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Fishing Structure @ Hopper Time

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Photo 1: A typical hopper bank so common on rivers such as the Rubicon here @ Thornton

 
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Photo 2: A high bank and a current kicker. The undercut bank provides hoppers and beetles for fish sitting below but the debris at right angles to the bank making it less than ideal holding water

 
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Photo 3: Outside bend with vegetation overhang, undercut bank and steady current.

 
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Photo 4: Overhanging bushes provide food and shelter

 
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Photo 5: A perfect pool. Plenty of cover, high undercut banks and good depth. Expect a large fish to call this pool home.

 
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Photo 6: Perfect area for hoppers and trout to intersect.

Click for Full Size image Photo 7: The reward for fishing structure with a Grasshopper pattern in January.

 

Fishing structure is always important but at Hopper Time it is imperative that you really thoroughly work over such areas. Read on for an overview of what is required.

Structure can mean just about anything when it comes to trout. A boulder, a gravel bar drop off, a current seam, even deep water can be considered structure. But when it comes to hopper fishing nothing beats undercut banks and sunken timber.

Trout Requirements

Trout have two main needs. To put it in the most basic of terms they need to eat and they need shelter from predators/fast currents. Most fish have two separate lies or holding positions. Firstly they have a feeding lie, a place that they occupy when the hatch is 'on' enabling them to maximise their calorie intake to calorie expenditure. These are places you see fish rising in during the peak of the evening hatch, often well away from cover. They also have a sheltering lie, a place that they spend most of their time during non hatch periods or where they go to when frightened or hooked. These places are usually under a log, undercut bank, bottom of a pool, behind a boulder etc.

Some trout, usually the bigger more dominant specimens occupy what are known as prime lies. These are places where a feeding lie and sheltering lie are one and the same. For instance an undercut bank with overhanging log and branches from streamside trees with a slow bubble line running by in about four feet of water. Here you have food being brought to the fish hence the minimal expending of energy and also the cover of the undercut bank, sunken log and overhanging vegetation. This is where the better fish will be found and these are the hotspots we try to target when fishing grasshoppers.

Water Levels

By the time the hoppers are in full swing most of the state's streams will be well down and into their summer levels. This means that many of them will have plenty of water that is void of trout and that finding the fish is in some ways easier as there are few good lies. While rivers such as the Rubicon (photographed here) tend to hold a decent flow down them all year long, they all drain down to some extent making the pools the better place to search. While the riffles will have better oxygen levels the fish still prefer the cover afforded them from the pools and the structure they contain. Much of the extremely shallow water linking the pools is hardly worth fishing.

Hopper Feeders

So we know the fish are more likely to be found in the pools of our smaller creeks and rivers at these times. We also know that they are likely to be found near or within in a short distance of the structure. Fish sit in very close to the bank, beneath logs and undercut banks and just wait. They wait for the splat of the natural as it is disturbed by a cow moving by the stream edge, or an angler walking too close to the bank or just a sudden gust of wind from the strengthening northerly. Make no mistake hoppers are going in all the time and the fish quickly become accustomed to the fall of a large terrestrial. The arrival almost always heralding a violent take from the trout and we should all remember this when fishing imitations, trying to land the fly with a distinct 'plop' just like the real thing.

One thing that often puts people off trying the hopper is the fact that they are not seeing any on the water. Rest assured if there are hoppers in the paddocks the fish will more than likely take them. It doesn't take too many of them going in to get the fish know what is going on and although the debate about a fish's memory rages I believe that there is something either learnt or instinctual about the take when large terrestrials are concerned. How else do you account for a fish that will not take a small dun imitation naturally drifted over it yet comes up for a large hopper smashed in above its head. Also we have taken fish on hoppers in the dead of winter when there is nothing but #24 midge on the water which also highlights the trout's instinctual tendencies when something large falls into the water. While there can be all sorts of arguments as to why it happens we can probably assume that trout do get conditioned to accept a large item falling in off the bank.

So What Should We Look For?

We need to find the prime lies to be successful with hopper patterns. That is the places where cover and food exist. Especially good are the undercut banks with overhanging vegetation. The undercut affords the fish plenty of protection from predators and vegetation guarantees a steady supply of terrestrials. Another favourite is to locate a sunken or half sunken log that is parallel to the current. While the logs that stick out at right angles do provide a buffer from the current they are not great feeding locations. As such we look for logs such as those in photo 5. This is what we would call ideal hopper water. Some depth, plenty of cover in the form of logs sitting the way we want as well as an undercut bank with overhanging grass.

The angler must be careful when fishing such water to keep their profile off the skyline, their shadow off the water and their movements slow and deliberate. While fish can be taken in the middle of the river on hoppers the best spots are definitely nearer to the bank with these fish highly attuned to the grasshopper's arrival. This metre of water directly out from the bank is where you will take most of your fish when fishing the hopper.

The Photos

Scenario 1: Shows us a typical high bank with undercut. A perfect spot for a hopper feeder. Grass right to the water's edge, an undercut and a slow outside bend so typical of our streams in summertime. While wading is difficult slide down the bank into the water if possible. If not approach from behind and keep yourself out of the fish's view as much as possible. Fish the bank nearest to you carefully before moving your casts to the centre and then finally the far bank. This is prime hopper water.

Scenario 2: Shows another good section of bank where hoppers are likely to be found intersecting with trout. I would bet that there would be a fish or two in the undercut section above the debris/snag. Here with an undercut, plenty of food falling in as well as the current bringing it to the fish we would expect a shot at a fish. While the debris looks like the ideal place for a fish it is not necessarily so. As it sticks straight out from the bank it is likely to stop the drift of food rather than funnel it. However there would be a chance of a fish sitting in front of this bit of structure. To fish it concentrate on putting a few casts near the seam off to the right, then sneak along the bank until you are maybe a rod length from the snag. Carefully flick the hopper over the top into the water above the snag, trying to keep as much the fly line and leader as possible off the water. Then slowly extend your cast to search the undercut area at the top of the photo.

Scenario 3: This is a wider shot of the previous bank. You can now see the whole pool. You can see that if you draw an imaginary line from the right tip of the snag/debris to the tip of the willow branch in the bottom right of the frame that there is a gentle current seam running down. This is the prime spot to take a fish. The depth in this instance is the cover and they can hold easily in the slower water inside the seam and feast on food items found either side. While worth fishing with the hopper a great spot to find a fish when the hatch is on. This is more of a feeding lie than a prime lie.

Scenario 4: A slow drift line or as we call it 'bubble line' runs down the pool. This represents the highest concentration of drifting food both on top of and beneath the surface. Plenty of overhanging vegetation provides falling food items as well as the slow conveyor belt of bubbles. Fish will line up in such locations and fishing the hopper here is well worth the effort. You can expect to raise a fish anywhere in the bubble line but where it passes by the willow is worthy of close attention. To fish this get into the water, behind and slightly off to the side of the intended line of drift. Slowly work your way up the drift line focussing on the narrow strip of bubbles. If any of the other water looks reasonable such as the edge of the drop off on the middle left of the photo put a few casts up there as well.

Scenario 5: Is hopper heaven! If you find water like this you are in luck. This pool has everything. Reasonable depth, plenty of structure in the form of undercuts, sunken logs (facing the right way), vegetation overhang and a nice slow drift. This is the sort of stuff hopper feeders dream of let alone us flyfishers. This is a complicated bit of water needs to be approached with care as there are just that many places for a fish to be. Get into the tail of the poll or keep as low as possible. Prioritise the water as per your casting position. Start with the water nearest to you, probably casting little more than the leader length. Gradually extend this distance to cover the next pieces of structure that looks good. Make multiple casts to the same area. While we all can recount the times when the hopper has fallen in and was slammed first go, there are many more instances where multiple casts are required.

Scenario 6: Interesting piece of water that many would give up on before attempting to fish it. Branches and long grass make getting a drift difficult but the rewards are worth it. Again a nice bubble line slowly drifts by some great structure. You will notice in the top of the photo some sticks and logs sitting parallel to the current as desired. Simply fish this by fishing the nearest end of the drift first, gradually extending your length as you go. Keep casts pretty short for added control in the tight water preferably creeping forward after thoroughly fishing an area out rather than casting half your line. Control is the key here.

Conclusion

So there you have a quick synopsis of fishing the structure at hopper time. We will bring you one of these pieces each newsletter eventually compiling into a how to online book on techniques and tactics. Get out there over the coming weeks and try your favourite hopper pattern. Remember to go slow and to sit and analyse a piece of water rather than just running into fish it. Work out where the prime lies are and then plan an approach. Sometimes more than just a few casts are needed to adequately search a good lie so be patient and methodical in your fishing. The rewards come in the form of wild, beautiful brown trout.

See you out there sometime.

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