By Robert Williamson
(Published Aug., 2002, Utah Outdoors magazine)
Ouch! I could feel the sting of several cheat grass seeds stuck in my sock, stabbing me in the ankle of my right leg. It was just irritating enough that I had to take my waders off to remove the little agitators. I shouldn’t have walked through the grasses checking for hoppers before I put on my waders. But the excitement of catching trout on a hopper imitation was running through my mind, and the way my heart was racing, hopper adrenalin was pumping through my veins.
I sat on the tailgate of my Blazer, removed the cheat grass seeds from my sock, pulled my waders back on, strung my fly rod and headed for the creek.
It was midday. The autumn air was warm and pleasant. I had this stretch of water to myself. I was thankful for hunting seasons and for school seasons too.
My habit was to peer into the water from the bank before entering a stream. I saw two brown trout holding in a small depression. I removed my hopper from the keeper and let it swing out over the streamside brush. I made a couple of false casts and watched the trout rush upstream and into a deep undercut. This was going to be tough fishing. The water was low and clear and as I just witnessed, the trout were very skittish.
I traversed the edge of the bank, slipped down into the water between a couple of river birches and stared at the hole above me. I felt a concentration of my senses. I strained my eyes, looking for a spot to land a hopper imitation. A seam of current just left of the undercut bank had to hold a hungry trout just waiting for a water conveyed meal.
My first cast was too far to the left, short and in the shallow water. I picked up my line, shot it out over the seam and dropped the pattern in a good spot. I expected an explosion in the current but watched as a trout head poked out of the water and casually sipped the hopper in its mouth.
When the hook jabbed into the trout’s jaw, it went airborne. After the jump, the trout tried to reach the snags at the head of the undercut. I worked the trout to the tail of the hole and noticed that it was a nice cutthroat. Before I could bring it to my hands, it made a couple of thrashing spins and threw the hook. Close enough I thought as I stared forward looking for the next likely spot to land a cast.
Prime time for hoppers
Late summer through fall in Utah is perfect for hopper fishing. The hoppers have matured and have been around for three or four months so trout have had a chance to see them. Trout are also sensing that the cold months are not far away and an urgency to store some fat for winter gets them feeding. Brown trout preparing for the upcoming spawn will get very aggressive in their feeding. Larger morsels of food such as hoppers can be taken readily.
Great hopper waters can be found all around Utah. They include rivers, streams and small creeks. Hoppers can be found in the grasses and brush along most of these waters. In the fall these river, streams and creeks are at low, clear flow. A sneaky fly fisher with a good hopper pattern should be able to get good surface action.
Most of the trout in these waters are of typical size. Eight to 12 inches tend to be most common. Fourteen and 16 inch with the occasional 18- to 20-inch trout can also be brought to the surface with a well-placed hopper imitation.
I fished a small creek in the Cache Valley area last year on the opening of the general deer hunting season. As planned, I had the little stream to myself. The previous night’s weather had cooled the air temperature. I didn’t expect the hoppers to be moving around much until the air warmed. I got to the stream just before noon.
As I walked down to the water, hoppers would jump out in front of me. They looked to be about the same size as the imitations I had tied up. My first cast brought a plump, spawn-colored 14-inch brown to my hand. The rest of the afternoon was just as rewarding. Two trout pushing eighteen inches were the highlights of the day. One was an energy filled brown, the other a nice cutthroat.
As I released the cutthroat I stood up, raised my head, scanned the countryside, softly giggled and under my breath said, “I can’t believe this! And no one is even around.” I’ve had similar experiences on many other small streams in the state.
Fall hopper fishing is a quiet time. Hunters are gone in search of birds, deer, elk and other game. It is a time when a fly fisher can examine landscapes. Barry Lopez, author of “Crossing Open Ground,” tells us of two distinct landscapes: “…one outside the self, the other within.” The hoppers, the trout and the rivers are outside the self. The feeling of life, joy, satisfaction and solitude are within the self. There is no better way to blend these two landscapes than with a artificial hopper on the end of a fly line.
The twisted hopper
The last few years I have been tying and using a pattern I call the Twisted Hopper. It has been a very good hopper imitation. It is made by twisting or furling thin strips of closed-cell sheet foam. The pattern can be tied with a single colored body or a multi-colored body can be made by marrying different colors together before twisting them.
- Hook: Tiemco 5212 size 8-12 or equal
- Thread: Olive or yellow
- Body: Twisted closed-cell sheet foam. Colors include tan, tan and yellow, olive, olive and tan
- Wing: Elk hair
- Head: Closed cell sheet foam color to match body
- Legs: Brown rubber or Spanflex
Tying Steps for Twisted Hopper
Step 1: Cut and twist thin strips of sheet foam forming a body. Length equal to hook shank.
Step 2: Tie twisted body on top of hook shank, just forward of the middle of the shank.
Step 3: Even tips of elk hair and tie in over foam body. Tips should be even with the end of body.
Step 4: Cut a 3/8-inch wide by half-inch long piece of closed-cell sheet foam. Poke a hole through the center with a bodkin. Push this foam over the eye of the hook. Squeeze it down on top and bottom forming a foam bullet head. Tie down in place forming a neat collar.
Step 5: Tie in legs on each side of the fly. Whip Finish.