By Brent Jorgensen
The sun was high overhead, making the day hot and dry. It was mid-July and the hoppers were heavy this year. I had parked my car on the side of a dirt road, in sight of Little Deer Creek, the small spring creek whose source is Cascade Springs.
Other vehicles could be seen along the road, but most were four-wheel drives moving up and down it's very rough length. A few brave persons had pulled camper trailers and were staying along the banks of the stream. I had hoped to avoid crowds on the water, and the sun and heat kept that hope alive. Only a few bait fishemnen were plying the water for a trout supper. I had come to temp these usually more wary fish at their least cautious feeding time.
As I walked through the meadow grass hundreds of hoppers jumped out of my way, and I knew it would be a productive day of fishing. This was confirmed as I cautiously approached the small stream on my hands and knees. The trout were lined up along the banks waiting for a big, juicy meal.
I had captured a few grasshoppers as I approached the stream, and I dropped them one by one onto the water in front of me. I was surprised by the reaction. Four trout raced for the first insect as it struggled and kicked to get free of the water. It's efforts were in vain as the nearest trout scooped it off the water in one hungry charge. The other unfortunate fish moved back to their original feeding stations as far away as six feet, only to charge back for the next insect victim thrown onto the water. As I fished through the day my efforts were rewarded with this same reaction to my large bulky flies.
This experience can be repeated on many trout waters that have a grasshopper population nearby. Grasshoppers and other terrestrials unwittingly fall into the water as they move around in search of food and water. Insects will actually go to the water on overhanging vegetation and be picked off the stick or blade of meadow grass by a waiting trout as the insect drinks.
This would make it seem that fishing imitations of these insects is easy going for even the most green fly fishemnen. However, there are some rules to make hopper fishing more effective and fun.
The first rule is to make the fly hit the water with a splash. This could be called splat casting during the hopper season. At other times of the year casting like this is called sloppy. The trick is to forget all those casting lessons you worked so hard on in the back yard. Just let go of all that work and practice and slow down the line speed so the loop in the line opens up. Another trick is to push down slightly with the casting thumb on the forward stroke. This causes the fly to be pushed down onto the water as the loop unrolls. The fly will hit the water with a nice splash. However, don't be too strong on the splash, the fish can still be put down, even as bold as they are at this time of year.
Fish wait in the most likely places that they will find hoppers. A hands and knees approach to a small stream like Little Deer Creek can show where the fish feed - and the spots will be basically the same on small streams and large rivers. This is almost always near the bank where hoppers and other insects come for water. Cast as close to the opposite bank as possible. Casting the fly onto the other bank and pulling it into the water can be especially effective, if there is little chance of hanging up on some vegetation. Fish wait for insects to fall into the water in such places.
Watch closely for the larger shadows made by big fish. Cast the fly just behind the fish with that splat, and hang on. Fish often don't even look at what they are charging, they just turn and grab the fly so harshly the hook sets itself and the fight is on.
Another area to look is overhanging willows or downed trees. Because of the warm weather, fish look for shady cooler areas like overhanging willows or undercut banks to escape the warmer, less oxygenated water. Cast as close as possible to these structures. If nothing takes the fly on the splashy entry, let the fly move downstream with a drag free drift, except from time to time give the fly a slight jerk. Hoppers struggle to free themselves from the water by kicking their back legs. Giving the fly this same kicking movement will often cause the lazier larger fish to strike.
An opportunity often overlooked is to imitate a drowned hopper. If the hopper is lucky enough not be be eaten on its initial entry into the water, it tries to kick its way to dry land. The kicking action breaks the surface tension of the water and eventually the hopper will become submerged and finally drown. The dead insect will be pulled along by the currents to spots where fish are feeding in more normal patterns. These fish will eat the drowned hopper like any other insect that drifts by. Putting weight on the normal dry fly grasshopper imitation or using a small muddler minnow are both effective methods of presentation. The Hornberg Special is a streamer that works as a drowned hopper. The thing to remember is to make the fly look like a drowned or half-drowned hopper. Giving the fly the small little kick, then letting it drift dead in the water like a nymph is often all that is needed to make the trout move to the fly.
Simple flies are often the best flies to fish. The tier finds these flies easier to produce, and so they are easier to let go to the pine tree that was forgotten or the fish that broke it off. My favorite patterns to fish are the Letort Hopper and the Madame X. They both have the basic silhouette of the insects and both ride in, not on, the surface film.
Whatever fly you choose should do three things. First it has to be big enough. You should carry flies to match the size of the prevalent insects. Earlier in the season smaller hoppers are best. At the peak of the season larger patterns are in order. In my box I carry hoppers in sizes 12 to 6. I have to admit I carry some of the fancier patterns also. Being a fly tier, I like to see how well I can tie these harder to make flies. My favorites of the harder flies are Dave's Hopper, Henries Fork Hopper, Schroeder's Parachute Hopper and the MacHopper.
Tying hoppers isn't as hard as some make it out to be. Start with the simple patterns first and then work into the fancier patterns as you practice. Deer and elk hair are the main ingredients for most patterns. Learning to spin deer hair is essential to tying the fancier flies. The Letort Hopper is to me a bridge between the simple and more fancy patterns. It has a spun deer hair head.