Droppers in Hopper Time

Some new wrinkles on taking summer trout.

Field & Stream Online Editors

There's a saying in flyfishing that if you want to catch more fish, fish more. There's another saying that if you want to catch smart fish, fish smarter. Now you can use both approaches at the same time when trout are feeding on grasshoppers.

This particular technique was developed along western rivers where there are still good hatches of aquatic insects during the grasshopper time of late summer. It's a new wrinkle on the old dry-fly-as-dropper method and will work in other parts of the country, too.

When grasshoppers are abundant along stream margins, the trout are always very alert for the meaty plop of a big hopper hitting the water. The trout are also very conscious of any hatching aquatic species. Sometimes during a hatch, one fish will eat a hopper with gusto while another fish will refuse the terrestrial and concentrate solely on the emerging aquatics. Then there are those in-between-the-hatch times when some fish are looking up for hoppers, and other fish are looking down for nymphs, larvae, and pupae.

You don't have to play musical flies in this case, switching repeatedly among hopper, emerger, and nymph patterns. You can simply fish two flies at once, which means a high-floating hopper imitation along with anything else. The big hopper not only takes fish on the lookout for such terrestrial treats, but it's a flag that can call the fish's attention to the second fly, getting the fish to take a look when it otherwise might not.

On some rigs, the hopper fly is used as the dropper. One way is to leave a tag end of a knot untrimmed and attach the hopper there. This is typically done at the blood knot or surgeon's knot connecting the tippet to the leader. The end of the thicker material is left untrimmed, and the hopper is tied to it. The other fly is then knotted onto the end of the tippet as usual.

For example, suppose there's a hatch of the western pale evening duns in progress, and trout are swirling strongly for size 18 swimming nymphs. Tie an 18- to 24-inch 6X tippet to the end of a 3X leader. Allow the tag end of the 3X to stick about 4 inches out of the knot. Secure the hopper to the 3X, and a size 18 pheasant-tail nymph to the end of the 6X tippet.

A very similar method is to tie on the 6X tippet and trim the connecting knot as usual. Then use a uni-knot to tie a piece of 3X around and on the leader above the tippet knot. Pull the uni-knot tight and slide it down until it locks against the tippet knot. Trim the 3X to about 4 inches long and attach the hopper. The advantage of this method is that the 3X can be readily changed if needed without affecting the rest of the leader.

You can also rig your hopper as the terminal fly and another fly as the dropper. In this case, the hopper would be tied to the end of a 3X leader, for example. A 6X tippet would then be tied to the eye of the hopper, and the nymph to the other end of the 6X. A closely related arrangement is to attach the hopper to the 3X, and then tie the piece of 6X to the bend of the hopper's hook with an improved clinch knot.

Be careful when casting such a rig; two flies cast too enthusiastically can create incredible tangles. Use an elliptical casting stroke-make the back cast a bit sidearm and the forward cast more vertical-and keep the loop open by tipping the rod farther down than normal at the end of the forward cast. In addition, keep false casting to an absolute minimum. If possible, use a roll cast to deliver the flies; this cast will greatly minimize tangling.

Even then, there will be occasional tangles. Typically, I don't try to untie such snarls if they are anything more complicated than a few misplaced wraps. Highly involved tangles are best solved with a pair of nippers. Cut off the whole thing and retie it. The time saved-with the possibility of more fish caught-is worth the cost of the tippet.

When fishing, watch the hopperr closely. A take to the sunken fly can be subtle. Sometimes the hopper just stops; sometimes it seems to dart upcurrent a bit or move unnaturally sideways. Often these are indications that a fish has taken the sunken fly. Sometimes the fish will see the hopper and move up for a look, even flashing quite near the surface. Such fish may nail the trailing fly, so be ready. If you're unsure in any of these instances, raise the rod tip until the line is tight. If a fish has taken the trailing fly, you're on. If not, the rig isn't pulled totally out of the water, and you can continue to fish out the drift.

A subtle variation is to use the floating hopper to suspend the sunken fly at a prescribed depth. For example, if the fish are taking midge pupae just under the surface film, the hopper may be positioned only 6 inches above the pupa imitation, effectively holding it in the fish's feeding zone throughout the entire drift.

Regardless of fly arrangement, this two-fly rig is definitely to be avoided in places where there are lush aquatic plants or anywhere there are plenty of potential places for the second fly to catch up during the fight. But in those open places in many streams and lakes, where the likelihood of a hangup is small, the two-fly rig truly is fishing harder and smarter.