During the past couple of weeks, monsoon season has brought a welcome respite from the heat for both anglers and trout.
As families get ready for a new school year, the number of fly fishermen on area rivers is beginning to wane. Heavy hatches of larger insects have now tapered off and have been replaced with tiny bugs that are best matched by deep nymphing with very small midge and mayfly emerger patterns.
The trout are fat and in the best shape they’ll be all year and won’t always move too far to eat one of these micro-sized flies.
There is a way around this technical fishing, and it is one of the most enjoyable ways an angler can catch trout on rivers such as the Lower Eagle, Roaring Fork and especially the Colorado rivers. Hopper season has arrived.
Every year about this time it happens, and it will last until perhaps the end of September depending on how many cold days and frosty nights we have in early fall. Sometimes the action will push into mid-October.
Wade anglers can enjoy hopper fishing by covering water and hiking upstream concentrating most of their efforts within a foot or two of the bank. But to get the most out of a good day of grasshopper fly-fishing, anglers are better off fishing from a drift boat or raft. That way, miles of good banks can be covered in a day. Usually shorelines with moderate depth and speed with overhanging grass are the perfect ambush spots for hungry browns and rainbows, but often faster, shallow riffles will also hold large trout looking for a big, easy meal.
Boat fishermen who continually pound their flies in very close to shore will get the most looks. Trout know this is where hoppers and ants end up in the river and take advantage of this food source when other hatches have dried up. Hits are often described as fast and explosive, but just as common is a large, hook-jawed trout slowly tipping his head up and leisurely sipping down the fly.
The bigger fish are aware that grasshoppers are basically helpless in the water and will not escape. It can take nerves of steel to watch all this and wait for the fish to actually eat the fly without pulling it way from him too early.
Hopper fishing demands heavier than normal tippet, and throwing a 3x leader is not unusual. This helps turn over bulky, wind resistant fly patterns, keeps the tippet from twisting and allows anglers to fight big fish aggressively. Using small diameter tippets with large flies means you risk breaking fish off right at the hook set. The trout do not seem to mind the heavier line at all.
A great advantage to drifting a highly visible, big, buoyant dry fly is its ability to perform double duty as a strike indicator. By hanging a beadhead nymph off of the hook bend of the hopper and dropping it down a couple of feet, it is possible to catch fish that are not willing to come to the surface to eat. Some anglers will even drop two nymphs in line below a high floating foam hopper.
There is a wide array of hopper patterns out there that will get the job done. Even big ants and oversized attractor designs such as stimulators work well. Some of our favorites at Vail Valley Anglers include the Noble Chernobyl, the Fat Albert, Yellow and Royal PMX and Schroeder’s Parachute Hopper.
Come and check out our wide selection of terrestrial fly patterns and take advantage of the great late summer fly-fishing that is happening right now on all of our rivers.
Brody Henderson is a senior guide with Vail Valley Anglers and can be reached at 970-926-0900.