@ Hopper Time
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Photo 1: A typical
hopper bank so common on rivers such as the
Rubicon here @ Thornton
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
Photo 3: Outside
bend with vegetation overhang, undercut
bank and steady current.
Photo 4: Overhanging
bushes provide food and shelter
Photo 5: A
perfect pool. Plenty of cover, high undercut
banks and good depth. Expect a large fish
to call this pool home.
Photo 6: Perfect
area for hoppers and trout to intersect.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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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