While aquatic insects such as mayflies get most of the attention in trout fishing literature, in modern times terrestrial insects (those living on land) are becoming more and more important in the diet of trout. They jump, fall, get blown in by wind or washed in by rain and are greedily gobbled up by waiting brook, brown and rainbow trout.
Lots of land insects get eaten by trout, including beetles, leafhoppers, treehoppers, cicadas, crickets and ants. But one of the most important of all is the grasshopper. This insect can provide great fishing from spring through the first frosts of fall. Fishing imitations of hoppers is particularly exciting because it often draws strikes from some of the largest trout in a stream.
Even small trout will gobble them up, though. I once kept a 12 inch long trout caught in a Shenandoah Valley stream and examined its stomach. Inside were 10 grasshoppers! To say he was stuffed is an understatement.
Grasshoppers actually start appearing along stream borders in April and May. It's during summer and fall, though, that they reach peak numbers and trout key in on them for frenzied feeding binges.
To enjoy the best fishing, try to catch a few of the naturals along the stream or river's edge and examine their predominant colors and sizes. Pick a pattern from your fly boxes that most closely duplicates the naturals. A precise match isn't required. Just get one as close as possible. I've used sizes from 4 down to tiny size 18 hooks.
Fishing with grasshoppers is most productive from mid-morning until late afternoon. That's when the insects are most active and most likely to fall or get blown into a stream. Top weather conditions are hot and dry with wind also being a plus, since it might blow them into the water more frequently. On rainy, cool days, opt for other flies.
Grasshoppers make a distinct "splat" when they enter a river. Trout learn to key in on this sound in their feeding by racing to any such sound. By dropping your fly with a "plop" you can duplicate this sound and draw strikes. Simply overpower your forward cast slightly to smack the fly onto the water. Another good delivery is the sidearm skip cast, which skitters the fly over the water and allows you to bounce the hopper back under shoreline brush, where big fish often lurk.
Grasshoppers often struggle in the surface film. Imitating this with a gentle twitch can draw strikes from reluctant fish. Just nudge it gently to make the fly quiver or twitch slightly.
The biggest trout often hang out within inches of the stream banks when hoppers are tumbling in, waiting for them. Dropping your fly very close to the bank is a good tactic, since that's where the fish are used to seeing the insects come from. The shore where the wind is coming from is often best. But don't ignore mid-stream locations, either.
Hopper Tackle: These bulky flies work best with a rod with some backbone. I like an 8 ½-9 ½ foot, 5-7 weight rod with a weight-forward floating line. An 8-12 foot leader tapering to a 3-6X tippet completes the setup.
Bass and Panfish: Grasshoppers are large enough that they can produce excellent catches of bass. I like to fish them on ponds for largemouths and streams and the Shenandoah River for smallmouths in sizes 4-8. Bull-sized bluegills will also nail hoppers on ponds and lakes. Use sizes 10-14 so the panfish can get these imitations in their small mouths.
Patterns: A variety of ties will work for hopper imitations. My favorites include the Joe's Hopper, Letort Hopper, Dave's Hopper, MacHopper, Foam Hopper, and Nymph Hopper. The latter is a pattern I invented to imitate the immature life phases of hoppers and described in my book, "Tying & Fishing Terrestrials." (Stackpole Books).
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.