Fly fishing with hoppers can be some of the best days on the water. The visual aspect of this method is what does it for me. Being able to see that large hopper drift down the run only to be smashed by a lurking trout, nothing gets much better than that.
As I write this piece, my mind wanders back to a trip I made years ago on one of our local rivers. We were on our annual yellowfish trip and had previously only focused on nymphing for this species and then fishing for them with a very delicate dry fly setup in the dying light of sunsets.
But on this trip, one of the members tied on a single Dave’s hopper in size #12, if I remember correctly, and started to drift it down a few of the upcoming runs. Well, to put it bluntly, he smashed the fish, or should I say the fish smashed the hopper. It was like something out of a movie, fish after fish they just kept rising to it.
Thinking back, I’m not sure why we were so surprised. We had all fished hoppers for trout and knew of their potency, and I can’t really think why we hadn’t thought of the hopper for this species before. Anyway we all got back to camp later that evening and tied up a handful of hoppers in various sizes for the next day.
The trip ended, and we left with some amazing memories and a newfound respect for the humble hopper.
Hoppers can be great fun to fish and can really make or break the day on the water. Like with most flies and patterns, there are great ones and ones that don’t fish as well. Below we will go through the ones we enjoy fishing and that have a great reputation for being a solid pattern to have and fish.
Times to Pull Out Hoppers
When to put a hopper on can prove to be a tricky decision, I know that at times we think that a fly change to a hopper could have the opposite effect to what we want. But there are a few tell-tale signs of when to tie on a hopper and start fishing it with confidence. Confidence is key when fishing, and you must have that mental positivity that the fly on the end of your line is the best for the time. You will catch more fish with this way of thinking.
The time of year that is best for hoppers is summer. The shoulder seasons on either side of this are also a great time to fish a hopper, but it is dependent on where you are and your conditions. I know that in certain places, the spring runoff times are great for hoppers when you find those clear, less affected tributaries that haven’t seen as much water coming down.
In my area, it is the later part of summer that the hopper really comes into its own. I only fish hoppers in the last part of summer or early autumn if we have a good sunny day. The hopper gets tied on, and I very rarely change from it for most of the day. I may drift a dropper under it, but that’s about it.
Certain conditions call for certain flies, and windy conditions call for hoppers. This is a bonus for us as anglers because we generally don’t associate wind with fly fishing, but over the years, you will learn that you can’t change the fact that the wind will blow, and it is best to work with it to the best of your advantage.
On windy days tie on a hopper, it is in these conditions that the grasshoppers naturally get blown into the river, and the fish are ready and waiting. Don’t be afraid to smash the fly into the water, either. If you think about it, hoppers don’t land softly in the water, and the plop is a sure trigger for roaming fish.
When you arrive at your beat for the day, take some time out and look around, take in what’s around and what you can use to read the area and water.
Open grassy banks are a great sign to fish a hopper right from the get-go. The open wider beats with grassy banks are hopper areas; you must use this to your advantage. If the wind picks up later in the session, then even better, grassy banks with a crosswind, HOPPER CITY! The fish will know to expect grasshoppers to get blown into the river, and they will be patiently waiting.
Guide Pro Tip: Picking the right fly is important, BUT fishing the hopper correctly is even more important. 👉 Learn How to Fly Fish with Hoppers
Why Do Trout Key into Hoppers
If we were to give it some thought and put ourselves in the fish’s shoes (I do this all the time). A grasshopper is an easy target once it is in the water. I mean, they are rather useless swimmers and will usually float down the river. Easy picking for a fish if you ask me. They also have all the triggers needed for the fish to be convinced of the meal. Movement, legs, and attractive colors are all boxes ticked when it comes to fly triggers and important features.
When it comes to what to choose, there are many variations of grasshoppers and equally as many fly patterns to choose from. It is important to try and match the hatch as best you can. Look at the grasshopper when it flies. Does it have red underwing or green? Check out the legs as well all these little hints can help you make the right choice. Remember this as well. Hoppers aren’t designed to ride on top of the water film.
I like my hoppers to sit in the film, and I feel they look more natural this way. If you fish a pattern with a sighter on it, ensure the fly is well-balanced and won’t tip over when in the water. The spookier fish will dash away at first sight of the hotspot sighter.
I mentioned this earlier, but you don’t have to be gentle when fishing hoppers. Most of the time, you will have some wind, so you will need a little extra power but smash that fly on the surface when you can. This is a great trigger for eats, and the trout will come right up to look or eat it out of instinct. Fishing a small dropper under the hopper at this time can prove to be very effective.
Here’s our list of hoppers to have and fish.
1. Dave’s Hopper
Dave’s hopper is probably the first hopper a novice will see or hear of when searching or asking questions about hoppers. Rightfully so, it is the pinnacle of a hopper pattern and has a real-life-like appearance.
It can prove tricky to tie if you are still relatively new to hopper tying, but as with anything, the more you practice, the better things will get and eventually perfect. The classic red/ yellow combo of this pattern is what I tie all my hopper patterns in these days. They never let me down, and the trout love them. I do tie a hybrid version of the pattern these days, though, but the basic body and colors are all inspired by Dave’s original hopper.
The pattern fishes very well in any tailwater and can handle the faster waters when needed. The hybrid I fish these days is the bullethead hopper which uses less deer hair and is faster to tie as well. It is further down this list.
Tie and fish Dave’s hopper in size #12 or #10.
2. Parachute Hopper
The parachute hopper is an absolute favorite of mine. I am an advocate for all parachute patterns. I love tying them just as much as I enjoy fishing them. They work wonderfully on the smaller streams, and with the added halo of the hackle, they hold beaded nymphs under them without any issues.
The post of the pattern can be tied in any color you like, and the material can range from calves’ tails to hotspot post material. Whichever you choose, use a color that works for you and that you can see on the water. After all this, one of the attributes of all parachute patterns is the fact that we can color the post to make it more visible.
Fish it in a Size #10 or #12 for the best results.
3. A Quick Tie Hopper Fly
This is a simple, easy-to-tie hopper pattern that will get the job done on most of your waters. The simplicity of this pattern is what makes it so attractive, and the fact that the fish love it as well. The peacock herl underbody is a great little tip to do. I love peacock herl and have confidence in fishing anything that has it in. The microfibers move so well in the water, and the fish find it irresistible.
I tie this pattern in a yellow/red combo and a green/brown combination as well. Again, these color combos and ideas are all subjective, and it’s best to fish what works for you. Sizes #12 and #14 are my go-to sizes for this pattern.
Please see the below video for the SBS tying instructions.
4. Chernobyl Hopper
The chubby Chernobyl is a must-have pattern in any fly fisher’s box. It is a terrestrial pattern but can act as a search pattern as well. It floats really well, from the layered foam and large extra-long wing cases that is tied on top. The long wing case provides extra buoyancy and a great sighter in the faster water. Chernobyl is the ideal pattern to fish when you want to fish a dropper under it.
The Chernobyl is also the ideal pattern to fish when there are hoppers and stoneflies out or coming off the water. These patterns can be tied in various sizes, I have seen some of these patterns in size #6’s before and bigger, which is massive when compared to a smaller size #16 dry fly pattern. They float well and can be seen from a distance.
On the tying part of the pattern, there are a few tips that will make the fly more durable and longer lasting.
Tip 1 – when tying down the 2mm foam, use a few drops of super glue on each wrap. This will help secure the foam on top of the hook shank and prevent the foam from spinning.
Tip 2- Lay a thread base on the hook shank before you start tying. This is a great tip for most patterns, especially if you are using nano silk which tends to slip. DON’T do this if you are spinning deer hair. It is easier to spin the hair on the naked shank.
5. Letort Grasshopper
Ed Shenk designed this pattern along with cricket back in the 1960s, and it has been a staple in most terrestrial fly boxes ever since.
Sure, there may be a few more modern ways to tie it or more buoyant materials to use, but all in all, the pattern is still a very productive pattern to fish. The dubbing body allows the fly to ride a little lower than in the water, and I like this in the slower tail out of runs or slow pool.
This is a great pattern to have in sizes #8 to #12 and works very well when fished on a longer leader, allowing the pattern to fish like a classic dry fly, with that extra slack in the leader allowing for the current drag.
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6. Deer Hair Bullet Head Hopper
The Bullet head hopper is one of my favorite hopper patterns. I enjoy fishing the other versions, and they work just fine, but I have that feeling when I fish the bullet head. It works better for me on my waters as, most of the time, the late summer season is hindered by a strong headwind. This headwind can cause havoc with the flies and does make things tricky later in the day.
When the wind is predicted to blow, I plan my day out on how and what I think I will fish. Knowing full well that as soon as that wind rears its head, I will switch to a hopper or hopper dropper setup and fish into the wind.
The bullet head hopper works great for the wind as it is more streamlined and aerodynamic, so it cuts through the wind better. A nice little tip is to fish a dropper rig when the wind is strong. The added weight on the dropper helps to punch the wind and get more distance.
I tie and fish the bullet head hopper in red/yellow combo on a size #12 down to a small #16. At first, you may think that hoppers don’t get that small, but I often find that size 16 raises more fish on the day.
This is a very interesting pattern. I, for one, haven’t got much experience fishing this pattern but can only imagine how effective it can be on the larger still waters and tail-out pools.
I also wouldn’t hesitate to tie this on for an evening fish. Not that there will be any hopper out at that time, but the explosive water disturbance the head makes, can only attract something big.
Recommended size to fish is #8
8. Morrish Foam Hopper
The Morrish Hopper is not only visually appealing but also practical in its application. It’s a relatively simple fly to tie once you get the hang of it, and it’s known for its durability and effectiveness in attracting fish. The foam body of the fly, often stiffened slightly by gluing sheets together, allows it to float well on the water, making it an excellent choice for fishing in various conditions.
The fly is typically tied on a size 8 hook and can be used effectively in late summer when hoppers are most active. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, the Morrish Hopper is a must-have addition to your fly box.
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- I love chasing brown trout, big lake run monsters, night time trophies and memories of big boys that got away. Read 👉 The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Brown Trout
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Tips and Setup for Grasshoppers
What setup to fish when rigging up for a hopper session can be as complicated as you make it. But let’s keep things super simple. For your rod, any dry fly rod will suffice, or even a heavy nymphing rod could work if you are more prone to that technique.
For a floating line, I use the RIO Technical Trout as a standard. Leaders, again, can be as complex as you wish, but if you are standing out, then use a standard shot 9-foot tapered leader down to some 3X tippet. These recommendations are obviously all subjective and must be changed for different conditions, waters, and preferences.
Last Cast with a Grasshopper
So, there you have it. The famous hopper patterns. They are great to fish and make for an exciting session when the fish come on to them. They are super easy to tie, and once you have your tying hands dialed in, you can churn a few out in no time. Practice a few different styles from the above selection and work out what is best for your waters and what you enjoy tying.
Once you have this all sorted, get out on the water, and go catch fish. When in doubt, tie on that hopper and enjoy.
Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.