trips are planned for “Hopper Season” each year with late July through early September being prime time for most fisheries.
Tactics and gear are fairly straightforward; I prefer a fast action 9-foot 4 weight rod…the T&T Avantt 904-4 is my absolute favorite for this, with enough backbone to throw larger dries in the wind and to fight bigger fish, yet extremely lightweight and precise for getting perfect drifts up under overhanging grass and into tight seams. Pair this with a floating line and a 7 ½ to 9-foot leader tapering to 3 or 4x.
Appropriate presentations are situationally specific with either up or down stream angles working well depending on where you can position yourself. I tend to prefer down and across angles as I can show the fly to the fish before tippet, leader and line and also provide a controlled twitch or two. Adding some lifelike struggle to the presentation can illicit takes from more reticent late season fish. The key word here is controlled. Hoppers don’t waterski. A slight 2-inch twitch will generally be best and is most easily accomplished while casting downstream at your target.
Fishing hoppers is a covering water type proposal. You generally won’t see fish steadily rising to grasshoppers. It’s more of an opportunistic meal, so floating your fly over likely holding water close to banks and structure will be your best bet.
Adding a second fly, AKA the “Hopper-Dropper” rig, is always a good idea to cover your bases. The dropper fly can be either a bead head nymph of some sort (the newer jig or Perdigon style flies work really well for this) or another, generally smaller dry fly…an ant pattern would be a logical choice here. Personally, if the fish are “on” hoppers and eating the dries regularly, I much prefer the single dry. It just fishes better and can be fished tighter to cover. Hopper season on western rivers is a yearly event, sometimes more consistently productive than the bigger name hatches earlier in the spring and summer. The low, clear flows of late summer beg for a well drifted dry fly and the slow, languorous eats of large trout confidently eating bugs off the surface are a siren song for itinerant anglers.

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