It's Grasshopper Time
This summer, the riverbanks have come alive with grasshoppers, making it an ideal time to use a hopper or a fly imitation. Fishing rivers and creeks with a grasshopper is a very easy and effective way of catching a few fish and an ideal introduction for anyone new to trout fishing. Fly fishing is also productive at this time, with trout responding well to a grasshopper fly that is laid out with a splat. For that reason, trout are very forgiving to anyone who is still in the process of learning to cast a fly.
There are many rivers in our state, which provide exceptional grasshopper fishing. To be successful with this type of fishing, find a river or creek running through dry pasture that has plenty of grasshoppers. More often than not, this will mean gaining access to private land. If asked, most farmers are only too happy to allow access to the rivers running through their property. Sometimes knowing which house to approach is not clear, but the neighbours will soon point you in the right direction. If you are denied access, respect the owner's wishes and move onto the next property or river. The land owners reason for denying entry may have stemmed from a bad experience in the past with a minority of people who have not left gates as found, thus allowing their stock to escape or have had rubbish left behind. The property owner can also let you know the extent of the property and the best way to access the river without the need to climb over fences. If the land owner enjoys a feed of trout, I like to show my appreciation, by dropping off one or two fish for their table.
Small creeks, drains and tributaries of larger rivers can produce some surprising results when fished with a hopper. Trout are highly tuned towards the sound of a grasshopper landing on the water at this time and I have seen trout bow wave downstream for up to three metres, to intercept a grasshopper or fly imitation. Sections of river that have high grassy banks are prime lies for these grasshopper feeders.
Collecting enough bait at this time of year never seems to be a problem, unless it's teaming down with rain of course. The area you are about to fish should have plenty of grasshoppers available. You can catch them with your hands or by waving a finely meshed hand net back and forth as you walk across a grasshopper infested area, catching them in midair as they leap away from you. A small plastic soft drink bottle, with a narrow neck makes an ideal container to keep your bait in. The restricted opening will help to prevent all of the grasshoppers jumping out at once.
One or two grasshoppers, on a No. 8 bait saver hook, can be very hard to cast. Small diameter lines in the 2 or 3 kilogram class will reduce the friction between the line as it comes off the reel spool and through the rod eyes, allowing you to cast an unweighted grasshopper further. A 6 to 7 foot spinning rod and reel is all that is needed to lob a couple of grasshoppers 4 or 5 metres up stream.
Another very effective way of casting unweighted baits is to use a fly rod. In this case the fly line is no longer used and is replaced with 3 to 4 kg line on a dedicated fly reel or several metres of line can be wound over the existing fly line. When you're ready to make a cast, pull enough line off the reel to make the distance, holding onto the loops of line with your free hand. The two grasshoppers pinned on the No. 8 hook are then lobbed up stream. Allow the loops of line to feed off your hand as you make the cast.
Once you have delivered your bait into a likely run or pool, watch the line as the grasshoppers sink and travel down stream in the current. Take up the slack in the line by winding the spinning reel or by pulling in loops of line with your line hand, when using a fly rod. The line will stop or draw away when a fish has taken the grasshoppers. As soon as I see this, I pause then lift the rod to set the hook. Hopefully, hooking the fish in the mouth instead of the stomach, allowing the hook to be removed easily, if the fish is to be released unharmed.
Because only a short cast is possible with an unweighted bait, a stealthy approach is required, so as not to spook the trout before you have had a chance to make a cast. Try and avoid simply walking up to the edge of a riverbank in full view and casting a line. This is a sure way of spooking any fish that may have readily taken your bait had you approached unnoticed. You can move quite close to fish by staying low and out of the skyline, using any available cover. By fishing upstream, you will move up to fish from behind, taking advantage of their blind spot, as they face into the current. Carefully wading the river will also help you to stay low and fish many areas that would otherwise be impossible to fish from the river bank.
Some rivers and creeks slow down to a trickle, leaving pools with very little or no flow. In situations such as these, fish will feed more like lake trout, patrolling the banks up and down the river or creek. Polarised sunglasses will add another dimension to your fishing, allowing you to first spot the fish and then cast to the largest fish in the pool. The immediate response of the fish is seen as it charges over to take the grasshopper before the other fish in the pool have a chance. If it is an overcast day and visibility is limited, stay well back from the edge and cast the grasshoppers over the bank. Allow the grasshoppers to sink and then slowly retrieve them, if there is any indication of a take, quickly lower the rod tip to give slack line, before setting the hook.
Unlike fishing a natural grasshopper that will sink under the weight of the hook and line, a grasshopper fly is usually fished as a dry in the surface film imitating a grasshopper, when it first lands in the water. One of the best things about fishing a grasshopper is that a delicate presentation is not necessary. By delivering the fly with a splat, the sound and the ripples from the fly will be like a dinner bell to a trout that has responded to the naturals doing just that, all day.
The best time to fish a river is on those hot windy summer days when grasshoppers are frequently being blown into the water. Four to six weight rods are ideal for big rivers on windy days, while the lighter weight rods come into their own on the overgrown creeks, where a fish of a kilo is considered large.
With most dry fly fishing, a drag free float of the fly is needed. You can use a Slack Line Cast or a Reach Cast to achieve this, but these require some practice. A simpler way is to lengthen your tippet until the leader falls loosely to the water thereby extending the time it takes the current to impart drag on your fly. There are many different casts worth learning that will help you overcome line drag across the different currents found in a river. These casts are best learnt on the water, from someone who has already mastered them or by watching one of the many fly casting DVDs available.
As mentioned, polarised sunglasses will help you locate fish. They also give you the opportunity to observe the fish's response to your fly and make any necessary changes to your presentation or fly after a refusal.
Large numbers of small fish are readily caught using a grasshopper in these small streams and rivers, but there is always the possibility of finding a larger fish in the very next run or pool. With the thought of that, you will be led around the next bend in the river, and the next, and the next until the light begins to fade, but then again, there's always tomorrow.