By Spencer Durrant
It’s been a weird year here in the Rocky Mountains. Most of us – Montana and Wyoming excluded – had a worryingly light winter. Wild temperature swings threw off the hatch schedule, too. Most bugs were a month late. Then the entire Western United States went up in flames. Thankfully, nature looks to be settling down. Aside from above-average rainfall (a blessing with all the fires out here), the weather is stabilizing – and so is the fishing. This doldrum couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s the end of summer, the days are a little shorter, the air a bit crisper, and every field of cheatgrass and willows is filled to bursting with grasshoppers. It’s now hopper season, and that knowledge takes a big of the edge off the massive wildfires and widespread drought that’ve become the West’s backdrop.
Hopper season is the “one last hurrah” in a lot of dry fly fisheries. Sure, you’ll get some late-season blue-winged olive hatches in October and November, but the hoppers are the last giant bugs you’ll see fish smack on top. I know trout aren’t capable of sentient thought, but they seem to lose any common sense during hopper season and go after flies with reckless abandon. Today, we’ll look at a few tips and tricks you can use this year to make your hopper season an even bigger success than last year’s. And if this is your first hopper season on the fly, you’re in for an absolute treat.
I’ve heard some anglers say that patterns don’t matter as much with hoppers as they do with say, mayfly hatches. That’s true to a point, but you can’t throw any big fluffy dry and expect it to work with any degree of regularity. I’m partial to two patterns – the Chubby Chernobyl and the Fat Albert. Don’t confuse the Fat Albert with Pink Alberts – those are two completely different flies. Chubbys probably catch more fish for me than anything else, though I’ll tie up a lot of regular Chernobyl hoppers, too. Fat Alberts are a bit trickier to tie, so if you’re just starting to tie your own flies than I’d recommend buying the Alberts.
Hoppers aren’t dainty little mayflies. If you take a few minutes to observe real grasshoppers falling into a river, they land with a splat. They have enough mass to displace a large amount of water, and it’s that displacement which initially catches the attention of a trout. Now, if you’re fishing fast-moving water, the current will toss the fly around enough that you don’t need to add any action. If you’re on glassy or slow water, don’t be afraid to twitch it a bit. Real grasshoppers, after all, don’t just fall in the water and accept their fate as fish food. They try to escape. Make your hopper do the same.
Most hoppers I throw are sizes 12 through 8. Anything bigger or smaller isn’t as effective, in my experience. With that in mind, it’s nice to have a rod with a bit more backbone to toss bigger dries. I usually fish a 6wt, though a faster 5wt will do the trick. Throwing hoppers on a 4wt can be tons of fun, but be prepared to open up your casting loops to accommodate the larger fly. Hopper season is special; it’s a gift from the fishing gods as summer turns to fall and most fish – and anglers – head in for winter. So get out while you can, and put these tips to use. And don’t forget to share pictures of your catches with us on Instagram! – @douglasoutdoors
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in publications like Field & Stream, American Angler, Sporting Classics Daily, Hatch Magazine, and other national outlets. Spencer is also the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.