Hop to it - it's time to fish grasshoppers
When most fly anglers think of fishing grasshoppers they look to the West and the high valley streams that flow through meadows of tall grass that are teaming with grasshoppers. New England is not really viewed as prime hopper territory but by picking the right type of water some fun fishing can be had in quiet settings. I, for one, love to get out and fish with hoppers and crickets on small streams — it is the perfect antidote after spending a morning squinting at little trico spinners.
The first step in finding good hopper water is to seek out cold water tributaries of bigger rivers. These little creeks are replete with small brook and brown trout and the very occasional larger visitor seeking out cooler waters while the main stem rivers are low, tepid and crowded with tubers, kayakers and canoers.
If possible find waters that run alongside grassy meadows where plenty of hoppers will be found. This is not an absolute but it certainly does not hurt. Failing this one can still have great sport on our small brook trout streams that tumble out of the Green Mountains. These little streams are full of hungry trout that are not going to hesitate when they hear the splat of a meaty hopper hit the water.
The next suggestion I have is to consider the time when you are fishing. Hoppers are most active during the heat of the day and that is when fish are most likely to see these terrestrials land in the water. So sleep in, get some chores done, cut the lawn do what is necessary in the morning to make your escape from life's duties and head out to the stream after noon. And once you head out take the appropriate cautions regarding exposure to the sun.
While I have said this in many of my articles it is worth drumming home the message again — careful wading is just as important in small stream fishing as it is when working over a mayfly sipping trout on a bigger river. Fish in these small streams are more than likely wild and their very existence depends on a skittish alertness to anything that does not seem quite right. So when you enter the water (only when you have to) move slowly and carefully —- upstream if at all possible.
My son and I had a hard lesson with regards to incautious wading just this past weekend. We had just fished a nice riffle and had moved (and missed) one brook trout. When we entered a nice pool just a bit upstream fish began to scurry away in water I had not expected to see them. Which leads to the next lesson — never assume water is without fish. Trout are masters of hiding themselves in plain sight and we blundered onto several fish holding in the shallow tail of a pool. The better approach for us would have been to drop a couple casts into the tail of the pool while standing on the gravel bar that was available to us below.
With that said most of the trout that will be encountered will be in the faster (or at least deeper) part of a run, riffle, or pool. My approach is to work the riffled water from bottom to top. I start by making a few casts just where the riffle is softening and entering a pool. From there I begin lengthening my casts (or move upstream a couple of feet, and continue working the water. Often I will cast towards the shallowest edge of the stream and then work towards deeper water. More than once I have had a fish charge from the relative depth and safety of the riffle to grab a hopper in water that barely covers their backs.
Any spot that has a little bit of overhanging cover is ideal — particularly if there is a little depth and shade added to the mix. If I see a spot like this I will deliberately cast upstream a couple feet from the holding lie and put my fly onto the bank. A quick tug puts the fly on the water in a natural manner and trout will smash the fly hard.
Takes are not often subtle so be prepared for a hard take. It's amazing how much water an over-eager 8 inch brook trout can displace when he or she are hell bent on grabbing that meaty hopper that just landed in the water. Bridge pools are often great places for this sort of angling as often the bridge will constrict the current and create deeper, faster water on the downstream side. If the shadow line is such that the bridge creates shade during the brightest part of the day you have found a real hot-spot.
I have never found hopper size or color to be a significant factor in success. I do try to start as small as possible given the fact that trout can be on the small side at times and I want to minimize any risk of injury due to hook size. A #12 or even a #14 is a good starting point. A pinched down barb is also not a bad idea. There are a myriad number of patterns out there to imitate hoppers - anything from foam contraptions to using a good old fashioned stimulator in a smaller size are popular among hopper fanatics.
Also, carry a few crickets. They can be fished in smaller sizes and while they are difficult to see on the water I do find that there are days when fish that have ignored a hopper offering will happily take a cricket. Whether you are using a hopper or cricket don't worry about plopping the fly on the water with a little less delicacy that when you are fishing a mayfly spinner. And definitely add a bit of movement to the bug — the naturals struggle when in the water. Just a little tug every few inches of drift is fine.
As for tackle, now is the time to break out the diminutive rod that sits in the closet most of the season. Shorter is better than longer with a 7 footer being about as long as you really need to go on smaller waters. A light line is a definite advantage. I've been playing with a 6 foot graphite rod and 3 weight line. A rod that has the ability to roll cast is a definite plus. You will find yourself executing this sort of cast more than a little. If you are utilizing a conventional cast you should be making no false casts. None. Unless you want to count how many fish you can scare by waving your stick back and forth.
We are now in prime hopper season and a bit of rain has raised the flows of our streams so take advantage of the warm days we will have over the next few weeks.
Doug Lyons is a long-time angler who splits his time between greater Boston and fishing, hiking and relaxing in Southwestern Vermont. Doug maintains a camp in Shushan, N.Y., along with his wife, Deanna and dog Maya.
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