drowned hopper 5 copy

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

dh-jasonEarlier this year I invited a new friend, Jason, I made at church to join me on one of my favorite stretches. There was an ulterior motive; a beaver family resides in that stretch and kept scaring the living bajeebies out of me (not that I have any of those, or that they are living) when they slap their tails a few feet away from me in the dark. My friend is a trapper. He is also a spin caster who is at least open to the better way of fly fishing.

It was early in the season and it turned out the fish were very lethargic. I mostly guided him for the first hour or so hoping he would connect with a couple of fish. He never turned  or saw a fish with a variety of spinners and small minnow crankbaits. Eventually I sent him downstream to another hole that should have been good. While he was gone I refished the last stretch he had fished; I knew fish were probably there. Sure enough, by the time he returned fishless from the other hole, I had already landed three fish. I gave him a quick casting lesson and he landed his first fly rod caught trout in short order. We traded the fly rod back and forth for the remainder of the outing and caught several more fish. By the end of the outing it was clear he was an excellent fisherman.

Because of that first trip we compare notes every so often as he goes back to the same area to fish. Late in August, he texted me the photo of himself with a 16” brown he had caught that afternoon with his father. I quickly responded and asked what he had caught it on.

His response was short and to the point, “Grasshopper!”

I saw him at church later that week and I asked how he was able to cast the grasshopper with his spin casting rod.

He replied, “It wasn’t hard as the grasshopper is so light.”

I assumed the grasshopper was floating (I find assumptions most often get me into more trouble!). I kept thinking about this as I had been using a grasshopper for over a month and had caught a few browns and turned a couple of decent fish in riffles that had missed the fly (I have often wondered whether lending these trout my trifocals would help them see the fly better!). None of the fish I had seen were anywhere near 16”. Eventually it occurred to me, maybe the grasshopper wasn’t floating. I asked him at church the next week.

His answer, “Nope, it was slowly sinking – I actually watched the fish take it in the pool.”

In my mind I was thinking, “Ah ha! A sunken grasshopper – why didn’t I think of that?”

Later that afternoon I sat down at my vise and tied up three slightly weighted grasshoppers. When I tie flies my first rule of thumb is to spend less time tying the fly than it usually takes me to lose a fly (that can be as little as 15 minutes or less). In this case, it took me longer to find the ingredients in my drawers than to tie the fly. It can easily be tied in less than 10 minutes.

The next afternoon I tied on a #14 Joe’s Hopper as the lead fly while using my new sunken grasshopper pattern as the dropper. I headed to a shaded pool as the river is very low and clear this time of the year. If you try to fish in sections in direct sunlight all you see is fish running for the hills when the fly line hits the water. The current is very minimal in this pool so I either shake my rod tip until the lead dry fly just twitches 2-4” or slowly tow the dry across the surface. The first cast had barely settled when I saw a fish turn on the sunken hopper. I instinctively set the hook – fish on! It turned out to be a 13 ½“ brown. The fly was all the way down its throat. While this was no 16-incher it was still a respectable fish and on the first cast no less.

“Not bad – this is promising!” I thought.

Just a couple of casts later I saw the lead fly move 3-4 inches as another fish slammed the sunken hopper. This turned out to be a 14” brown. In 30 minutes I caught 7 trout total on the sunken grasshopper!

That prompted me to write this blog since I figured others might want to hear about this and give the fly a try. The recipe below is literally the one I made up at the vise. I am sure it can be perfected and improved (please let me know if you have any suggestions), however, it does work (My plan is to write a full description on the final version later.). The materials are listed in the order that I tied the fly. This should be enough to get you going, so here you go:
Materials list:
Daiichi 1530 size 6 Hook
Danville 210 Denier
Cactus Chenille medium
Mottled Turkey Quill
Antron
Barred Rubber Legs

gh-recipe

Here are some different views of the sunken grasshopper and the turkey quill I used for the fly.
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turkeyquill
This feather has thinner fibers than the usual turkey quill and increases the rate that the fly sinks. Thicker quill fibers cause the fly to sink more slowly. You can use this to your advantage if you are fishing shallow water. If you only have quills with thicker fibers, tie in the wings at the tips and trim off the thicker quill section to size the wings.

Here’s a picture of how trout typically takes the fly – all the way in their mouth. It is not unusual to see a swirl as soon as the fly hits the water. Timing the hookset can be a little tricky, it seems like the sooner the better works best, but you may have to experiment with the timing to get the best hook-up rate.
inmouth

Picture of where the drowned hopper typically is in a trout’s mouth!
Hope this works as well for you as it did for me! Feel free to let me know how it goes.

7 Comments

  1. Being, 82 years old and an old timer at the fly fishing game, I can name many such times when I have intentionally drown my dry fly and saved the day. The most noteworthy time being 1968, on the Snake River in Jackson Hole Wyoming when my guide was legendary fly tier Jack Dennis. Jack spent first half hour demanding drag free floats, but few fish were caught. I finally started dragging my “Dry Fly” underwater and fishing it on the swing and immediately started catching fish after fish the rest of day.
    There are no hard rules in fishing game, with the possible exception of keeping your fly in water as much as possible.

    1. Hi Jeff, Thanks for sharing your story. That’s a riot. No doubt about it, most “rules” for fly fishing (and life for that matter) are meant to be broken. I have caught numerous fish on other flies that went under at the end of a drift. In this case, the drowned grasshopper worked for the remainder of the hopper season and always out fished the lead dry hopper. My theory is once the hopper has sunk the trout know it is an even easier meal.

  2. Hungry fish will eat just about anything—good solution. Try some hen pheasant tail for the wings as well or lay a narrow pheasant soft hackle along the back for the wing (creates a bit larger profile from below).

  3. Hi Joe,

    Nice write-up. It reminds me of something that happened long ago, during my first trip “Out West” (a bicycle trip from Ohio to Montana lasting a full summer). One morning in the Black Hills I found a tiny 2-foot-wide stream cutting and meandering through a sunny meadow that to me looked very “trouty.” I knew little about trout as yet, and the only flies I had were three I’d found inside a plastic department-store creel on the side of the road (you find all kinds of things when XC cycling…tools, hats, baseballs, kitchen sinks), so I caught a grasshopper, impaled it on a fat hook and a very thick hunk of mono hanging from a thick boat-rod thing that I called a “fly rod” back then, and started to drift/drag it down the middle and near the deeply undercut banks of the open meadow. It was fully sunken, but I thought, “biomass is biomass, fish will be willing to eat dead sunken bugs.”

    Being little more than a youth, I had no idea that trout were wary, so when a huge (I recall it being in the neighborhood of 25″) torpedo lunged for the dead hopper, I just stood there in the bright sun, agape. The torpedo saw me of course, and evaporated.

    It actually never amazed me that a fish would take an interest in a drowned and sunken mouthful. What amazes me to this day is that I was so naiive about stealth. I guess I was still a youthful product of the pursuit of cloudy midwest lakewater bass. I still think about that fish sometimes, and wonder how big the thing really was…memories tend to elongate them, but I swear it was huge.

    My apologies to the hopper, who lives in infamy via this memory but who paid the ultimate price for it.

    – Mike

    1. Hi Mike, Great story!
      My most vivid fishing memories are of the big fish I missed or lost. They are permanently emblazoned on my brain.
      I discovered this late in the hopper season, it worked for the remainder of the hopper season and always out fished the lead dry hopper. My theory is once the hopper has sunk, the trout know it is an even easier meal and they blast it. Sometimes I missed the fish after seeing a massive swirl as I was laughing so hard! Can’t wait to try this in the 2023 hopper season.

      1. I agree with your theory about the “easier meal,” Joe. I also think the “safer meal” concept enters in here. As we know, most trout (especially the bigger trout) like to feed down low in the water column, hidden if possible, fighting slower current, out of reach & out of sight of birds of prey and other threats. What better way to take advantage of the big fat hopper season than getting sunken ones? They’ll go to the surface for hoppers when that’s what it takes to get one, but as the hopper count increases in late summer, then the safer sunken meal becomes more likely and I’m guessing more preferred.

        Well that’s my addition to the theory anyway, but then trout have proven themselves to be smarter than me, so who knows?

        – Mike

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