Stillwater Angler Fishing Report
Last year was generally a mediocre hopper fishing season. It’s still a bit early to tell, but at this stage, it appears that anything this year will be an improvement.
Fishing hoppers on either the Stillwater or Yellowstone may not be for the purest anglers among us, but it is a fun way to fish. A well-drifted hopper meandering down the foam line will often produce an aggressive take — no subtle slurp or sip here. It’s also not hard to realize that a single hopper represents a significant amount of food value to a hungry trout, and consequently will be a sought after meal.
So what’s so special about hopper fishing? For starters, they come in all shapes and sizes. A walk through the tall grass along the river bank will typically stir up hoppers in a variety of sizes and colors.
A pattern with either a tan or yellow body color of some sort is a good choice. Something a bit on the smaller side, generally in the size 8-12 range, is usually the way to go.
There is a wide variety of hopper patterns available, but the foam body patterns have become very popular and for good reason.
They are extremely durable, float well, and are highly visible on the water. Even the name “Club Sandwich” sounds enticing. Foam patterns are also ideal for rigging a hopper/dropper set up.
This is the technique of “dropping” a small nymph off of the bend of the hook of the hopper with 18-inches or so of a size smaller tippet. Parachute hopper patterns make a good choice if fishing in choppy riffle water or reduced visibility. Many hopper patterns are a virtual work of art, right down to the finest detail.
The beauty of hopper fishing though is that a fly that is missing a leg or otherwise mangled, is apt to fish just as well as one that is perfect in every detail. In fact, the fly that appears to be crippled often produces even better.
Another great feature of hopper fishing is that one doesn’t have to worry about fine leaders or delicate presentations. Fairly heavy leaders are not only adequate, but preferred.
A 2-3x leader is ideal, with a shorter 2x leader recommended. A section of 3x tippet can always be tied on, if need be, to fish a smaller pattern. A stronger leader has its distinct advantages. It not only makes casting a bigger fly easier, but it makes it possible to sometimes save a snagged fly, as well as quickly play and land the fish.
This is particularly critical as the water warms throughout summer, and a lengthy play not only tires the fish, it can often prove fatal. On all occasions, the fish should be played as quickly as possible. Fishing hoppers on a heavy leader accomplishes that objective.
As far as presentation goes, anglers needn’t concern themselves with making a nice, delicate cast. A cast that produces a big “splat” of the hopper on the water, along with a twitch or two during the drift, will often be rewarded with a violent take. Even a poorly drifted fly that drags under water will occasionally produce.
Just remember to let the fish take the fly before setting the hook! For the most part, one should fish along the banks and wherever foam lines are found. However, don’t neglect good looking water mid-river and riffles, particularly as the season goes on and the fish become more wary of the drifts along the bank.
As we move into the later part of July and August nears, the conditions are becoming ripe for hopper fishing. Lower and clearer flows, warm weather, and cutting of hay on stream side meadows are all converging to set the conditions for the hopper to be the weapon of choice for the fly fisherman. Tight Lines!
Chris Fleck owns and operates Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus.