Using grasshopper imitation for flyfishing in hot windy days.
Words and Photos: Rodrigo Sandoval
In spanish: grasshoppers = saltamontes.
For several years, trout's opportunist attitude has been highly commented, a fact already proved by numerous researches. I strongly believe that trout eat all kinds of insects that get, one way or another, in the water. Even on several occasions I've seen them eat a little leaf, just because it fell on the water close to their position. But for a long time I kept the firm idea of imitating the most typical natural insects that live in water, identified by those who in fact develop and live in the aquatic environment, such as mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and so on.
The day had come in which I would suffer from a lot of hot weather in a river in an austral road. The trout action, which I experienced that morning in a clear stream, completely disappeared. Nothing happened for a long while. At this time of the year, mid January, heat had increased considerably at mid day and general temperature was reflected in grass bank, which had turned into a gold colour. Typical situation that correspond to the hottest period of the summer in the south hemisphere.
As I walked by the riverbank, I could see lots of grasshoppers coming out of the brushes with my walking. Wasn't surprising for me at all. Some time later some wind started to blow, typical of Patagonia. Suddenly I noticed that at least one of the grasshoppers or more we dragged out. There was a big one, in particular, that fell in the water on a pool nearby my position. Not even 3 seconds went by till it disappeared into a big splash. Minutes later, the same scene took place, but in this occasion I was able to see a powerful brown trout sank just after the surface's turbulence.
Maybe because of plain instinct or divine inspiration, I came back running to the tent and grabbed a Muddler Minnow on repair, that had been slaughtered by a big brown last night, and without hesitating I fixed it with lateral paws made out of feather fiber. Fortunately it wasn't a weighted pattern. Almost hysterical I ran back the 50 meters that kept me far from that pool. I rigged my 4 weight rod with a floating line and a 13 feet leader with a 5X tippet.
I cast, presented, let it drift, waited. Nothing happened. I walked ahead to the next bend and again. Nothing happened. Little time went by and nothing. Suddenly another dominant squall went by, throwing more weeds in the air and a grasshopper to the shore. His fall sounded spectacular for the size of this insect. I had a second thought about it and cast again with my improvised imitation. This time I tried, deliberately that the fly would strike in the water violently instead of falling gently. On the first take I had the impression that some eyes followed my line's rod, maybe it was only autosuggestion. On the second shoot, trout's determination finally bloomed and made me experience a strike that almost cut my 5X. The fight was a tuff one, and I wasn't able to see the brown for almost two minutes. When it started to get tired, I could appreciate it was one of the rulers in its area. It was a beautiful Salmo trutta weighting about 4 pounds. Even with the imitation stuck to its lower jaw, I realized about the great concept behind this fishing scene.
When I came back home, some days later, I reviewed some previous editions of a flyfishing magazine. I found an article where the concept I had experienced vividly at the river was fully explained. Obviously, if I should have remembered that information, I wouldn't have the surprise I had and my presentation would have considered those kind of patterns from the very beginning. At least climate conditions that day indicated this.
Some time after, I lived the same situation in a river on Yellowstone Park, in Wyoming, USA. The day was like the previous one, very hot. The watercourse, the Slough Creek crosses several box canyons, lying on their slope on open prairies. This gives a strong chance of blowing strong winds. The day before that it was equally hot and my travel friend were able to hook up their own cutthroat using the grasshopper pattern. I personally achieved success the next day, and the approach was the same that I tried on that river in the austral road of Chile: a grasshopper pattern presented by the shore.
Things are not that different on the oriental side of the Andes Range. On many of the rivers in which I had the chance to go fishing, from Junín to the Andes, to Esquel, in some of the cases it is stuffed of these insects in hot weather. Wind, always present almost at any place, goes his way depositing regularly some grasshoppers and crickets on the water. That's why, without minding where I go, my grasshopper patterns are kept in some case.
As time went by, I widened my classic patterns with some of the most adorned and others easier to use. The goal has always been the same: imitating natural insects that fall on the river. The technique is simple, and the results can be pretty awesome.
Grasshoppers, belonging to the Orthoptera order, aren't aquatic insects, but are identified as "terrestrial". Even though they are less abundant than other terrestrial insects that also are part of the diet of trout, their size and importance of their fall in the water make them a very noticeable goal, even the bigger trout that usually aren't moved by other insects.
The variety of species within this order makes pretty irrelevant the moment of fishing with patterns of these insects on uniform conditions. Lots of these species change its colour - even though it's the least important fact to trout - according to the environment. Their body structure is almost the same and only its size varies between juvenile species and members of different species.
The perfect moment to go fishing with grasshoppers
When is it convenient to use these imitations? Grasshoppers are much more abundant on dry and hot season. In the south cone of America it usually happens on mid December or February. There can be other productive moments throughout the year, especially in spring. A very important factor in this decision, is to choose a very warm day and ideally with wind's presence which is noticed by fish. This wind is the one that makes insects leave firm land to be deposited dangerously on the surface of the water nearby. The best time is when the greatest activity by these terrestrial insects is taking place. Close to midday.
In some particular cases, a grasshopper might serve as a pattern of exploration, even though climate conditions aren't the most appropriate for the presence of these insects. One of the advantages a grasshopper has for this task, is that is very visible on the surface, which makes it easier its observation to detecting bites and also observing currents on a particular area. You just need to cast the imitation up river and watch it drift downstream.
Useful "saltamontes" patterns
Which one is the best imitation and how can it be tied up? There isn't any special pattern to imitate these insects. Many flies are in fact useful and what distinguish them is the floating capability.
A big body - using a 6 to 10 hook size. A special characteristic is providing a big head some long legs on the backside, detached in both sides. Patterns should float very well. The floating condition of deer hair makes the material most popular for this patterns. The dubbing or material fold must be very "hairy", to increase its capacity of floating and give a more substantial profile.
There are several patterns, for grasshoppers and their relatives, the crickets. Letort Hopper, or Dave's Hopper and Whitlock Hopper are within favorites in North America. You can usually find them in distributor's catalogues and local specialized shops.
In addition to the patterns I mentioned before, I grown fond for two particular patterns, one of them, very simple and fast to tight up. The Parachute Hooper is made in an equivalent way as any other fly pattern, be it this way, with the particular thing of adding on the backside some claws made of feather stick. The usual size is between 4 and 10. Me second pattern, the Austral Grasshopper, being a little more complex to tight up, because all of the process associated to the management of the deer's hair, has the advantage of being highly capable of floating and lasting. I have some that keep a couple of dozen captures in the résumé and maintain themselves as out of the vise.
Some little fibers made out of calves' tail, died in a colourful way.
Stiff turkey feather. In many cases, the colour you choose is not that important, but ideally could work a brown or gray. Varnishing is recommended to increase its capacity of being used.
Standard dry fly #6 to #12
Black or toasted, 6/0
Light colour cover, pretty abundant. Paxton dubbing might be a good option.
Feather thick stick, like quill turkey, tightens up to form the plague. Varnishing the feather is highly recommended before making the legs.
A grizzly feather of good size to roll up around a calf's post of tail's fiber on white colour.
Stiff turkey feather.
The fly's presentation
How do I cast and work on my imitations? The aim is to imitating the behaviour of the natural ones. These insects are not aquatic, that's why they aren't usually identified with a "water behaviour" in particular. When they are found in the water, it's unique and exclusively because they fell by accident. So there are two factors to consider: the position on the watercourse where the fly places itself and how does it stand and manages this imitation.
First, those riverbanks with little vegetation are the best examples. The idea is placing an imitation from the very beginning on a quiet part of the flow, or even medium fast. The imitation mustn't fall from less than 2 meters near the shore that shows pasture or weeds, sometimes even a few centimeters from the water. Derive must happen in the same with any dry fly: without dragging the pattern, controlling the management of the loose line, for it not to become excessively dragged with the current.
In second place, when you shoot with the fly you must try to splash some water along with the artificial one, simulating in this way a real fall grasshopper fall into the water. This doesn't only call the fish attention on the worked path, but al least in many cases a sudden push that provokes a kind of jump on the water might call the fish's attention and making it respond to the floating pattern.
During the days when the wind feels expressive, those days are the best to try a grasshopper at the end of the leader, picking up the line and shooting again makes it hard to achieve. As time goes by I've been able to manage the top of the fishing rod in order to make it keep up as much line's surface at it can for it to be raised by the wind, without me making almost any effort. With a little bit of patience and precision, I start to make the top of the fishing rod go down in order to deposit the pattern upwards, always in a promising place. Usually the strike doesn't delay more than a few seconds to arrive, which enhances the expectation around all the experience.
The use of the grasshopper is an excellent choice when imitations of aquatic insects don't provide any results. Sometimes it is possible to tempt a trout among lots of other, which is useful to identify if fish are active or not.