warn you now;
the hopper is my favorite pattern. Its big, I can
see it, its fun to cast and present it with a plop,
I have fun tying them and the fish just adore the big,
juicy, summer delight. Its perfect for my less-than-perfect
casting habits. The pattern presented in this article
is non-typical in my cache of fly patterns, however. This
one uses a glued-on, pre-shaped foam body. Hence, the
thesis of this article.
experimented with a couple of dozen different hopper and
cricket patterns, all of which will catch trout. But this
one, my adaptation from a pattern that George Cik (true
inventor of the Brassie) gave me, is one that I can tie
readily and with minimal materials. Plus, the darn thing
just plain floats well. It looks real and outlasts those
pesky little toothed 24" summer browns. Not that
I know, Ive never caught a brown that big on a hopper,
but Ive had a hopper last a whole season of bluegill
fishing. Granted it looked tattered and water-weary, but
thats the goal, isnt it?!
A Trout Sees A Hopper
once attended a fly show where Dave Whitlock was presenting
his slide-show and studies on hoppers and hopper imitations.
Thats all I needed to spark the artistic inventor
in me. Daves Hopper uses a deerhair body. Thats
fine until the body absorbs water and sinks lower and
lower with each cast. I started thinking how I could incorporate
a better material; one that would last longer, farther,
better. Dave taught me a few very important observations
of summer hoppers. One: how they float in the water and
Two: what color is the hopper;
on the underside.
trout sees three distinct features about a hopper
floating by. The trout notices the general outline of
the fly, thus the long body and back legs become an important
feature to mimic. Secondly, the trout notices the underbody
color. A bright green underbody, like those of some commercially
tied hoppers certainly doesnt match the pale yellow
color of the ones I see in late summer. More over, the
ones I see have a green-grey topside, they arent
pale yellow all-around. The third thing that trout consider
is how the hopper floats in the water. This observation
was the most single important fact Dave Whitlock imparted
upon me. Hoppers dont ride high in the water. Hoppers
dont ride under the surface film. Think for a moment,
if you were floating down a river, waiting to be someones
lunch, how would you float? Head up (so you could breath)
and body submerged. Thats how a hopper floats. Its
butt and abdomen is submerged and the thorax/head is above
water. Its this observation that led me to modifying
the Foam Hopper fly accordingly.
Down The Hopper's Anatomy
6. compound eyes
7. front wings
8. hind wings
9. abdominal spiricals
12. thoracic spiracles
hopper hails from the order
orthoptera, which includes
ground hoppers, burrowing hoppers, mole crickets, katydids,
household crickets, and locusts. There is about 20,000
species known around the world and have been dated as
far back as the Upper Carboniferous age, some 300 million
years ago. A hopper is described as being
or having a nymphal stage that looks like small adults
and no pupal stage. Thats good for us tyers as one
pattern in different sizes pretty much covers the life-cycle
ensifara suborder which
includes grasshoppers, groundhoppers and locusts and the
Caelifera suborder which includes crickets will
be the focus of the flytyers enigma.
ensifara sub-order have small stout antennae, generally
about 1/3 the body length. The oval oblong eyes are typically
a darker shade of the head color and are very pronounced,
taking up the upper ½ of each side of the head. The two
large eyes, which detect movement, are accompanied by
3 smaller eyes which detect changing light conditions.
Protruding back from the head is a large plate, called
a pronotum, covering the first thoracic segment (prothorax).
This plate is important as it protects the hinge portion
of the wings.
fore-wings are toughened to form the tegmina while the
back section folds fan-like and is supple. Just inside
of the middle pair of legs is located a small breathing
hole. Hoppers do not breathe from their mouthparts. Females
have a well-developed ovipositor and can be visible in
some cricket species. The body is long and the tail-ends
are tapered and pointed (an important feature to consider
as a flytyer). Typically, hoppers have very pronounced
and over sized femurs, perfect for jumping and launching
them into flight. In measurement, a hopper can jump 50-100
times the length of its body.
little grasshopper most likely started out in a cluster
of eggs in a pithy stalk of a broken plant or in the soil.
The cluster of eggs resembled a dropping of molten polystyrene.
He laid dormant over the winter, and in some species cases,
over two winters, taking 2-3 years to hatch. The nymphs
first hatch out in sort of a safety suit which keeps all
of their limbs close to their body as they protrude from
the frothy egg-sack or from underground. The hatch process
is quite interesting. They pump up their head with little
bursts of blood and as the head-size increases, the egg
sack membrane or soil is extruded away. Once broken free
from the obstructions, they shed their little protective
shuck and immediately search for food. Other species may
"spit" on the egg sack, causing it to deteriorate.
During the first few hours, they are pale white and are
still somewhat clumsy. After only a few hours they obtain
full coloration. Henry II most likely will grow to be
between 1 and 3 inches and will live an insect eternity
of 3 to 12 months. During their life span, hoppers may
molt 5-6 times.
most of the
Orthoptera are omnivorous (plant and
animal eating), the focus of the flytyer should be on
the herbovorous, or just plant eating variety. It is estimated
that while in the nymphal stage, they eat twice times
their body weight. They also make for the perfect slumber-hound
flyfisher as they need light and warmth to be active.
Hoppers remain quiet and still for most of the night.
They prefer grassland over wooded land and tend to cluster
in greater numbers near water, where the air condenses
at night and deposits dew in the morning. This becomes
their source of water for the day.
A Hopper Speaks, Everyone Listens
species, particularly crickets utilize 3 different sorts
of "songs". 1) calling songs which are species-specific
to call far away females, 2) courtship songs while the
male and female usually have antennae contact, and 3)
aggressive songs, generally male-to-male. In fact, the
songs are so well prized that the males species are kept
in cages in some Eastern countries, just to hear the soothing
sounds. How are the sounds made? Good question. Most of
the species rub a forewing against another. In detail,
the top forewing has a ridge of "teeth" on its
under side. This is called the bow. It is rubbed against
the topside of the underwing which contains a strengthened
vein, this is called the scraper. In effect, the hopper
has a built-in violin. This begs the question: If a 400
year old Stradivarius violin is worth $1.5 million, whats
a 300 million year old hopper worth? I know, strange thinking.
1992, R.B. Toms found that in some crickets, the frequency
of the chirp is directly related to the outside temperature.
The formula to convert chirps to degrees Celcius is different
for each species and remains accurate for that species,
regardless of geography around the world.
a close look at grasshoppers sometime. The photo at the
beginning of this article is representative. Typically,
the ones where I fish have a pale yellow underside, a
green to bright lime green topside, a grey underwing and
a brownish-grey top wing. The head is hard-looking and
very much a prominent feature of the body. The antennae
are highly noticeable and the legs are very pronounced.
There are other hoppers that Ive seen that have
a cream underside and a brown topside while others are
all mostly tan-grey. Take notice of the hoppers around
you and tie suggestive coloration patterns around them.
Ya Look at Those Legs
hopper has very pronounced hind legs, something all hopper
patterns should mimic. And about tying hopper legs: I
used to think it was a pain in the neck, but I didnt
know the right method. I avoided using pheasant tail legs
because I hated knotting the little critters. So, instead,
I used rubber legs. They didnt quite mimic the true
outline of the pronounced legs of a hopper, however. In
comparing rubber legs to pheasant tail legs, the pheasant
tail wins hands down. Theyre lighter and more suggestive
of the hopper outline. More on tying the legs in a moment.
than the hook, thread and vise, the materials needed are
quite simple and readily available. [super glue, light
deerhair, turkey tail, foam strips, pheasant tail and
a paint brush with dark nylon bristles]
you start, liberally coat a ½" wide and 2" long
section of mottled turkey tail with clear nail polish.
Dont cut the section from the feather stem! Leave
it intact until its dry. Use your fingers to wipe
the excess and work in the remaining polish. This will
become the wing back.
a light wire 2XL to 4XL streamer hook. I prefer Tiemco
300s. Pinch the barb down. It just makes good sense
to do this with all of your flies. Apply a thread base
covering the entire shank of the hook. This base will
easily accept the super-glue when you glue the body to
the hook. I like to wrap the thread in a loose crossing
pattern which makes for an absorbant base in which to
glue the body. (see inset)
have found that sheet craft foam is not only a great material
to use a backdrop when tying flies but also as a durable
material in foam flies. I use a paper cutter to cut thin
strips ranging from 1/8" to ¼" in width. I have
most colors, but we will concentrate on using yellow,
brown, grey and white. Now take two 6" strips, one
white and the other the color that mostly resembles hoppers
in your area. In the picture, Ive used yellow on
the underside and green on top. Lay a bead of super-glue
on one of the strips and place the other on top. Let this
set a minute as it only takes a few minutes to set thoroughly.
Now you have a 6" strip that will make about 4-6
flies. Cut a 1"-2" section away from the larger
piece. A larger section is recommended until you become
proficient at determining the length needed for the size
of flies you will tie.
the Butt Section
trim the foam body to shape with very sharp scissors.
Ive tried burning and sanding them into shape, but
just using scissors work the best. Try using an emery
board to sand in the roundness after the general shape
is cut. The goal is to get a nice taper in the rear as
the natural has. This also facilitates the fly to float
butt-lower in the water because less is there to float.
Use a razorblade to cut a slot in the middle of the underside
running lengthwise. This slot will slide over the hook
shank. Practice placing the body on the hook shank prior
to dropping a bead of super-glue on the thread wraps.
Once satisfied, glue the body to the hook shank. Just
to secure things, wrap the head portion of the foam body
tightly to the hook shank. Be sure the body doesnt
twist as you tighten the thread down. There, the body
The finished body glued and tied
to the hook shank.
is arguably the most difficult portion of the fly. If
you get through this one, youre on the way to dozens
more! Select a 2B pencil sized portion of deer hair. Stack
the ends and place the stack with the tips facing outward
over the hook-eye, tying them in securely. It is difficult
to prevent the tips from flaring when you tighten the
butts down, but with practice, it becomes easier. The
tie-in point is approximately 1/3 the way to the back
of the hook shank from the eye. Clip the deer hair butts
away from the body. Trim away the excess and errant fibers.
A flat trim on top helps to seat the wings as described
in the next section.
in the Wing
wing section should be dry by now. Snip it from the feather
stem and flatten it out. Do not do any clipping and rounding
of the back just yet. Well do that when the fly
tie the butts of the turkey at the head of the fly, covering
the clipped ends of the deer hair head. The tie in point
is the same as the head above. You can be sloppy here
and no one will ever notice! Just make sure the wing envelopes
the foam body evenly on both sides and has a good curvature
wrap. As mentioned before, DONT do any trimming
of the back of the wing just yet!
The Head and Pronotum
you accomplish this task correctly, not only is the head
formed, but the silhouette of the middle legs and the
prontum as well.)
sure to place your thread at the 1/3 point back from the
hook eye prior to forming the head. Carefully stroke the
deerhair tips backward, over the tie in point. This will
take some practice and several manipulations to get the
hair in the right position. However, I have found an easy
way to start by just using your index finger. From under
the head of the fly, place the middle of the end of your
index finger on the hook eye. Now push the hair backwards,
so it flairs out like a fan. With your other hand, continue
to pull the hairs backward and wrapped around the sides
and top of the body. Apply two or three secure wraps of
thread to hold the mess in place. Adjust any loose or
out-of-place hairs with a bodkin and wrap a few more times
to secure the deerhair. Its that simple.
the final touches on the head of the fly is as simple
as taking two dark fibers from a nylon-bristled paintbrush
and securing them in above the head, with about a 1/8"
space between them. Remember to clip them relatively short
to mimic the natural.
or sticking on eyes are optional, but recommended. Again,
the eyes of a hopper are a dominant feature, so as tyers,
we should replicate this.
and Tying in the Legs
pheasant tail legs used to be a royal pain in the butt
until I just forced myself to knot-tie a few. I actually
found that the knot-tying process isnt that tough
if you have the right tools. I use an old dentists
pick with a curled end to pull the fibers through a small
loop. It works just as well for me as one of those needlepoint
tools that are cleverly marketed as a hopper leg tool.
Those tools work quite well but I have just never had
the urge or need to buy one. Its your call.
like to apply some clear fingernail polish to the tips
of the pre-fabbed legs to hold all the loose end fibers
in place. Tying them in is quite easy. Although each hopper
species has a different leg length, I prefer to align
the knots of the legs over the back bend of the hook.
It just seems in proportion to me that way.
The Finished Foam Hopper
way to make hoppers seen better while fishing them at
dusk is to tie in an over-sized patch of highly visible
glo-bug yarn on top of the head and trimming to shape.
the foam hopper pictured above does not show segmentation
in the thorax, it can easily be achieved via a green permanent
marking pen. After you tie on the foam body, make slight
and evenly spaced marks across the bottom and sides to
immitate the segmentation. In some grasshopper species,
it is more pronounced than others.
Ive never been told exactly how to fish
a hopper, I prefer to cast it as close to a bank or overhang
as possible with a mildly splashy entrance. Again, the
goal is to mimic a hopper that has just met misfortune
and has landed on the water. If you are too splashy and
radical, you will send the trout scurrying. One of the
best action-packed videos I have ever watched occured
as I was writing this article. Flip Pallot, host of
Walker's Cay Chronicals, invited Dave Whitlock to
fish out west (US) at Five-Rivers Lodge. The ensuing footage
was an example of mastery as Dave proceeded to catch several
18"+ brown trout on a Dave's Hopper. My advise: if
you ever have a chance to see Dave's in-show presentation,
don't miss it.