Hopper-Tunities abound on our local rivers Look to terrestrials to catch fish August 11 2016
Big Sky and Bozeman, Montana fly fishing trips are fishing hoppers. Streamflows are low, air temperatures are warming, and hatches are dwindling. These may appear as parts of a recipe for poor fishing conditions, but things are not as dire as they may seem. We certainly need to be conscious of conditions—cease fishing in the late afternoon, bring fish in quickly, and keep fish wet at all times—but as hatches wane, trout become more opportunistic and look to land-dwelling insects to supplement their diet.
Terrestrials, or land-dwelling insects, are often large tasty morsels—grasshoppers, ants, and beetles—that can be blown into or land on the water. Trout feed despite lack of hatches of aquatic living insects, so a grasshopper floating by is easy feed for a hungry fish
In order to successfully fish terrestrial insects and be more in tune with a trout’s behavior, here are some tips for being a better ‘hopper angler. And by ‘hopper fishing I am speaking in general terms as to cover all elements of fishing land-dwelling insects that find their way onto a river.
Observation. Before you rig your leader, tippet and flies, take a few minutes to survey the scene. Is there a hatch and can you see fish rising? What, if any banks or structure might provide shade or additional cover? Is there a prevailing wind? These are all questions that can determine if fish may be looking to the surface for terrestrials. The lack of a hatch means fish may be eating terrestrials. Bank structure and shade-cover protects bigger fish that could be willing to rise. A predominant or sustained wind carries insects onto the surface.
Wind is your friend. In most fly-fishing scenarios, wind is a four-letter word. But it’s desirable for fishing terrestrials. Many memorable days fishing dry flies often begin and end with sustained winds. Other factors may play a beneficial role – a farmer harvesting a riverside field or, what happens often on the Missouri River, a homeowner mowing their yard.
Hop on the good foot and do the rubber-leg thing. Nearly all effective ‘hopper patterns incorporate rubberlegs into the fly. Many guides are fans of rubberlegs that have a variation of color, or white-and-black stripes. Look for rubber-legs which have a free-flowing action once on the surface of the water.
Tackle adjustments. Many ‘hopper patterns tend to be large and bulky. Most are tied with foam and large wings. Therefore you need to fish large diameter tippet and possibly a shorter leader to help the large fly “turn-over” at the end of your cast. Last year Umpqua Feather Merchants developed a Power Taper leader. This is all I use for fishing big flies. It allows for a longer leader so a better drift is accomplished but the taper is thicker to the tippet so I can fish a little lighter tippet which also helps get a natural drift.
Hey diddle-diddle…right down the middle. Low-water this year is a reality. Lower than average stream-flows work for us, and against us. A good tactic for fishing big dry flies when water levels are weak is to drift your dry fly right down the middle of the river. Logic says fish the banks as terrestrials blow into the water from the banks, and plenty of fish are caught near bank-side structure this time of year. However, the coolest water, which harbors the hungriest trout, may be in the middle of the river.
Early to bed, early to rise, gets the trout to rise, too. Trout are very sensitive to light. By late summer they’ve had their fill of bright sunshine, so the bigger fish tend to be active in low-light conditions. Start early or fish late and target waters with ample shade cover as well.
Think outside the box. As a trout is being opportunistic eating a terrestrial, anglers need to do the same. Once on the water, consider stripping or twitching a hopper or terrestrial pattern. When choosing where to fish, plan accordingly – if the forecast calls for sustained winds in one direction, choose a bank from which bugs can blow into the river. My favorite head-scratching tactic is to fish a few sizes larger than expected. You’ll most likely catch a few of the smaller crowd pleasers, but stick with it and you just might hook into a true showstopper.
Despite our lower than average streamflows, consistently good fishing opportunities exist. Dedicated terrestrial anglers will find success – we always do. For the angler willing adjust their skill set or learn more, plenty of ‘hopper-tunities’ await.