Hopper fishing should probably come with a warning label: Days spent drifting in clear water beneath a late-summer sky can leave participants disoriented and dazed. Longer exposure may impair concentration and general cognitive functioning. Anglers may find some images particularly disturbing.
Like this one: a walleyed grasshopper twitching and drifting on a flow, going nowhere other than down the gullet of a monster trout—flyfishing’s version of hunting tigers over a tethered goat. Up from the bottom swims a fish with dime-size spots, accelerating, mouth opening, slapping at the surface like an ill-mannered bank beaver.
Well, now you know where to cast.
Memories organize around moments of drama, but for every display of piggish excess, there are a half dozen slashes in fast water and even more well-mannered rises that remain barely detectable. Put another way, imitating hoppers not only has drama, but it retains flyfishing’s delicious complexity. The same can be said of imitating crickets, the other favorite trout forage from the order Orthoptera. Through late summer and early fall, crickets and grasshoppers often end up in rivers, and imitations of them work magic on trout water across the country—and just might let you land your biggest trout of the year on a dry fly.
Research confirms the seasonal importance of such large terrestrials. In one study, scientists compared the food in the drifts of five southern Appalachian streams with the stomach contents of the resident trout. Analysis during late-summer months showed that the trout began taking terrestrials in greater proportion than they existed in the drift.
The flyfishing community has come to appreciate the importance of hoppers, which existed outside the flyfishing narrative dominated by mayflies—that is, until the rise of western trout fishing in the postwar years. Today, grasshopper patterns fill the compartments of fly boxes across the land. Most focus on two of the short-horned species: the bandwing brown hoppers that flush like small grouse, and the smaller, spur-throated yellow-and-green ones that hop everywhere but don’t fly much.
Even with limited prototypes, there are countless grasshopper patterns—a reflection of their appeal to trout and probably the general neuroses of fly anglers (see “The Elite Eight”). Most patterns come in one of three styles: foam, natural, and parachute.
Start with foam hoppers when you’re fishing fast current, particularly in situations where the fish are aggressive and you are trying to cover water. Of the three styles, foam bugs are the most ubiquitous and varied. The Big Eye Hopper (orvis.com) is a fine example, but don’t overlook some of the more local patterns at mom-and-pop shops.
In slow water, the more realistic and soft-feathered styles, such as the Dave’s Hopper or Letort Hopper, make a better choice. For selective trout, a parachute hopper pattern with a bright post can be just the ticket in riffles. The body stays in the surface film, but the top remains visible to the angler.