Hopper time: Break it down
Each year during late summer on the rivers around Vail, many anglers and the trout they are targeting begin to focus on the annual grasshopper hatch.
This year, the hopper fishing has already been good and it will continue to produce good dry fly fishing for anglers on the Eagle, Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, as well as many smaller waters. It’s hard to beat seeing a big brown trout inhale a huge, floating foam pattern on the surface.
During late summer, grasshoppers and their insect cousins, beetles and ants, fill an important role as a food source for trout. The big hatches of early summer have thinned out and the aquatic insects that remain are extremely small. Grasshoppers provide a big chunk of food for trout that sifting through a lot of miniscule bugs and during late summer and early fall, they also become the primary outlet for anglers who enjoy fishing dry flies. Look for the hopper fishing to last until late September or early October, when heavy night-time frosts kill off this year’s crop of grasshoppers.
Anglers should fish with bulky dry flies with the right profile, including pronounced legs. Some good choices would include the Yellow PMX, Yellow and Tan Chubby Chernobyl and the Thunder Thighs Hopper, but pickier trout may want a slimmer profile, such as Schroeder’s Parachute Hopper. Carry a selection of hopper in sizes 6 through 12 and you’ll be covered. Always consider trailing your grasshopper dry fly with a small black foam ant or beetle. Also keep in mind where trout will be eating these land-based insects. Grassy banks and overhanging bushes are crucial to finding the best hopper fishing. Trout are less likely to eat a hopper or ant pattern in the middle of the river where they’ll rarely see such a food source. Don’t be afraid to skitter and move your hopper a few inches now and then to mimic a struggling insect.
Without futher ado, the best hopper locations:
The Colorado River, between Pumphouse and Dotsero, is easily one of the state’s best hopper fishing areas. Grassy banks line much of the river for miles and miles. The dry climate seems to favor grasshoppers and every year there’s an abundance of them on the Colorado. While windy afternoons are common on the Colorado during late summer and they can test an angler’s casting skills, these breezy days offer some of the better dry fly fishing. Hoppers are clumsy fliers and climbers and a little wind pushes more of them into the water near the bank.
The Eagle isn’t necessarily known as a good hopper fishery but there is plenty of water where trout will smash a big dry fly in August and September. Most of the best hopper fishing on the Eagle is downstream from Wolcott. The Eagle River Lease sections of State Wildlife Areas downstream from Wolcott is good place to start. Also consider the Gypsum Ponds State Wildlife Area and the Bureau of Land Management parcels downstream from Gypsum.
Roaring Fork River
The Fork also has some excellent opportunities for anglers as well. Some very good hopper fishing happens on the middle portion of the Roaring Fork between El Jebel and Carbondale. There’s good access for wade fishermen at the Catherine’s Store bridge while floaters must use a raft here and have the rowing skills to negotiate small braids and man-made hazards. But for those who put in the effort, plenty of wild browns and rainbow trout will eagerly eat a smaller to mid-sized grasshopper pattern.
There’s also some very good grasshopper fishing on places such as Brush Creek near Eagle and the Lower Colorado River below Glenwood Springs. Anglers interested in experiencing some great dry fly fishing with grasshopper patterns should consider booking a half or full day float trip with Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards, Colorado. Covering lots of water in a boat is an advantage and our guides have been having some great days out there.
Brody Henderson is a senior guide at Vail Valley Anglers in The Riverwalk at Edwards and can be reached at 970-926-0900.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.