HOPPER / DROPPER TIME!
by: Bob Shannon
When it comes to fly fishing, nothing beats the anticipation of the surface strike. Most anglers in my circle would give up three sub surface strikes for the opportunity of one fish taking a meaty, morsel off the surface of the water. So in this case why not experience both opportunities? Over the next six to ten weeks (depending on the first heavy frost of the season) grasshopper activity is in full swing. Even during mid-day, non-hatch periods, few trout can resist the twitching movement of a grasshopper. The second benefit to using the hopper is its buoyancy, which allows it to serve as a strike indicator. Yes, that’s correct, we’re using our grasshopper pattern as a bobber.
Most hopper patterns are on larger hook sizes ranging from #2-#12 and are tied on 2x and 3x long shanks, making the flies easily visible to the fish and the fishermen. Now here comes the fun part, attaching a second fly to your hopper pattern is a very popular technique referred to as dropper fishing. The dropper is usually a weighted or un-weighted wet fly pattern that is fished between one and three feet behind the hopper fly. This doubles your chances of catching fish by using a two fly method. The challenge is in casting to not twist or tangle the flies. There are a few methods used in rigging dropper flies that will significantly reduce the fly spinning and tangling during casting.
In choosing hopper patterns most Vermont anglers use Stimulator patterns that represent either large caddis, stonefly or in this case hopper patterns during the later weeks of July through September. Another good fly choice would be to use hopper flies that are tied with foam bodies to add buoyancy to the fly. That allows it to float even with some of the larger wet fly patterns that will be hanging off your hopper imitation. In choosing wet fly patterns to suspend below your hopper during mid-day periods, it is best to use beadheaded nymph patterns to allow the fly to sink deeper into the water column. Fish that may not be tempted to rise to the meaty morsel will be more inclined to strike at the wet fly pattern that is weighted and more likely in the strike zone. The guides here at the fly rod shop, typically use copper johns in sizes #14, #16, #18 during the summer periods. But don’t be afraid to go by the old standbys like the hares ear, pheasant tails or caddis pupa imitations to increase your opportunity to finding feeding fish.
Rigging your dropper system is not as complex as it may sound and most beginner and novice fly anglers often come into the shop and express their concerns about fishing a two fly method. “I can hardly fish one fly, how could I with two”? A lot has to do with how you rig the dropper fly. There are two methods for rigging two flies on a single leader, one is called the inline dropper and the other is referred to as the offline dropper. For the purposes of the simpler method today we’ll tackle the in line dropper rig. First secure your hopper imitation to your leader with an improved clinch knot. I generally use a shorter leader to my first fly of between six feet and seven and a half feet maximum. Keeping the leader to your first fly shorter allows for less twisting while false casting your flies. Now take a small section of 4x(6lb),5x(4lb), or 6x(3lb) tippet material in lengths of 12-36 inches. Attach the end piece to the bend of the hopper imitation with an improved clinch knot and attach your wet fly to the opposite end with an improved clinch knot as well. This system of having the leader-to-fly-to-dropper is referred to as the inline dropper method. It makes casting much more tangle free than other methods used which require more precision casting.
Alright, so now we’ll tackle the drifting methods of fishing your dropper rig. This is the part that makes even the beginner and novice anglers successful with this method. The flies can be fished with a natural dead drift or can be skittered or swung across the current allowing the hopper pattern to move across the surface looking like it’s trying to get to shore. Using these hopper patterns with a slight twitch will capture any trout’s curiosity within one to four feet of the fly pattern. I have found over the years teaching anglers how to become dropper system fishermen, it’s a little less intimidating to break the river up into three sections. By fishing shorter drift lengths, it allows for less twisting and tangles. By breaking the river up into three short sections it allows for better drifting and more opportunities for strikes. When fishing the upstream quadrant above your standing position, cast the flies up river and allow the hopper dropper to drift naturally with the speed of the current. This method is referred to as dead drifting. It is very effective in that it is a natural presentation of both flies through the water. After several casts into the upper quadrant next try casting across the river and allow the fly to take the same approach. And lastly, present the flies so it hits the water in the down and across stream position from where you’re standing. A fly presented in this lower section of water from your standing position gives both the surface fly and subsurface fly more action. Fish that were not looking up for possible food will sense the vibrations and movement of this fly as it skitters and skates across the surface. By allowing the fly to swing across the water it will significantly increase the visual and temptation of a strike to most fish. The good news about fishing this system is you can be creative and the bottom line at some point is to let it swing.