Grasshoppers are one of the most familiar insect groups in the world and are widely distributed throughout North America. There is an estimated 600 species that have been identified in North America and approximately 61 recognized species (comprising one family Acrididae) found here in Michigan. Each species displays unique diversity in form and function as well as habitat preferences. Grasshoppers can be found in a plethora of habitat types such as coniferous and deciduous forests, floating aquatic vegetation, grasslands and meadows, and along the edges of lakes, swamps, marshes and streams. Grasshoppers can be found year round in Michigan and the peak months of adult activity and reproduction occur from late June through the middle of October and this can even extend into November for some species. Now ask yourself, how can I use this information to improve my fly fishing success for trout later in the year after all the major hatches have concluded? For starters this information portrays grasshoppers as one of the most important hatches of the year and if you do the math the hopper season is over 3 1/2 months long!
As a guide I am always looking for new and exciting ways to catch fish and fishing with hoppers is just that! There is nothing more addictive in fly fishing than watching a large trout chase down and crush a dry fly. As June transcends into July most of the hatches in the Midwest are coming to an end and the trout have a continuous need to keep feeding. Grasshoppers are large clumsy insects that frequently fall into the water and often elicit ferocious strikes from sizeable trout. As a common rule adult grasshopper activity peaks during the hottest days of the summer which also coincides with the lowest water levels and the warmest water temperatures our streams will experience forcing our trout, especially our trophy trout, to seek out large easy meals whenever possible. Hoppers are often the most readily available food source found in our streams during the daytime throughout the late summer months and early fall allowing anglers to capitalize their fishing efforts with large terrestrial offerings.
Grasshoppers have been recognized as an important food source by many trout anglers for a very long time. Angler perception into the relative importance of hoppers as a potential food source is evident if one spends a little time leafing through all the fly catalogues available on the market today. Fly patterns imitating grasshoppers are as diverse in form and function as any other current dry fly category. Natural materials may provide a more lifelike appearance in your fly design, but, sometimes they sacrifice buoyancy and durability in the construction of your fly. Since the inception of synthetic materials into the fly tying industry, the limitations of creativity have not yet been met as new and more innovative ties continue to spring up each year.
The use of synthetic materials such as foam allow you to design and fish flies that float better and absorb less water while fishing. When one incorporates the use of rubber legs into their flies, they can add movement to your fly giving your fly a more realistic look on the water. The integration of foam and rubber legs as key elements in your fly design can prove to be one of the deadliest combinations anglers have at their disposal today. When designing or choosing fly selections to be used on your local streams you should still pay close attention to color, silhouette, and size. These key elements in fly design often dictate a fly’s success on the water and should always be considered in your fly selection. Sampling along local streams you fish regularly to collect native species is a great way to aid in your fly selection before hitting the water. Try to incorporate as many natural characteristics into your flies as you can while considering the key elements in fly design.
When gearing up to fish hoppers I prefer a 9’ 6wt. fly rod with a medium to fast action taper to aid in tackling the typical windy conditions associated with fishing during a late summer afternoon. I recommend either a Double Tapered or Weight Forward Floating Line to match the rod weight you are fishing with. While choosing a fly line I would consider the types of restrictions facing you while presenting your fly on the rivers you will be fishing. If the streams you are fishing allow for substantial casting distances without many back cast obstructions then I would opt for the Weight Forward lines to aid in your distance presentations under windy conditions. Here in the Midwest we rarely exceed casts over 35 feet and we are usually subjected to an overabundance of obstructions in our back cast forcing us to roll cast more frequently. For the majority of the rivers I fish I prefer a Double Taper floating line as it is easier to roll cast over shorter distances and it will still deliver the home run cast if I need to add some distance to my presentation.
There have been several effective ways to fish hoppers developed over the years and many are still widely used today. Tandem rigs are always effective ways to fish multiple flies and allow the angler to cover several feeding zones at one time. I will often attach 24-30 inches of tippet to my hopper with a second fly imitating a beetle, caterpillar, or ant and fish this two fly rig when searching water. Probably the most popular tandem fly technique used to date is the Hopper-Dropper rig. To fish this array is simple, pick your favorite “buoyant” hopper pattern and attach 18- 24 inches of fluorocarbon tippet to the bend of the hook to which you then attach a bead head nymph. This rig can be very productive as the angler can target two distinct feeding zones with two different flies. Fish this fly combo in the current seams or close to structure and use the hopper pattern as a strike indicator to detect strikes on the nymph.
As much as I like to fish tandem fly rigs I still prefer to fish single fly rigs 98% of the time. Simplifying your presentation to one fly allows the angler to become more accurate and flexible with their presentation. In Michigan the majority of our streams are characterized by narrow river channels that are limited by riparian vegetation lining the banks, woody debris components, and variable depth contours along the entire river course. Traditional techniques such as hopper dropper rigs are still productive; however, they are not always fished as effectively due to the aforementioned stream obstructions found throughout our region which can often dictate fish feeding habits. Fishing one fly will allow anglers to be more accurate and to target more specific feeding lanes they may not be able to access while fishing tandem fly rigs. The ability to place pin point accurate casts under and along structure could mean the difference between catching fish and not catching fish on some days.
Probably the Most Important reason I prefer to fish single fly rigs is the essential need to make the fly “dance”. Grasshoppers are of a terrestrial origin and are naturally a large heavily bodied insect that will begin to drown the instant it hits the water. The lungs or spiracles (air pore) are located along the lateral region of the abdomen and consequently this body segment is typically located right at the water surface when a grasshopper finds itself stuck in a body of water. When one considers the physiological attributes and the evident unnatural behavior or struggle exhibited by grasshoppers on the water why not add more movement to your fly? Incorporating fly movements into your presentation will make substantial differences between catching and not catching fish as well as catching more and bigger fish.
The late summer months are truly some of my favorite times of year to fish for trout as the crowds from the Hex hatch have all but left the river and the fish begin to once again adopt a daytime feeding behavior. There is nothing quite like watching a large fish rise from the river bottom under your fly and the subsequent sound of that fish smashing your hopper pattern on the surface. If you haven’t given this technique much consideration as a productive way to fish for trout later in the season than you should rethink your prejudices and give it an honest try. Hopper fishing might just become your favorite way to stalk your local trout streams during the late summer months and early fall while other anglers have given up on the trout fishing altogether and shifted their attentions to other game fish species.