Hoppers 101: Fly Fishing With Hopper Flies For Large Trout

Hoppers 101: Fly Fishing With Hopper Flies For Large Trout

The intense buzzing can be heard from the truck as rods are hastily rigged with giant globs of foam with spider-looking legs dangling from all directions. 

It’s hopper season, and there are few things in angling that rival the excitement of watching a trout attack a #8 dry fly!  Here’s a crash course on how, when, and where to fish these terrestrials from summer far into fall to wrangle up trout from waters all over the country. 

Table Of Contents

When to Fly Fish Hopper Flies

When there are not really any hatches going on, usually in the heat of the day, hoppers will be a great way to bring big trout up to the surface.

With the summer heat and very little rain, the streams are extremely low. This pushes trout to find cover and safety in deep pools and undercut banks along the sides. You still will find trout in skinny water at the front and tail end of pools. These trout will likely be the more active feeders in the section and more likely to take a chance on your hopper fly.

I usually go out in the late afternoon when the grass is dry. As soon as the morning dew is up the grasshoppers start to come out.

I find that while the grasses are still wet fishing will be rather unproductive on terrestrials and hopper flies. In addition, later in the afternoon when more insects populate the water, it’s hard to draw attention to the hopper. So it’s best to go out in the heat.

Most of the time I start out with small hopper and drop a small beaded nymph off the back using a hopper-dropper rig method or an adjustable dry fly rig. I like to use a beaded nymph as opposed to a beadless because I want the nymph to dive quickly and have the longest presentation possible at depth — down in the feeding lanes. But, you can customize what you have on the hopper dropper system to what works best for you.

Fishing the Same Areas Again

If you’ve fished a hole multiple times and not landed a trout it’s time to do something different. Think about it. How many times do you think a hopper will repetitively linger too close to the edge and fall in? Not very often.

Trout have been conditioned to know this so after a while they sit back and stay deep. Over the years I’ve noticed that if you give a hole a good amount of time in between casts with a terrestrial the trout will eventually get back on the feed and hit it on the first cast.

How to Approach Streams in the Summer

Because the water is more shallow during this time drop can be a little bit more aware of what’s going on above them. So I usually approach from behind or in front and let my line drop to the surface to add a good amount of slack. Instead of casting on top of them, I try and cast to the side and away from them but enough to where they can see it in their line of sight.

Grasshoppers are big enough to where if you slap it right on top of their nose they’re going to get the hell out of Dodge. At least lead them a few feet so you avoid spooking them.

Fish Hoppers in Constant Motion

Fishing a hopper differs greatly from more traditional dry flies. Using a heavier tippet is encouraged for greater accuracy and to prevent your leader from being spun during casting.

  • 3x to 4x tippet and leader

The gentle cast, landing, and drift can be shelved for more rugged splashes and jerking strips on the retrieve.  For a perfect example of how to fish a hopper, try to track a live one down and toss it in the water. Observe how it swims continuously back towards shore with all of its legs moving at once.  

This should be the model for which to strive in our hopper fishing as we cast out and bring the fly back to us with short, constant stripping motions.  An added layer of imitation can involve fluttering the rod tip left and right rapidly to give the fly a skittering motion across the top of the water. 

How Long Does Hopper Season Last?

Hoppers are so fun to fish in part because of the time of year in which they shine!  Summer, complete with wet wading and warm breezes, is the best time to start focusing on terrestrials.  What most don’t realize, however, is that hoppers could (and should!) be fished far into fall. 

These bugs will exist in grassy fields and stream banks until the first freeze, which typically doesn’t happen until late October or November in the East.  Even once this happens, trout still remember what they are and more importantly they instinctively understand the boost of protein that is to be had by inhaling these buzzing bugs!  That’s why “hopper season” usually starts in early June and doesn’t stop until early November. What’s not to love about a six-month season casting big dry flies?

Grass is King

Grass, grass, and more grass!  Much like trout, mayflies, tricos, crayfish, and anything else in the riparian ecosystem, grasshoppers look for and prefer certain areas.  In most cases, this means meadow stream sections with taller grasses. These are the locations where most grasshoppers will call home and by extension, are where trout will also feed. 

The intersection of trout and hopper habitat is the place to start, so wherever streamside vegetation is thickest is the best place to start our fishing.  Casting tight to the bank is preferred as the closer to the grasses we are, the more grasshoppers will naturally fall into the water. 

Hopper fishing can bring big trout to the surface, and it happens to coincide with warm weather and wet wading bliss.  Knowing where to fish, how to fish the flies, and when to go out can go a long way in turning our hopper fishing dreams into a reality!

5 Best Hopper Flies for the Summer

Our favorite hopper flies all have similar qualities about them. First, they need to be able to support a dropper fly. Second, they need to float well in turbulent waters. Third, they need to be widely accepted as trout-catching machines just by themselves. Fourth and finally, they need to be easily visible on the water by either a hot-spot sighter or a big wing.

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1. Chubby Chernobyl

Sizes: #8 to #14

Chubby Chornobyl’s are the staple for hopper-dropper rigs. Not only can they imitate grasshoppers, crickets, and stoneflies, but smaller sizes can be used for large caddis hatches. It can handle multiple nymph flies suspended underneath.

2. Micro Chubby Chernobyl

Sizes: #14 to #16

The micro version of the Chubby Chernobyl can’t handle as much weight as its larger cousin but it’s great for smaller streams and pocket water. While you still can suspend nymphs and emergers off the Chubby Chernobyl, they should be of very lightweight. Dropping smaller flies like a Flashback JuJu Bee Midge, Zebra Midge, or RS2 is recommended.

3. Streambank Hopper

Sizes: #6 to #12

This beefy grasshopper fly is almost completely made out of foam and is a near-perfect silhouette of a true hopper. When waters are rough and we need a buoyant pattern to keep up a heavy nymphing rig, we tie on the streambank hopper. It’s great for big waters and small streams alike. Plus, it’s easy to spot and catches fish.

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4. Mad Hopper

Sizes: #6 to #8

A blockheaded hopper like this is meant to be slowly retrieved for big trout on rivers and twitched for bass and panfish. It’s buoyant enough to hold multiple nymphs and even features a hi-vis patch of foam on the top. We have noticed that the back end of the Mad Hopper tends to dip back below, but it still gets the job done.

5. Madam X Parachute

Sizes: #8 to #14

The Madam X Parachute is a very versatile hopper pattern. It can take the weight of a dropper and provides great visibility above the water. Not only can this pattern imitate stoneflies, but it can make the case for large crickets.

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