How to

Hop To It!

These days, a lot of my trout fishing still revolves around the humble hopper.  As summer rolls around and the mercury rises, there are few better sights for me, as a trout angler, than hundreds of these little insects bouncing around my feet.

But the days of me pinning a size six hook through one of these poor creatures are long gone. Lure makers manufacture numerous hopper imitations that, under the right circumstances, are irresistible to hungry little trout. Put simply, they’re as good as the real thing – and you don’t have to crawl through the tussocks on your hands and knees to catch one!

I’ve written a great deal in the past about luring diminutive trout from the tiny streams in the NSW high country – and I make no apologies for dedicating a bit more ink to this highly addictive form of fishing.

There are few forms of freshwater fishing that I enjoy more than walking the banks of a narrow trout stream and flicking little hopper-imitation lures into the path of cruising fish.

It is a very exciting way to chase trout. The action can be non-stop when insect activity is at fever pitch and the trout are in the mood. Just the other day a mate and I landed 23 feisty little browns in a few hours and dropped at least that many again.

And as far as visual fishing goes, it’s on a par with poppering for bream, whiting or bass. More often than not you are sight casting to fish and spectacular strikes can occur right under your nose. I personally love the way these tiny trout launch themselves at lures, often knocking them a foot or two in the air before coming back for more!
Window of “Hopper-tunity”
The small streams of the NSW southern tablelands and alpine areas are where I like to flick hopper patterns for trout. The high altitude streams are a particular favourite. Insect activity in the mountains is restricted because of the cooler climate. This means the trout that reside in these waterways have a comparatively small window of opportunity in which to feed. So, when temperatures spike during January and February, grasshoppers come out to play and the trout are right on their tails.

Some Like it Hot
When you’re flicking hoppers for high country trout, the hotter the better. I know this breaks every rule in the trout fishing book, but it’s true. Grasshoppers are at their most active under warm, sunny skies, especially in the mountains. And while it never truly gets “hot” in the high country, a day where the mercury nudges the mid-20s (and they are pretty rare at high altitude) is perfect. Mind you, when it’s 25 degrees in the hills, it tends to be a good 10 to 15 degrees warmer on the tablelands, so the high country offers the ideal escape from the heat – and some fish to boot!

Give it the Flick
Once you’ve found fishy-looking water, success with hopper-style lures revolves around the “three A’s” – Accuracy, Accuracy and Accuracy.

Your ability to land a two-gram lure exactly where you wish on a consistent basis will make or break your trout fishing trip.

Given the flighty nature of wild stream trout, casts need to be made from vantage points some distance from the water’s edge. I tend to hover at least 10m from likely looking water and rely on accuracy to elicit a strike. Practice until you can cast a tiny hopper lure gun-barrel straight over a distance of at least 15m and you will get a great deal more out of this form of angling.

When I walk the banks of likely looking streams, I tend to focus my sights on prime fish-holding water. Anyone with a background in fly-fishing for trout will know the areas to which I’m referring. I’m a particular fan of the heads and tails of pools and the deeper pools themselves. Begin by flicking lures into these areas and you should quickly ascertain whether there are trout about. Lures that land where rapids and fast flowing water spill into deeper, slower-moving pools will often be hit as soon as they kiss the water.

You’ll have to work a bit harder to hook fish in the still water. Often, fish are using the overhanging banks and other structure for cover, so it is well worth firing casts hard up against the shore and beginning a slow retrieve.  Sometimes a little brown will engulf the lure within a couple of turns of the handle; other times they will literally follow it to your feet and nail it under your nose. Either way it’s exciting fishing.

Although accuracy is important, don’t be deterred if your cast misses its mark – or the water – completely. If your hopper lands on the bank or in overhanging grass and shrubs, attempt to flick it back into the water and watch what happens. To a wily little brown trout, this looks as realistic as it gets and they are often quick to pounce.

Small packages
In the narrow, high altitude streams I fish, trout grow slowly and fish above 35cm are scarce. But what these speckled pocket rockets lack in size they make up for in pluck. I’ll never tire of the sight of them smacking my little green lump
of plastic.

Strikes vary enormously. Sometimes fish will warily side-swipe the lure, missing the hooks completely. On other occasions they will grab it with gusto but almost instantly spit it some distance, then return and repeat the dose. Their ability to avoid sets of needle-sharp trebles is uncanny. That’s why you’ll land only a very small proportion of the fish you see. But that’s half the fun.

As these little speckled beauties are wild fish, it’s best to practice catch & release at all times.

Light is right
As far as tackle goes, flicking ultra-light lures calls for an ultra-light approach. I use a 1-3kg graphite-composite rod matched with a 1000-2000 size threadline reel loaded with 4lb braid. Light trout spin sticks are typically short and 90 per cent of the time I use a rod around 1.8m in length. More recently I have been experimenting with a slightly longer rod around the 2.2m (7-foot-six) mark. The net result has been longer and more accurate casts, although the extra length can be inconvenient in tight country.

It took me some time to switch to braid for this style of fishing but having used it for the past couple of summers, I would never revert to monofilament. The use of braid adds both distance and accuracy to my casting, and it is invaluable when you’re fighting a brisk cross-breeze or headwind.

Trout in gin-clear mountain streams are easily spooked and I find the use of an extra-long and very light leader will improve the strike rate. Remember, you’re targeting diminutive fish so go as light as you can. I use about three-metres of 2-4lb (1-2kg) fluorocarbon and have never hooked a fish that has even threatened to bust me off.

The premier floating hopper-imitation lure, in my view, is the two-gram Rebel Crickhopper. Other makes and models worth a cast include the Juro Mimic Hopper and G-Hope Crank from River2Sea. But just because you’re fishing in hopper season doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to hopper-pattern lures. The Rebel Crawdad, Strike-Pro Small Fry and the three and five-centimetre floating Rapalas in Rainbow Trout pattern are also well worth including in your arsenal.

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