8 Tips for Fly Fishing Grasshoppers

There is no such thing as a grasshopper hatch, of course. Grasshoppers live and die in the riparian zones along rivers and streams. They’re not mayflies, which roll around as nymphs underwater for a year or two only to emerge as adults for a few minutes or hours. And then die. Did you know that the mayfly with the shortest lifespan lives less than five minutes as an adult? And my teenager thinks his life is hard!

The life of a hopper is, too, quite short, of course, but that’s where the similarities between mayflies and hoppers end. Soon enough, it will be that time of year (mid to late summer) to fish hoppers.

Here are a few tips to help beginners enjoy what is one of my favorite seasons of fly fishing:

1. Let the river warm up.

Several years ago, Steve (my podcast partner) and I fished a gorgeous stream on private property in southwestern Montana in late July. We arrived at the creek about 8:30 or 9 AM, and we rigged up with hoppers. Nothing rose to our casts. I became a bit grumpy.

A Trico hatch was on, but I didn’t have the patience to fish a size #20 Trico imitation. I switched to nymphs for an hour or so, and then I walked upriver where Steve was hauling in his second or third brown on a hopper imitation.

It was like the bell rang some time between 10 and 11 AM, and the trout started feeding on hoppers. It was nonstop until late afternoon. Often, the trout won’t start hitting hoppers until mid to late morning, when the vegatation along the banks warms up.

2. Big is not bad.

I learned to fly fish in Montana and Colorado, but in recent years, I’ve spent more days on smaller creeks than I have the big rivers of the West. My spring-creek-to-western-river ratio is probably four or five days on a spring creek to one day on a western river.

I’ve grown acclimated to the spring-creek requirements of finer tackle and smaller flies. Consequently, I also reach for smaller grasshopper imitations. But if you’re fishing out West, select a bigger hopper just because you can. Go for a size #4 or #6. Make sure you have 3X or 4X tippet to handle the bigger bug.

And then see what happens.

3. Don’t forget the relaxed sip.

I love the aggressive strikes that hoppers provoke. But not all hopper strikes are aggressive. Some fish prefer to mouth or toy with the hopper. Crazy, I know. I’ve caught some large cutthroat in Yellowstone National Park simply by being more patient with my hook set. In general, fly fishers, especially those new to the sport, tend to rip the hook out of the mouth of fish. Certainly, trout love to slash at grasshoppers, but there are often more subtle takes as well.

That means being vigilant when you feel or see a take. Some fly fishers repeat a mantra or phrase when they feel a take, such as “God save the Queen” or “The Cubs finally won a World Series,” depending on your country of origin – and then they set the hook.

4. Give it some action.

Real grasshoppers don’t float passively on the water, unless they are already dead.

If the wind has blown a hopper into the water, then likely it is kicking for shore. If you’re fishing a swift-moving river like the Yellowstone, then you may not need to twitch or skate the hopper. But in more flat stretches, you may want to give the hopper some action by twitching it or skating it across the surface.

5. Drop another terrestrial.

Several years ago while fishing in Yellowstone Park, I dropped a fat foam flying ant off my top hopper pattern, and I caught more cuttthroat off the ant than I did the hopper. I tied the foam ant about nine to twelve inches below the grasshopper, and it worked beautifully.

The Yellowstone River was swift, and with the current, the ant seemed to float just beneath the film. Several times, I watched the shadow of a cutthroat appear from the depths of the river and grab the ant.

6. Pay attention to color.

When I was young, I used to catch grasshoppers and stick them on a naked hook and cast them into the streams. There’s nothing like the action of a real grasshopper in the throes of death on the water. I learned, though, that not all grasshoppers are the same (other than they all seem to have the dark liquid that squirts of their abdomen when you insert the hook). There are a million variety of hoppers, and a host of different earth-tone hues from green to yellow and to brown.

I’ve made the mistake of buying hoppers from a fly shop in Montana and wondering why they don’t work as well in the spring creeks of the Driftless (southwestern Wisconsin, for example). Dumb, I know, but I can be a little slow.

You’ll want to do a little research at your local fly shop. Size and color are important, and every fly is local.

7. Throw one on when nothing is rising.

It always strikes me as odd that when there is nothing rising, I can throw on a hopper in late summer, and an aggressive trout takes the imitation.

Through the years, I can’t remember a time when I’ve noticed trout rising to hoppers, and then decided to throw on a hopper. It’s just that time a year. The creeks runs through a meadow. There are hoppers. And I decide to throw on a hopper. And voila! I catch trout on hoppers. Again, there is no hatch, where you can see the trout rising to mayflies.

Hoppers promise a gob of calories, and during mid to late summer, trout want the gob.

8. Start with foam.

Most hopper patterns come in three styles: foam, natural, and parachute. I tend to start with foam, though I will use more natural patterns when fishing slower water. The parachute hopper always is a win in riffles – I can see it!

Grasshopper season is like the Christmas season. It comes once a year. And if you can have even one great day fly fishing grasshoppers, you’ve received the best present of the year.

The Fly Fishing Wit and Wisdom of Bud Lilly

Fly fishing wit and wisdom – you need both to truly enjoy the sport. If you’re planning on fly fishing in the western United States, do yourself a favor and find a copy of Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West. Read it. Then read it again.

This volume, co-authored with Paul Schullery, was published in 2000. But it’s still relevant a decade and a half into the new millennium. You’ll want to read and re-read it for two reasons: its wit and wisdom. Lilly’s dry sense of humor and his story-telling skills will keep you entertained.

But he will teach you a lot about fly fishing in the land where the buffalo once roamed and the deer and the antelope still play. Here is a sample of what Lilly has to offer.

Time of Day

Lilly says that the cool nights in the west mean you do not have to get up as early to fish as you do when you’re fishing lower-elevation waters on either coast. Nor can you count on the evening rise when fishing the big rivers in the western mountain valleys.

Lilly writes: “Over the years, lots of my clients said ‘We really want to get the best fishing of the day, and so we’ll meet you here at the shop at 6:00 tomorrow morning.’ And I’d say, ‘Well fine, I’ll put the coffee on tonight, and I’ll be over about 8:00.’ It’s just too cold at the hour for much to be happening. Only in the hottest dog days of August do you have an advantage in fishing really early and late.”


Bud Lilly is a big fan of streamers. Large streamers. He fishes them any time of year and argues they give you the best chance to catch really large trout.

Lilly writes: “A study a few years ago in Yellowstone Park showed that large cutthroat trout tended to prey most heavily on fish that were 25-30 percent of their size. Twenty-inch trout commonly ate chubs of five or six inches.”


According to Lilly, rain can be your friend: “Many times a nice rain in the middle of the day has brought a stream to life for me or my clients. It can drop the water temperature just enough to cool the water and trigger a hatch or get the fish into a more active mood. A hard enough cloudburst can loosen bank materials, including worms and insects, also getting fish out on the prowl.”

I’ve experienced this myself. Recently, a ten-minute rain shower on the Boulder River (south of Big Timber, Montana) brought a sleepy run to life. I landed two sixteen inch rainbows on back-to-back casts in the same run where nothing was happening before it rained.

But let the fly fisher beware: “No hatch is good enough for you to risk waving a nine-foot graphite rod around during a lightning storm.”

Sunk Hoppers

If my hopper gets waterlogged and sinks, I tend to pull it out and dry it.

However, Lilly challenges that practice: “If your hopper sinks, don’t immediately yank it out of the water; hoppers drown, and fish take them just as avidly then. The fish are often looking for the drowned ones.”


Understandably, you’ll want to make the most of your fly fishing trip to the west. It might be the trip of a lifetime.

So listen close to this next pearl of wisdom from Bud Lilly: “If I could offer the visiting fisherman only one piece of advice it would be this: relax. You’re out here to have fun. You wouldn’t fish 16 hours a day back home, and you don’t have to do it here.”

As the old saying goes, there’s more where that came from. Yes, you’ll find a lot more wit and wisdom in Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West.

By the way, if you don’t heed Lilly’s advice, he won’t be offended. He readily admits: “There are lots of ways to catch a trout. Maybe that’s why there are so many experts.”

Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

fly fishing guides

Ever have a magical day on the river? Of course you have. But such days tend to be less common than we imagine. In this episode, we recount a magical day on the river that we know will never be repeated. Three of us fly fished a stretch of water on a warm August day when the trout feasted on hoppers and the runs seemed endless. May the memory never dim.

Listen to Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.”

At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We appreciate your advice, wisdom, and experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a day on the river to remember? We’d love to hear your stories.

Also, don’t forget to visit Casting Across, a blog we mention in the podcast.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Episode 45: The Joy of Fly Fishing with Hoppers

fly fishing guides

There is no joy like the joy of fly fishing with hoppers. Period. It’s a little like learning how to play the guitar. Every newbie guitar player begins by learning how to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” And every aspiring fly fisher should begin by fly fishing with hoppers. It’s crazy fun. The flies are big and sit high on the water and are easy to cast. And when the trout are rockin’ grasshoppers, there is no greater thrill. Listen to Episode 45: The Joy of Fly Fishing with Hoppers now.

Listen to Episode 45: The Joy of Fly Fishing with Hoppers

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you like fly fishing with hoppers? Any tips you can add to our podcast? Please post your ideas below.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

11 Reasons You’re Not Catching Trout

catching trout

Catching trout is not easy today. You are batting .000. Maybe the fish are simply not biting. Or maybe you’re not catching trout because of one or more of these 11 reasons:

1. It’s a bright sunny day.

Not always, but I’ve often had better luck on overcast days, especially for BWOs (blue winged olives), which is a common hatch during the spring. Catching trout on cloudy days tends to be pattern for me.

2. Your fly is too big.

Whether you’re nymphing or on the surface, drop a size or two. Go smaller. Make sure you have multiple sizes of the same fly in your fly box.

3. You cast like your mama.

Unless your mama wears wading boots. Figure out a way to false cast less. Precision casting is supposed to be hard. It’s even harder on smaller streams with trees and brush. Catching trout is tied to how well you cast.

4. Your dead drift looks like a rubber ducky with spasms.

Your presentation is almost always the problem. Your fly simply doesn’t look like an insect, dead or alive. Try harder.

5. You scared ‘em.

You should not have walked up to the run like a drunk Abominable Snowman. Crawl next time. On your hands and knees.

6. The run was just fished.

Find a smaller stream with no crowds. Stop fishing the popular rivers during vacation season or on weekends.

7. It’s too early.

Yes, if you want huge browns, then maybe fishing at 4:30 in the morning is a good idea. But if you are fishing hoppers in mid August, for example, sometimes the action doesn’t heat up until late morning.

8. You haven’t moved in 30 minutes.

Remember, fly fishing isn’t bass fishing from shore. Keep moving. After a handful of casts, move on. Find the next run.

9. The river is blown out.

If the river is muddy, why are you fly fishing? Some color may be okay, but if the stream is like chocolate milk, head back to your truck, jump on your phone, and watch Netflix.

10. You’re not deep enough.

Add some split shot to your nymphing rig. Or add some tippet length to your dropper. How often are you bumping the bottom? Every so often is about right.

11. You have the wrong fly.

This should not be your go-to move when you are not catching trout. But if there is a Trico hatch going on and you’re throwing a size #14 parachute Adams, you’ll swear a lot before noon. Know your hatches and patterns.

Give these tips a try, and perhaps your luck will change. You might even impress your mama.