How to Fish a Hopper Fly: 10 Tips for Summer Dry Fly Success

How to Fish a Hopper Fly Feature Image

There few forms of fishing more enjoyable than fly fishing with hopper flies in the height of summer.

The sun’s shining, the fish and hungry and it’s a very visual form of fly fishing.

You smack your hopper fly down next to an undercut bank or into some pocket water and bang! Out comes a big brown and nails it and you’re on!

The beauty of it is that hopper fishing isn’t a difficult form of fly fishing, but there are some tips and tactics you can deploy to fly fish effectively with hoppers.

Hopper Fishing Tips and Tactics

Hopper Fishing
Big brown trout love eating hoppers

1. Find the right locations for Fishing Hoppers

There are few ingredients that need to come together to make a good hopper fishing river. You need grass to sustain a healthy population of grasshoppers and relatively high summer temperatures during hopper season to the get the grasshoppers’ metabolisms moving. The other feature that helps is high banks as the hoppers often fall off into the water to be mopped up by waiting trout below.

You tend to find that if the grasshoppers are on, then fish throughout the river will take hoppers. But focus particular attention on spots with high overhanging banks and adjacent paddocks.

Spots with a nice eddy or bit of slack water where the fish can avoid the current while scanning for falling grasshoppers are good.

2. The Wind Can Be Your Friend

Hopper Fishing 3

Wind is the traditional enemy of the fly fisher, but when you are hopper fishing it can be a real asset. Without wind, relatively few hoppers fall into the water and the fish become more focused on other food items.

But throw in a bit of breeze and all of a sudden the grasshoppers are hitting the water with regularity and the fish start honing in on them. The more grasshoppers hitting the water the better.

The breeze can make casting more tricky on windy days, but if your skills are OK you’ll mostly be fine.

A final word re wind. Don’t be fooled by the numbers of hoppers you find underfoot walking to or along the river. There can be as many hoppers as you’d like streamside, but if there is no wind pushing them into the river chances are the fish won’t be honed in on them and will mostly refuse a hopper pattern.

3. Match the Size of your Hopper Patterns

My favorite local hopper fishing stream follows the pattern of many good hopper rivers. At the start of the hopper season, say a month into summer, the hoppers are mostly smaller (around a size 14 in fly terms). But as the fly fishing season develops the hoppers grow and large species of hoppers emerge. When I fly fish in hopper territory in late summer, I am often fishing a #12 or even #10 hopper fly.

4. Don’t be afraid to slap the fly down

Hopper Fishing 2
Get their attention by slapping the fly down on the water just like a real hopper

In rippled water, say a glide or a run, you sometimes need to slap the hopper fly down at the end of the cast to emulate real life. Larger hoppers weigh a lot (in insect terms anyway) and hit the water with a discernible plop. If that’s what the naturals do, then that’s what your fly should do. You can achieve this slap easily enough by hauling in a bit of line with your non-rod hand at the end of the cast to flip the leader over.

5. Pause before striking in slower water

Fly fishing slow pools and runs with hoppers is great fun. You can often see the fish cruising in search of the next hapless grasshopper to fall onto the water and in the right circumstances you can witness a real feeding frenzy. Fly anglers fishing this kind of water often make the mistake of striking too early. They see a big brown trout approaching their fly and they get ahead of themselves and strike just as the fish is opening its mouth. This results in no hook up and a spooked fish.

The key to timing the strike in this situation – and similar situations fishing cicadas and other large terrestrials in slow water – when fish tend to take their time in eating the fly is to wait until the fish has grabbed it and turned back down into the water. This almost always results in a solid hookset.

Bear in mind that when you are fly fishing rapids and white water the fish will eat the hopper fly more quickly and you need to strike faster in these conditions.

6. Go up a tippet size when fly fishing

Hopper Fishing 1
Hopper eating trout tend to be fit and healthy as the hoppers make a decent meal

The good thing about fly fishing with hopper flies is that you do tend to get the bigger fish interested. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll get some smaller fish crunching your hoppers, but such a large and tasty prey item will often get the attention of bigger trout. These are trout you might not see feeding on the surface much unless the hatch is particularly strong, but the prospect of eating a juicy hopper gets them up on top.

For this reason, I like to go up a size in tippet when fly fishing with hoppers. My standard river tippet size is usually 4X so I will go up to 3X for hoppers and only change back to 4X or thin tippet if I think they are seeing the line.

7. Don’t be afraid to fish the whitewater

The other opportunity that fishing with such a big buoyant dry fly offers up is to fish whitewater sections where you’d lose visibility of a smaller flies.

Don’t be afraid to run your hopper through rapids and little waterfalls. Often the trout are sitting in the pocket water and will dart out and grab a hopper as it drifts past. Keep your eyes peeled and stay up tight to the fly in terms of your line management as you need to strike fast in these spots.

8. Don’t forget the hopper dropper combo

Just because you are fishing a river where you have got trout rising and hoppers hitting the water, it doesn’t mean every fish will take a hopper fly (if only!!).

Many fish will be happily feeding subsurface and won’t even be looking up at your hopper fly.

There is nothing wrong with hanging a nymph under hopper patterns in the time honored hopper dropper rig. You tie the tippet for the dropper for the nymph off the bend of the hopper or use a triple surgeons to join the two sections of tippet and tie the hopper off the tag. Just make sure you leave enough tippet on the tag.

This usually results in more strikes and can save you during a tough day of fly fishing.

9. You can twitch the hopper on the water

Normally when you fish hoppers the trout attack the fly with gusto when they sense it landing on the water. But sometimes in large pools or when fishing lakes you might have a trout swim by that hasn’t noticed the fly. In this case it is fine to give the fly a twitch with the rod tip to get the fish’s attention. In this case less is more and you really just want to make the fly shake a little without skating it across the water at all.

10. Get your timing right

Hopper fishing usually improves from midday and is good right into the late afternoon in summer. The hoppers need high temperatures to get them on the move, so the sun needs to be well above the horizon before they get moving.

My Top Hopper Patterns

Here are some on my favorite hopper patterns that will help you catch more trout in summer.

Madam X Hopper

Madam X Hopper Pattern
Madam X Hopper Pattern

The Madam X Hopper is my go-to hopper pattern for high summer and is a fly first tied by Doug Swisher. It is big and buoyant (thanks to the deer hair used extensive in it) and the rubber legs add realism to the fly and a convincing X-shaped profile from below, which is where the trout are viewing your fly from.

There are a variety of ways to tie this fly and many different variants you can buy.

All will work well when there are hoppers about and falling on the water.

Colors should be matched to the hoppers on your favorite stream, which can vary from green to brown to bright yellow, depending on where you are.

I particularly like this version, the Miss Knobby X:

The Wee Creek Hopper

Wee Creek Hopper Pattern
Wee Creek Hopper Pattern

The Wee Creek Hopper is a simple foam based hopper pattern that is good to fish early season when the hoppers are still relatively small.

It doesn’t have much bulk and doesn’t generate as much plop when it hits the water as a Madam X or one of the other patterns listed here, but as a more subtle hopper pattern it does a great job.

With the bright foam post it is easy to see and the legs give it the crucial X-shaped profile from beneath.

Streambank Hopper

Streambank Hopper Pattern
Streambank Hopper Pattern

The Streambank Hopper is never going to win any beauty contests. In fact it is a bit of monstrosity to look at, but the trout certainly see it differently.

It’s sort of like a technicolor Chernobyl Ant on steroids with a deer hair wing and a hi-vis post on top with knotted rubber legs at the rear and straight legs at the front.

But it proves the old adage that profile and a few triggers are enough to make a fly a success.

The Streambank Hopper hits the water with a decent plop, depending on the density of the foam used to make it, and will draw fish up to eat it.

Chubby Chernobyl

Chubby Chernobyl Hopper Pattern
Chubby Chernobyl Hopper Pattern

The Chubby Chernobyl is a hopper like variant of the Chernobyl Ant. It features the layered foam construction with a dubbed body.

It has two hi-vis wing posts, typically swept back a bit like wings, and the trademark rubber legs in the X shape.

Lots of anglers swear by the Chubby Chernobyl as their top grasshopper pattern and a proven fly for catching big trout.

WMD Hopper

WMD Hopper
WMD Hopper

Another hopper pattern that is one of our favourites is an Australian hopper fly called the WDM hopper which uses deer hair in a novel way by tying it with the tips forward and then bending it back on itself to make a bulbous head. It also incorporates wire, some crystal flash and a palmered hackle and rubber legs.

According to its creator, Tasmanian fly fishing guide Daniel Hackett, it is inspired by Mike Lawson’s Henry’s Fork hopper.

It is easy enough to tie based on the photo here and is a great pattern for late summer fishing.

Final Word On Hopper Fishing Tips

Watching trout snatching grasshoppers off the surface really gets many anglers pulses racing. A decent fall of hoppers sends trout into a feeding frenzy. With these techniques and using these hopper patterns, you’ll give yourself a great chance of catching some large trout. Fly fishing for trout in this mood is great fun and is the highlight of many anglers’ year.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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