Grasshoppers – The Big Mac of Trout Food

Many people ask me when the best time to come to Tasmania fishing is. There is only one answer as far as I am concerned – Autumn.
March and April are what I call the wedding months. All the girls want to get married then. Why ? Because the weather is the most settled and they are almost guaranteed a beautiful day.
I like it because the river fishing can be exception and I like river fishing. Grasshopers have been prolific the last couple of seasons with unprecedented grass growth no doubt helping the populations. 
Grasshoppers obviously provide a ‘meal in a mouthful’ for river trout – they must be like a Big Mac for them and trout often swim meters to violently scoff one from the surface.
From a guides point of view there are many ‘taking candy from babies’ opportunities. The most wayward of casts still gets jumped upon and the takes are often so vigorous that there is no need for a strike as many trout hook themselves.  Mostly the solid dumping down deliveries that would scare a Little Pine tailer all the way to Lake Kay are just what is required when hopper fishing.
Another pleasant thing that happens to the Tasmanian rivers at hopper time is that the catch rates significantly increase in these months and the average size could almost double. I can think of many creeks and rivers where during the season proper we might catch a dozen a day and the average might be a guides pounder. Come hopper time the daily bag could easily move to a couple of dozen or more and it is not unusual to find plenty of 2 pounders and an occasional fish of 4 or maybe, dare I say it, 5 pounds.

The flies
I once read a book by the famous bike rider Lance Armstrong titled ‘It’s not about the bike’. Well at hopper time I can assure you that it is not about the fly. Having said that I am still somewhat fussy about the design of the fly. For me I want a fly about the right size as the average hopper. Whilst I do catch many on large yellow wing type monsters mostly I prefer a size 12 tan job.
I feel it is very important that the fly is heavy. This helps it land with the characteristic ‘PLOP’ that is so obviously music to a trout’s ears. I don’t want a size 14 parachute CDC type fly when I could simply have half an inch of three matches glued to a hook.  Why not? Go and carve some hoppers out of the bamboo chopsticks that your local Chinese takeaway gives you. Colour them with waterproof texta and a coat of your clear gloss fingernail polish and glue them onto a size 12 hook. See how you go. Right size, right colour, right shape, heavy, positive buoyancy – just perfect.
Rick Keam’s poly hoppers are also about as good as you can get although they are a little light for me and Muzz Wilson’s ‘Wee Creek Hopper’ is a sensationally simple fly too. These days I save my huon pine hoppers for my girlfriend Anna to use and the clients get hastily tied Wee Creeks. Anna is special and the clients don’t know any better anyway!

The Fishing
Get yourself a short rod and use a 9 foot  fast tapered leader. Learn what a tuck cast is and use plenty of high tip whip to finish the cast. This will put the fly down firmly without much line or leader entry noise. Don’t use much more than a 4 or 5 weight and this helps reduce the line noise too. You just want to hear the plop every time your fly lands.
Most takes will come within a second or maybe two of landing so don’t fish a cast more than say 4 or 5 seconds. Search the water at 5 second and 2 metre intervals. Trout can come 2 metres easily in 5 seconds at Big Mac time.
Make sure you come along to one of my casting days if you cannot do any of the casting stuff I am talking about. It will be the best investment that you can make in fly fishing. 
The great American caster Floyd Dean has a really cool and special Grasshopper cast. This puts the hopper in with super speed and a healthy PLOP (even with a light weight fly) but humps the fast moving fly line up into the air so that it very lightly gravity drops onto the water ever so quietly. I will show you someday.
Because of the manner in which you are fishing your way upstream fish will inevitably hear the fly land BEHIND them and turn downstream to fetch it. Once they take the instinct is to turn back to their lie and they are mostly auto hooked on the turn. It’s nice to rarely miss a strike in fly fishing.
I suggest that if you ever see a fish move forward in the current to gently sip your free drifting hopper then you are not delivering firmly enough or you are casting at greater than 2 metre intervals.
So, if you want to catch lots and maybe some real leviathans get out on your local streams during March and April. Wear gaiters or waders all the time and have some fun. Hopper feeders never fail to put a constant smile on my face.

Peter Hayes