Our Outdoors: Hoppertime

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Even Better Than The Real Thing!  The Rebel Crickhopper at left, a green-and-yellow foam hopper fly at center and a green-patterned grasshopper at right.

While walking along the stream near my house, one thing was clear; this summer was extremely kind to the grasshoppers.  Not only are they an increased scourge in area gardens and a valued food source for developing upland game birds, grasshoppers this time of year are also a prime target to the fish in all waters, including the small flow now reduced to a trickle by the onset of late summer heat.
While grassy-banked trout streams and lazy backwaters are prime areas for using grasshopper-based lures for fishing, just about any water on a windy day is a perfect place to try out such an offering.  A strong breeze often signals to fish that it is feeding time in late summer.  Wayward hoppers jump and are carried away by the gusts, forced to kick their way back to shore along the surface.  Oftentimes, it is a long surface swim subject to the rises of hungry fish.  On one occasion, I watched as cattle patrolled the edge of a small farm pond, causing waves of hoppers to splash down onto the water’s surface.  Both bluegills and bass rose with zeal for the easy meals. Luckily I had a hopper imitator and the fishing was intense until the last members of the herd wandered on by.
A longtime favorite lure of mine has been Rebel’s Crickhopper.  In a variety of colors and two sizes, this little gem is a spot-on replica of the real thing and can be fished on light or medium-light gear with up to six-pound test line.  When cast in a way that makes it smack the surface with a resounding SPLAT, allowed to sit for a bit and then retrieved in a slow twitching pattern, it mimics a kicking hopper perfectly.  It doesn’t take long and hungry fish are upon it.  I’ve caught monster bluegills, smallmouth and largemouth bass with this simple presentation on these dynamic lures.

 

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A bull bluegill smashed this Pheasant Hopper fly on a warm August day.

When I made the transition to the long rod, some of the earliest patterns I tied up were those that mimicked grasshoppers.  From the deer-hair Madame X to a number of foam hopper patterns, I stocked several slots in my box with patterns that I knew would trigger bites just like the Crickhopper.  I found that trout reacted to these patterns in a fashion similar to the bluegills on that little pasture pond.  Casting them up toward a grassy bank and slapping them on the surface was like ringing a dinner bell.  If the fish didn’t rise right away, a few quick strips giving the fly some action in the water often did.
There are many materials that make effective hopper flies.  Dyed deer hair in yellow, or green and tying some in natural beige makes a great base, as does two millimeter foam in the same hopper colors that occur in nature.  Using dry fly dubbing as an underbody allows for a contrasting color, or a white belly, better imitating some specimens.  Legs can be tied with rubber sili legs, round legs or with knotted pheasant tail fibers.  Wings of deer and elk hair and pheasant back feathers cap off a number of popular patterns that simply catch fish this time of year.
Take a stroll along any river bank or pond right now and odds are you’ll find a smorgasbord of grasshoppers for the aquatic denizens lurking nearby.  Flip a cast in behind that wave of fast food, and I bet you’ll connect with your target.  When there is this much food available and the heat of summer spurs on a feeding frenzy at the water’s edge, you’ll be happy to have some hopper patterns in hand and you’ll jump at the chance to get on some fast fishing…in our outdoors.

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