Gerald Almy: Fishing grasshopper flies for fall trout

Gerald Almy

Trout fishermen for the most part cast imitations of aquatic insects such as mayflies and caddis. But some of the best fall fishing in the Shenandoah Valley and nearby trout streams comes from imitating “terrestrial” insects.

These are bugs that are born and live on land, but accidentally jump, fall, get blown by wind, or washed into streams by rain. When they meet that unfortunate fate, their bad luck is compounded: they are almost always gobbled up by waiting trout or bass.

Best Land Insects to Imitate: Several land-born insects are important in the diet of trout. Ants, beetles, crickets, leafhoppers, caterpillars and cicadas are a few of them. But the one that offers the most spectacular sport of all at this time of year is the grasshopper. Fishing imitations of these insects is particularly exciting because it draws strikes from some of the biggest trout in a stream.

Hoppers come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Try to match the size of the insects that jump up as you walk along the stream. Patterns from size 2 to 14 can be effective. Most common colors are tan, yellow, green and brown.

Besides matching the size of insects you see, it’s generally best to use smaller flies on smaller streams and larger ones on big rivers. Small stream fish tend to be more skittish, and those in big waters may need a chunkier morsel to draw their attention.

Top seasons, time of day and weather conditions to fish them

Grasshoppers actually start appearing along stream borders in May. It’s during late summer and fall, though, particularly September and October, that they reach peak numbers and trout key in on them for the most frenzied feeding binges.

Fishing with hoppers is most productive from mid-morning until late afternoon. That’s when it’s hottest and that’s when the insects are most active and most likely to fall or accidentally jump into a stream. Top weather conditions are warm, sunny and dry. On rainy, cool days, opt for other flies. Wind is also a plus for grasshopper fishing, since it blows the land insects into the water more frequently.

Deliveries & Casting Tactics: Grasshoppers make a distinct “splat” when they enter a river. Trout learn to key in on this sound and race towards it when they hear a hopper tumble into the water. 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. This sound of an insect hitting the water is like ringing a dinner bell for any hungry trout lying nearby.

Another good delivery for grasshopper patterns 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.

Where to Cast your Fly: The biggest trout often hang out within inches of the stream banks when hoppers are falling in, waiting for them. Dropping your fly very close to the water’s edge is a good tactic, since that’s where the fish are used to seeing the insects tumble in from. The “dap” cast – simply reaching your rod out with a length of leader extended and dropping the fly above the fish – is often deadly for these shore-hugging trout.

The shore where the wind is blowing from is often best. But don’t ignore mid-stream locations, either. Once hoppers get in the water, currents can carry them far from land.

Also remember that grasshoppers kick their legs and try to escape when they fall into a stream. Imitate this with a twitch of your rod tip when the fly drifts over a fish or suspected holding lie.

Hopper Tackle: These bulky flies work best with a rod with some backbone. Use 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.

Patterns: A variety of patterns work well. Some of the best include the Joe’s Hopper, Dave’s Hopper, Clipped Head Hopper, Letort Hopper, Foam Hopper and Nymph Hopper. If you run out of grasshopper imitations, an Elk Hair Caddis makes a good fill-in fly.

Bonus: Bass and Panfish: Grasshoppers are large enough that they can also produce excellent catches of bass and panfish on ponds and creeks. Fish them on ponds for largemouths and bluegills and on creeks and rivers for smallmouths. For bass use sizes 2-8 grasshopper flies. For panfish with their smaller mouths, go with sizes 10-14.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.