There’s nothing like a warm, summer evening on the water. Every angler knows that late summer means terrestrial season. I will always remember my first time fishing with a hopper pattern. It took less than 10 seconds and I had a massive brown take my fly. From then on, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to spend as much time on the water in late summer as possible.
Dry fly fishing is a favorite style for every angler, but when it’s time to throw the terrestrial patterns, the excitement is on another level. Big fish are on the prowl.
When to Fling a Hopper
Come late-July, August and September fish are looking up and willing to feed throughout the day. Hoppers, beetles and ants are too appetizing for fish to pass on the opportunity to stuff their stomachs.
Both the air and water temperatures are on the warm side, but fish know it’s soon to change. They know it’s time to fill their stomachs to prepare for a long and cold winter. The best part of fishing with hopper patterns is that you don’t have to be on the water at first light.
By afternoon the wind is picking up and the grass is dried out. This is when hoppers become extremely active and start moving. Hoppers are often near water and jumping through the weeds. Dozens of these flies fall into the water into the mouths of awaiting fish.
As soon as you start seeing grasshoppers, be ready to fish with them. The fish are more than ready to eat.
Where Hoppers Roam
Most anglers can imagine the perfect hopper environment. Long, wispy grasses along the bank are the most common habitat. Also, the more downwind you can be, the more grasshoppers will be around. They don’t have the strength to fight their way upwind throughout the day.
Also, floodplains and hay fields are extremely common areas for hoppers to live. These streams are commonly found in the Driftless Region in the Midwest and spread throughout Wyoming and Montana.
You’ll start to see hoppers attach to your waders or jump along your legs. For many people, this is something they don’t want, but for fly anglers, it brings a smile to our face.
It’s important to fish hopper patterns where they spend time. Fish know where they hit the water and they’ll congregate in anticipation. There are exceptions to every rule, but make sure you’re strategic with where you’re throwing these patterns! Just because it’s hopper season doesn’t mean that they’re all over the surface of the water.
Where to Cast Your Grasshopper
Casting your hopper fly to a specific place is more important than most anglers think. Yes, fish are willing and wanting to eat, but you still need to present your fly in a realistic way. There are three main areas you should cast your hopper pattern!
The most productive place to cast your line is in water up along the banks. If you’re on the opposite side of a grassy bank, cast upstream and let your fly drift right along the edge. Hoppers do not land in the water gracefully so don’t worry too much about perfectly laying down your fly.
Mend your fly as it drifts downstream. Make sure the fly is leading the charge and your tippet or leader isn’t getting in the way. If you can find a bank with slack water below it, that’s a solid option. However, remember that water is going to be warmer and have less oxygen later in the summer so don’t spend too much time in slow moving water!
The second place to fish hoppers is through the foam lines. Foam lines mean food and fish are always darting in and out of these lines in pursuit of a meal. Again, let your hopper drift into the foam line and odds are you’ll see a fish strike. It takes time to learn where the fish want the flies, but foam lines are always a great place to start.
A third spot to focus your time is at the tail end of runs. Fast moving water late in the summer is good. It is likely going to be cooler and have much more oxygen! Find riffles and runs and let your fly drift to the tail end of it. Usually these runs finish into pools. A drift into a pool to a fish waiting under the surface is almost a guarantee for a strike.
Trial and error as well as patience are what are going to make you most successful when fishing hoppers!
GUIDE TIP: Keep things simple! Fish will always strike a properly presented pattern. Don’t get overly frustrated if fish don’t hit right away.
Setting Up a Fly Rod to Cast Grasshoppers
Your hopper setup should be a bit heavier. A 6 or 7-weight with a 3 or 4x leader should do the trick. Hopper flies are affected by the wind and twist when you cast! A shorter leader is going to prevent any poor presentations.
Do your best to cast them downwind from a grassy area. This is where they’ll be the most popular.
GUIDE TIP: Use low side arm casts to get under the wind!
6 Tips for Fly Fishing with Hoppers
If you spend enough late summer evenings fishing with hoppers, you’ll eventually find a bit of a formula that works great for you. Here are a few universal tips that will help you land fish no matter where you are!
1. Structure is Your Friend
First, cast near structure. This seems to be an obvious tip, but it’s easy to get hung up on fishing along the bank or through foam lines and forget that fish are always going to be near structure. Tree laydowns, rock piles and anywhere that has a spot for fish to hide is where you should cast your fly. Fish are still going to have similar tendencies no matter the time of year or the food they’re pursuing! Keep it simple.
2. Rubber Madness
Another great way to entice more fish is to add some action to your fly. The majority of hopper patterns should have rubber legs. Add a few twitches and this will help bounce the rubber legs. Hoppers don’t immediately die when they hit the water so it’s smart to keep them active as they drift downstream. It doesn’t have to be anything major, but make sure your fly isn’t stagnant on the surface.
3. Wind Blow Down
A successful hopper day is going to be a bit windy. As a result, the surface of the water is going to rippling. These ripples can create drag with your leader and tippet. Mend often to ensure you are getting a solid presentation. They don’t have to be massive mends, but small flicks of your wrist will keep the fly moving downstream nicely.
4. Rainbow of Colors
Don’t live and die with one hopper pattern or color. Depending on where you’re fishing, there can be a staple of a pattern. As anglers know, fish can have strange behaviors so don’t be afraid to switch things up if the bite is slow. Green patterns are common, but don’t forget to throw red, yellow and even blue! It takes time to find the best option.
5. Droppers and Knots
If you’re fishing an especially windy day, it may be best to stay away from tying on a dropper pattern. Thin tippet and windy days often do not pair well together. If you’re fishing at the right time of day and the proper conditions, you shouldn’t need any sort of attractor nymph. Let the hopper carry the load and trust that the fish will come to eat.
6. Fast on the Trigger
Be prepared for an immediate strike. Anglers who fish dry fly patterns are well aware of the speed at which fish strike. As soon as your fly hits the water, be ready to make your strip set. This is going to keep you alert. If you miss a fish on its first strike, there’s no promise that it’s going to come back.
GUIDE TIP: Be patient with where you’re casting. Don’t be afraid to hit the same run a few times even if you have pulled fish out of it.
A Quick Grasshopper to Tie
Tying flies should be an enjoyable activity! For many of us, we don’t have the patience to sit down and tie a size 18 Blue Winged Olive. However, hopper patterns are right up our alley! They don’t take long to tie, work great and are durable.
I’ll sit and tie these for longer than I should because it’s easy and doesn’t take long to knock out a couple dozen of them.
Below is a video of a fast durable hopper pattern that has been extremely productive. Don’t be afraid to get creative with this pattern. Use a variety of colors, but make sure it’s proportionate.
5 Favorite Hopper Patterns
- Dave’s Hopper in size 8. These hopper patterns are what you see in a beginners fly fishing kit! They’re well-known and a classic pattern.
Some anglers complain that these flies are too fragile, but they’re productive. Make sure you have floatant on hand to ensure they stay on the surface of the water! This pattern between size 4 and 12 is great to keep in your box.
2. Chubby Chernobyl size 8. The Chubby is a must if you’re fishing anywhere with hoppers. These are great for the dry pattern on a dry dropper rig and can be successful on their own.
This pattern can get hung up in the wind so make sure you’re not trying a 30 or 40 foot cast with this on the end of your line. Keep it close and let the fly do the work. The foam will reject water for a while, but the hackle on top can weigh down the fly. Keep it in floatant!
3. Tan Henneberry Hopper in size 10. The Henneberry is a common pattern used in Montana rivers! It’s realistic, floats extremely well and the legs are beyond realistic.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to tie it yourself, but if you find a local shop that’s selling it, make a purchase. The bodies are more than realistic. Can’t go wrong with the Henneberry.
4. Parachute Hopper in size 6. The Parachute Hopper is one of the more popular hopper patterns on the market. It rivals the Chubby Chernobyl! This fly doesn’t sit high on the surface like many other patterns, but it does still attract plenty of fish.
The legs aren’t a bouncy rubber like you’d find on many other hopper patterns. They’re thicker and quite easy to see. This is what sets the Parachute Hopper from the rest of the patterns available! You can actually tie this one yourself.
5. Charlie Boy Hopper in size 8. The Charlie Boy hopper is a simple looking pattern, but beyond effective. The foam body sits high on the water, the legs sit off the back and the deer hair adds a nice final layer to it.
It’s by no means an elaborate looking pattern like some on this list, but it’s effective and will land fish. You can throw these in streams and backcountry lakes! They’re light and a blast to use. If you’re going to use it as the top of a dry-dropper rig make sure the dropper pattern is quite small.
GUIDE TIP: If you’re tying your own patterns, the buggier the better. Fish see many of the same patterns so don’t worry if your fly is a little strange looking.
One More Cast
Fishing with hopper patterns is bittersweet. They’re a blast to use, productive and a symbol of some beautiful weather and manageable water. There are few times throughout the year that are more productive in trout streams than terrestrial season.
On the other hand, the terrestrial season symbolizes the end of summer. Short, cold days are ahead and anglers know that traditional summer fishing is in the past. It’s not all bad news! Spawning browns and salmon can preoccupy anglers for the next couple of months before the true winter weather hits!
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills – These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout – Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish – Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon – Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels