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Hoppers & Droppers

In this lesson, we are going to discuss tactics for using Hoppers/large stimulators and Droppers. I like to group these together as you will be utilizing more than one of the Drifthook Fly Fishing kits to accomplish catching large trout on the surface and subsurface. These techniques will cover both the surface layer and emerging and free-floating Nymph patterns.

TRANSCRIPT

In this lesson we are going to discuss tactics for using Hoppers/large stimulators and Droppers. I like to group these together as you will be utilizing more than one of the Drifthook Fly Fishing kits to accomplish catching large trout on the surface and subsurface. These techniques will cover both the surface layer and emerging and free-floating Nymph patterns.

We will also go into different Dropper techniques that you can use when prepping your fly rigs for specific water and seasonal scenarios. First, let’s dive into Hoppers.

Newcomers typically struggle with Hoppers. To successfully catch trout using this fishing method, you must mimic the actions of grasshoppers, and fish when the conditions are just right—this is typically during late summer and into early fall.

So how do we fly fish with Hoppers?

Before we can begin discussing the best way to catch fish using Hoppers, we first need to understand what Hoppers are. Some people will know already, but if you're a newcomer to fishing or have never been around someone using this method yourself, you may be a little confused. So, what are Hoppers? Essentially, they are small, manmade variations of grasshoppers.

Trout love to eat grasshoppers when they're available (which is usually around late summer). Fishing using Hoppers is effectively the process of tricking the fish into thinking that the manufactured Hopper you're skimming along the surface of the water is a real grasshopper.

They come up for a meal, take a bite of your Hopper, and then they're on the hook. From there, it'll be all about reeling them in cleanly. To put it in simple terms: Hoppers are just a specific type of bait, one that works exceptionally well with trout at particular times of the year.

How to Set It Up

For the basic Hopper Dropper rig setup, we will attach a 9ft leader with approximately an extra 12” to 24” of 5x or 6x tippet.

Have the leader the same size as your rod.
Yes, if you have a 10ft rod, get a 10ft leader; 9ft rod, 9ft leader.
Attach the first fly to the end of the leader using the Improved Clinch Knot.
Add 12” to 24” of 5x or 6x tippet with the Improved Clinch Knot.
Add the second smaller fly with another Improved Clinch Knot.

The upper part of the tippet is typically made of nylon, while the lower part is fluorocarbon. The nylon will keep it bobbing on the water while the fluorocarbon will sink, though it won't be detectable to the fish.

After you have your Hopper pattern tied on, we are going to drop off a Bead-Headed Nymph pattern. Reference your seasonal hatch chart and find a corresponding Bead-Headed fly in your arsenal that matches the chart. The reason we are looking for a Bead-Headed pattern here is that we are going to need that extra weight to sink the pattern below the surface so we can fish two levels of the water column.

Why Do Hoppers Work?

So why do Hoppers work, anyway? It all comes to what the fish think they're getting when they rise to the surface. They're not just going for a swim to see what's going on in the neighborhood, oh no; they're on the prowl for food. And when you're a trout looking for a snack, you'll find that there's nothing better than seeing that a grasshopper has been blown in your direction. The trout, drawn to the free meal, come up to take a bite but only end up with your hook in their mouth.

Of course, if you're going to mimic Hoppers, you'll need to be smart about it. Hoppers are found on the edges of rivers during late summer and into fall; before then, you'll be unlikely to have much success. They work exceptionally well during August when trout are increasingly hungry, and in higher search of food. Most climates can be teeming with life (and thus food) during spring, but once summer begins to roll around, things start to die down a little, especially in the hotter areas.

What Size Of Hopper Should I Use?

Hoppers come in a range of sizes. As with designs, you'll need a variety of options in your kit. Some work on certain days and in certain conditions better than others. For example, smaller sizes may not work as well as larger ones when conditions are a little obscured, since they can be challenging to see. Save them for when visibility is high. However, one thing about the size is that it's subjective: some people swear by size 12, while others prefer the agile nature of size 16.

The Right Conditions for Hopper Dropper Fly Fishing

There's a knack to finding success with your Hoppers that you'll quickly appreciate; you’ll want the right Hoppers to be out there at the right times. To begin with, this means the right time of year—Hopper season runs from late summer into fall, since that's when grasshoppers are most active. You can try them in January if you like, but the fish will be unlikely to be fooled! Though many fishers don't like the wind all that much, it can be beneficial when you're using Hoppers. That's because the wind pushes grasshoppers into the water in the first place. They're not aquatic insects, so they don't actually like the water, but if the wind gets to be too much for them, then they don't have any choice.


Trout are highly alert to the movement of grasshoppers above their heads, so you'll find success with winds. One highly underrated trick is to follow the lead of actual grasshoppers. If you're in an area where there seems to be a lot, then stay right there. After all, you are attempting to make the fish believe that you're offering a genuine grasshopper. What better way than by blending in with the real thing? Having said that, the absence of grasshoppers in the area doesn't necessarily mean that you won't succeed. Fishers have reported great success with Hoppers during summers when grasshopper numbers were comparatively low—in some cases, that may make success even more likely.

When’s Not the Right Time?

There are some periods when it's best to leave the Hopper equipment at home and use a different method, even during "Hopper season." For the Hopper method to be effective, you'll want conditions to be a little chaotic. For example, the wind should be blowing, and the water should be a bit choppy. If there's no wind, and the air is entirely still, it's unlikely that you'll catch anything with Hoppers—generally speaking, anyway. There are some instances when calm, still conditions will be excellent. For example, if there have been several days of perfect Hopper conditions, the fish will likely still be on the lookout for grasshoppers, even if the real thing won't make it their way (fish aren't dumb, but they're not human-level smart, either).

Generally, however, you’ll want to get out there when it’s windy and choppy. These aren’t just the best conditions for Hopper fishing, it can also be great fun to be out there in conditions that seem a little primal!

Choose the Right Environment

As well as the weather, you'll also need to take a look at the general environment that you're trying to fish. There are some scenarios that just aren't all that conducive to Hopper fishing. It should go without saying that the water source should be a place where grasshoppers are active; this usually means rivers. You should focus your energy on areas where the water level isn't too high and isn't too quick. For a combination of reasons, trout just don't like rising to the surface in these conditions. A regular water level, with a natural current, will be ideal. In other words: if it looks like it would be easy for a trout to swim to the top to grab a grasshopper, then it's the right place.

In some areas, you won't need to overthink it. You'll be able to find the right Hopper spot without much effort. If you can see a few grasshoppers without giving it much thought, it's worth casting your rod. And especially if you can actively see that you're in a spot that's well-frequented by trout. As with most things related to Hopper fishing, sometimes you just need to "feel it out." After a few times fishing in the same area, you'll get a sense of which spots work and which don't.

When casting, I am always looking for tall grasses, brush that is overhanging the water, or undercut banks where a Hopper might fall off into the water. When scoping out an area, keep this in mind, as this will be a great holding ground for large trout and also an area where Hoppers will land in the water.

One mistake that some Hopper beginners make is that they're a little too gentle when it comes to casting. They just try to land the Hopper on the water gently. But if you take a look at how grasshoppers function out there in the world, you'll find that this approach wouldn't look realistic.

Grasshoppers have some weight on them; they're not going to gently land on the water like a tiny fly, especially since they're not voluntarily going into the water. The wind blows them that way, so they're not going to land like a gymnast. They're going to hit the water with more force.

So you should try to mimic that landing style with your rod. Use a little more force, and slap the water—of course, don't go over the top, but similarly, don't be overly gentle either. Let the fish know that the grasshopper has arrived. And, if you're going to have the fish believe that there's a real grasshopper there, you have to keep your line out of the water. The Hopper can slap the water; the line shouldn't touch it.

When you cast to the bank, try to get about 2 to 3 inches from hitting the bank. If you land on the bank, don't worry; all you need to do is point your rod tip into the water and strip the fly off the bank with your retrieve hand. This will pull the pattern down off the bank. If you try and lift the rod, it will pull the pattern up and too far off the bank. If you have casted 3 feet over the bank, it’s best to pull back and restart the cast, as this technique will not work at that distance.

Also, don't forget to fish your seams, as this will also add realistic action to your fly as it moves through the current. It will also give you an additional opportunity with your Nymph Dropper.

Action

There are things you can do when the Hopper is in the water that'll draw the fish's attention. One method is to "vibrate" the Hopper. This mimics the struggle that a real grasshopper would experience. To make the point again: grasshoppers don't want to be in the water! So when they land, they try to free themselves. An obvious error would be to drag your Hopper along the water; to someone underneath, this would look like the grasshopper was going for short swims back and forth, and they're just not going to do that.

After your little vibration, you can move your Hopper downstream. This will make it look like the grasshopper has died after its brief fight to cling on for life. These are just little tricks you can use if you’re not having much success. In many cases, you’ll find that you get a bite almost instantly. Indeed, the speed with which trout snap at Hoppers usually takes newcomers by surprise, so be ready!

Dry Droppers

Now that we have discussed the Hopper Dropper technique, I would like to go into detail on a few Dry Dropper techniques that could help step up your game. In our previous session, Dry Fly Perfection and Emerger Swing Combos, we discussed fly setups for a two-fly Dry Dropper. To quickly recap this, we have the traditional Dry Dropper:

  1. Have the leader the same size as your rod. Yes, if you have a 10ft rod, get a 10ft leader; 9ft rod, 9ft leader.
  2. Attach the first fly to the end of the leader using the Improved Clinch Knot.
  3. Add 12” to 24” of 5x or 6x tippet with the Improved Clinch Knot.
  4. Add the second smaller fly with another Improved Clinch Knot.

As soon as you have mastered this technique, you can explore with the two additional Dropper rig setups that add an additional fly and more movement to the fly in the water column.

The first is Free Sliding Dropper:

This one is a little more challenging, as you will be attaching two sets of tippets off the hook bend of your Dry Fly or your Hopper.

  1. Have the leader the same size as your rod.
    Yes, if you have a 10ft rod, get a 10ft leader; 9ft rod, 9ft leader.
  2. Attach the first fly to the end of the leader using the Improved Clinch Knot.
  3. Add 12” to 14” of 5x or 6x tippet with the Improved Clinch Knot.
  4. Feed an Emerger pattern throughout the tippet.
  5. Add and additional 12” of tippet using the Double Surgeon’s Knot.
  6. At this point, your second fly is going to be able to move freely up and down the first additional set of tippet.
  7. Add your weighted Bead-Headed fly to your second tippet.

As seen here, your heavy fly will want to go to the bottom as your light second fly will move freely up and down the first tippet section and your Dry or Hopper will ride above.

This is a great way to cover three areas of the water column in one cast. Now be careful casting this, as the more items you add to your line, the more likely you are going to get yourself into a large tangle. Try not to false cast but rather make your first cast as accurate as possible.

The next rig setup is the Duncan Loop Dropper:

We will do the same setup as the Free Sliding Dropper, but now we will position our second fly by using a Loop Dropper.

Using 6” to 8” of tippet, attach your fly using an Improved Clinch Knot and then between your Hopper and Dry and your Double Surgeon’s Knot, connect your Free Sliding Dropper using another Improved Clinch Knot. You can now move your fly up and down between your top fly and your knot to get a more accurate level for where you want that fly to ride.

Both of these techniques can be used on Hopper Droppers and Dry Droppers. Just remember that sometimes adding more is actually hurting your presentation. So if you don't feel like you have control of your cast or your rig, tone it back. You can be just successful with one fly (if it is the correct fly) as you can be with three flies that are not in season.

Always check your seasonal hatch chart when heading out to the river.

 

 

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