HOP TO IT! Very droll I know!;-)
Hopper! Not Dennis, not Hedda,
just plain old 'garden variety' 'grass' hopper! The word
evokes all sorts of images in the mind of the fly fisher.
Long hot summer days, dry grass and some outsized fish! For
many this is the most exciting fishing for the entire season.
And in this short guide we will attempt to arm you with the
necessary knowledge to allow you to share in the fun.
Trout eat stuff drifting down
stream all day long. While there are times that fish shut
off altogether, mainly due to biological and
environmental factors, for the bulk of the season trout feed
well throughout any 24 hour period. As a result we know that
when we cannot find a visibly feeding fish that it is more
than likely they are still active down deep. Knowing this
we confidently fish nymphs out of sight in the depths, often
with great success, which proves to us that although we cannot
see them feeding, it is still happening
the time trout react to what they are seeing in the following
way. They will feed exclusively on the item to be found in
the largest quantities at
the time. 'Well der!' you may be saying, obviously this is
the case, but think carefully about the last time you saw
a good hatch on evening. Chances are there were several species
of dun and spinner, caddis, midge and maybe even a few stoneflies.
In this scenario there are also likely to be nymphs, pupa,
even spinner eggs, so what are the fish taking? It's simple.
They will feed on the item that is occurring in the largest
volume, whether it is on top of or below the water's surface.
given night you may have a sprinkling have huge duns coming
off but the smaller caddis are outnumbering them by a factor
of 20:1. There is your most likely option. Are there more
adults or pupa? Simple application of logic. Select the correct
fly, present it the right way and away you go. That is the
basis of all fishing for trout in rivers. And then there is
nature's curve ball. The hopper hatch!
of the year is when
fish lose a lot of their reticence and forget all 'the rules'.
While you still have to be careful and not be seen, a large
grasshopper fished with thought will catch fish all day. While
they may require the size, shape and colour to be right, you
will not have to second guess fly selection too much. Hoppers,
hoppers or hoppers are the way to go. These huge gobs of protein
are just too tempting to a fish. Effort for reward is maximised.
Just sit along the edge and wait for them to fall in or drift
down. 'Ah life is good' say the hopper feeding trout!
much a hatch as a fall! The insects have hatched months earlier
and only become of concern to the fish, and therefore the
angler by about mid-December
when they have grown and are starting to end up in the river.
We start to notice the first hoppers in the grass in mid to
late November. Tiny little critters that jump out of your
way when you stray too close with either feet or camera lens.
weather is the hopper's friend. Cold snaps, or even worse
frosts, spell death for them. Thankfully we don't get frosts
in spring time but the vagaries of the weather play a significant
part in determining the quality of any given hopper season.
This year we have had a bumper crop so you only have to look
at the weather for the past few months to see what they need
to do well. But what will happen next season?
seem logical to presume that because this year's crop was
good that the extra eggs laid will mean more hoppers next
season.Unfortunately this is not always the case.Grasshoppers
are way down the food chain and as a result they spawn many
thousands of offspring each time to offset the likelihood
that the far majority will not make it to adulthood. The largest
determining factor of the number of hoppers to be found is
the weather. A few cold snaps will kill vast numbers. Give
them the right conditions
and they thrive.
summer the hoppers can be found all over the paddocks in large
numbers. You only have to get out and walk across one of them
to literally have thousands of them jumping out of your way.
However as the summer intensifies and the grass dries and
is eaten they congregate along the rivers edge where grasses
do best. This is about the time that the fishing gets really
go in for all sorts of reasons. A wind gust on a hot northerly
day can catch jumping hoppers and slam them into the water.
Cattle walking along the streams edge often send dozens at a
time into the stream and the fish will rise and take each one,
oblivious to the big bovine profile on the bank above! I was
watching a dozen fish rise in the Rubicon the other day. A group
of cows were walking along the edge and scaring hoppers in every
few minutes. This
in a trickle of hoppers coming down. Perhaps twenty in one
batch. All were taken. Then thirty or so more a few minutes
later, all were again taken.
a look at these hopper photos. Do you notice something about
them? Natural earthy and grassy tones. Patterns that break
up shape and form. These insects are supremely camouflaged
from all but one direction, and that is the one we are concerned
with. When seen from below hoppers are beige, yellow, green
with flecks of orange and red.
are the legs. Legs that make George
Gregan's look like chicken wings!
allow the hopper to leap vast distances relative to its size
and are a prominent feature of the insect and therefore any
imitation of them needs to take this into account.
a very bulky body and prominent head which not only creates
a particular profile but also ensures that when they go in
they fall with a splat. No delicate landings with these creatures.
It's all or nothing as they desperately try to avoid the water
and invariably come down with a crash, sending ripples and
waves across the water's surface. This commotion does not
our streamcraft sessions here we often we talk about holding
lies, feeding lies and prime lies. The spiel goes something
like this. A holding lie is a position a fish goes when it
is frightened or stays in when it is not feeding. Often deep
in a pool or beneath an undercut bank. A feeding lie is where
a fish goes to feed on the hatch and throw caution to the
wind. Positions out in the open like the bubble line in the
centre of the stream or the tails of pools that offer lots
of food but limited protection. A prime lie is both.
A place where
a fish has cover and a great feeding spot rolled
positions are jealously guarded by the larger fish and rightly
so. And it is here that our best fishing on the hopper occurs.
The larger specimens will come from such places.
not to say that fish will not come out from holding positions
and take up spots along the edges, because they will, and
they do. But the better fish will be found in the spots that
have both cover/structure and a good supply of hoppers.
the Goulburn-Rubicon Hopper Urban Myth
I am going to step on someone's toes here, as rumours all
start with someone, but BS is BS. There is a school of thought
that suggests that Goulburn fish make their way up the Rubicon
to feed on hoppers each summer. While we do know there are
small migrations of fish up the Rubicon during some seasons
and a few extra hopper feeders are the by-product, they venture
up because of more suitable water temperatures and certainly
typically will happen during two situations that occur in
summer. Firstly when very warm water is coming down the Goulburn
(i.e. low lake conditions) there will be some fish that will
move into the cooler flows of the Rubi. This only applies
to fish from down around the mouth of the Rubi or below. Fish
move up to find cooler water. That is their biological reaction.
Trout just have it hard-wired into them that to move upstream
will result in cooler water temps, hence the irony of a low
lake Eildon producing a warm water tailwater. No matter how
far up they go the water is warm.
same thing can happen in the reverse climatic conditions.
Take a high lake producing very cold water temperatures in
the 10-11 degree range.
Fish feel the warmer temps of
16,17 or 18 degrees in the Rubi and go 'this is alright, I'm
outta here'! This is the time that you can get a few more
fish than usual run up there, when very cold water in the
Goulburn can cause some fish to relocate downstream and inadvertently
find the warmer flows of the Rubicon into which they will
However to suggest that trout
live in the Goulburn until some triggering factor makes them
all make a bee-line for the Rubicon to feed on hoppers is
naive if not downright ludicrous. I mean a hopper landing
in sends a corresponding ring across the pool it lands in,
but not much further than that! I have not heard of a six
on the Richter scale hopper landing to date.
Trout are simple creatures. They
are reactive not pre-emptive. Unfortunately for us the coalition
of the willing are both. But suffice it to say that there
is no large scale, 'organised' migration of Goulburn fish
up the Rubicon each season.
Fishing the Hopper
We will look at this in two ways.
Firstly in relation to the Goulburn and secondly to smaller
streams in general. The Goulburn is a large river in summer
that offers up some first rate fishing with hopper patterns.
There are two distinct places to be looking, the first of
which are the backwaters.
also know as reverse eddies, are great spots to find a larger
fish locked onto terrestrials of all descriptions, hoppers included.
The way to approach these is from the upstream end (see backwater
article) as the fish are facing into the current that is reversing
along the bank. Stalking is the key here as this is combat at
close quarters with no prizes for second place.
When fishing hoppers in this situation I try and get the
fly to land about a metre or so off the bank, as fish can
be flighty in that close to the edge.Hopper
sizes can be scaled down to same size or a size smaller than
the naturals. If you cannot locate a fish with your polaroids
or see one rising, then search carefully from the nearest
end of the reverse and use a number of casts to work your
way 'up' the reverse. Often fish will move a long way to take
it so give the fly ample time to be found. This is exciting,
visual fishing and is a real highlight of the Goulburn calendar.
other situation is to find a good current that follows the
edge of an overhanging, grassy bank. In this circumstance
I try and get the fly as close to
as possible as fish are in tight seeking refuge from the current.
This method is more physically intense as you will be repeatedly
casting a short line up to about eight metres all day long.
Takes are often quick and violent resulting in solid hook
ups but a lapse in concentration in the harsh summer sun will
often result in heartbreak. Focus on the task at hand. Rest
often and drinks lots of water. Make sure you use a good fly
repellent or you will be constantly swatting at them making
it even more of a challenge to remain focused.
the small streams it is much, much easier. You will be wading
or walking the edge and being very wary of clinking rocks
or throwing your profile on the skyline or shadow on the water.
Fish a short line dead drift in all likely looking water.
Slower water will require great care and careful assessment
before even making a cast. Heavier, broken water may require
many dozens of drifts to adequately cover properly.
mentioned earlier look for prime lies and fish them carefully,
particularly in the slower pools. I would even scale back fly
sizes when fishing this sort of water. While you can just fish
your way up them, I would forsake the tails and go right over
them to the better spots to give myself the best chance of getting
a good fish. This pretty much means that in the better pools
it will be your first or second cast that has the most likely
chance of a positive outcome.
are so many that will work but I have one that I use a more
than most these days. That is Geoff's Miss Knobby-X. Geoff
is not the neatest fly tier going around but he has hit on
something with this that many more 'accomplished' tiers who
are basically just tying versions of versions, will never
to design and effective and truly unique pattern.
pattern is special. From the way the head is constructed to
sit on top (not spinning the deer hair), to its under body
of yellow that is allowed to extend to the eye of the hook,
its over wing, crossed x-styled rubber legs, minimalist yet
bulky body that gets waterlogged and lands with a splat yet
floats, and finally the three or four colours of deer hair
that again match the camouflaged natural well!
is now being used in Wyoming, Montana, Patagonia, Tassie's
western lakes, the Snowy Mountains, New Zealand, up in northern
Australia for bass, on Alaskan wilderness rivers out of drift
boats. The list continues to grow and will do for many years
to come. In case you can't tell I am a great believer in its
up its effectiveness I draw you to the 'law of fly selection'.
Size, shape colour. This has all the classic 'signals' that
say hopper to a fish as well as a great lifelike action thanks
to the rubber legs. But this is only one of many patterns
that you can tie and use. Dave's hopper, the Letort hopper,
Keam's Poly hopper,
the Knobby hopper, the Rubi hopper. There are literally hundreds
of patterns. Stick to the principles outlined above and you
will do fine.
an important aspect worth consideration. Hoppers don't get
going until the day warms a bit and therefore fishing with
them before 11am is rarely great. From about 1pm through until
late evening you can expect fish to be well and truly ready
to take ahopper. Of course conditions may dictate differently,
say if you are going to get a 42 degree day and couldn't bear
the thought of the midday sun, or if water temperatures in
the afternoon are causing the fish to shut down, or even if
you just cant get any other time on the water except the morning!
means fish them, but be aware that the afternoon is the time
to be looking for hopper feeders.
you go. A simple overview of some of the hottest fishing to
be found. It's now peak hopper time as I type this on Saturday
14th January 2006 and the day is warming up. I have a couple
of guests in today for a streamcraft session and I have to
get back to the vice and tie a few more patterns for our afternoon
on the river. Make sure you sample some of this delightfully
exciting fishing before autumn's cooler days bring it to an
abrupt end. But then again, there is always next year.